Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Accidents Happen

I know this may come as a bit of a shock to you that may not know me, and perhaps to some of those of you that do. Despite my complete absence of a career or any other notable widely-accepted measure of accomplishment, I am actually a very competitive person. I've never been an athlete, so I have no collection of trophies nor have I ever known the exhilaration of being an MVP. I was never the pretty girl growing up, nor have I ever been refined and polished, so I have never known the bright lights of a stage nor had a sparkly beauty queen crown placed upon my wild mane of ginger locks. I've always been okay with this because I've known my strengths. Despite my lack of a degree, I'm actually not an idiot. I was always competitive in school even from a young age. I hated losing. I hated not having the highest test scores. I hated not being the first one done. Tucked away in my bedroom closet, I have a framed picture of my second-place finish in Miss Rymut's second grade classroom spelling bee. It is adorned with a scratch-and-sniff grape sticker, and a declaration of "Fantastic!" from my teacher. I actually very clearly remember being awarded that certificate. Quinn Carlson beat me, and I cried real tears. Miss Rymut tried to console me by putting her arm around my shoulders and whispering into my ear that I won first place for the girls. As you can imagine, that only made it worse.

My competitive nature was tempered some over the years. I worked. By some small miracle, I managed to find a small group of friends in high school. I even pulled off dating a string of mostly all the wrong boys. Even through all the distractions that I spent my energy on, I still had a great GPA and pretty much made the ACT my bitch. I probably would have done really well in college had I gone. It just wasn't going to happen for me when I had my very own newborn at 18. That's ok, I still wouldn't change a thing.

Nowadays, I don't have much time to invest in being competitive in anything. My competitive streak is still alive and well, but I just don't have enough hours in the day to make anything more than a humble go at nurturing it. To be honest with you, the main source of competition in my life is Words With Friends. Sad but true. I still get my ass handed to me on occasion but overall, I should probably be in the Words With Friends Hall of Fame with a record like mine. I can put my exceptional spelling skills and extensive vocabulary to good use, even if the game rejects some of my more colorful offerings. I suppose my hardline stance on good spelling and understanding of definition causes me some issue. Last week I lost a run of games to my husband, and they stung. It isn't losing to him that I mind. It's losing to his technique. He hunts and pecks and pulls words out of his ass and it just irks the living shit out of me. It takes everything in me to not challenge him with, "Can you define the word please?" or "Please use the word in a sentence!" from across the room. I suppose I will forever be the second grader in a plaid jumper and knee socks, licking my spelling bee wounds. The worst part of it all is that I think on some level he takes joy not from beating me outright, but the fact that the way he beats me pisses me off so much. Yes, I know I shouldn't give a reaction. Yes, I realize I'm being infantile. No, I do not care.

Last Friday, while working, I got a notification on my phone and opened the screen to the board.  The word that was played was "Greatness".  I see a chat bubble notification in the upper right corner and clicked it to find this comment, and I responded in kind to the shit talking.


Liberal use of profanity, because I am nothing if not consistent.



I huffed, I puffed, I tried to shake off my growing sense of inferiority. I clicked back to the game board, ready to use the fire he lit under my ass to put together a killer move and regain control of the game, as well as my winning record. I'm ready for all-out war now because I simply do not think I have the mental fortitude to withstand the shame of losing any more. And that is when I realize I have made the gravest of mistakes. Once again, my red-headed temper has gotten the best of me. I see the user name at the top of the board and realize I did not just tell my husband to go fuck himself.

It was my dad.

I tell people to go fuck themselves all the time, which is probably why I don't have many friends, I'm not employed in anything that resembles a professional setting, and I've been the black sheep mom of the schools since 2000. I do so with conviction, indignation and enthusiasm. I am reliable, consistent and prolific in the manner in which I hand out whichever variation of the "Fuck Off" directive I am feeling in the moment. This was no different than any other time with one exception. This was the first time in my 38 years I have ever accidentally told someone to go fuck themselves. 

And it was my dad.

I panic and try to save face, and offer this, since I don't have the ability to retract chat. Hitting send is kind of like taking your hand off of a chess piece. It's a done deal.

Because caps lock effectively conveys the urgency, no?
Thankfully the old man has a great sense of humor and got a good laugh at my expense. I sent these screen shots to my sisters with the message, "I accidentally told dad to go fuck himself today." so they could get in on the fun too. I figure the least I can do since they've put up with me this long is let them get in a good laugh, and laugh they did.

I realize the best way to lessen the likelihood of this happening again in the future would be for me to clean up my language, but quite frankly, that shit is not going to happen. I'd say that I am sorry if that offends anyone, but I'd be lying.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

12

I'm quite certain you looked like this just yesterday.

I don't know if knowing that your birthday was coming has had anything to do with it, but lately I've been surprised at how many times I look at you and you just seem older. Maybe it's because there's a good chance you'll be taller than your sisters by this time next year. I'm sure starting junior high has had something to do with it. More often than not, you have a book in your hands, but the titles are decidedly more mature and to be honest, I'm pretty pleased with the way your musical tastes are evolving. I like to think I had a hand in that. Your face no longer has the round fullness of a young child and the days of your blue eyes made even bigger behind cotton-candy pink framed lenses are long gone. The only evidence of that strawberry birthmark that remains is in old pictures. I remember one day in the kitchen, you were about as old as you are in this picture. As always, the steady stream of consciousness that was your voice filled the air and I managed to get in edgewise that you must have a very big brain to think of all the very big ideas that you had. You laughed, and true to form, corrected me on the spot. You told me that you didn't think with your brain; you thought with your mouth. The more time has passed, the more inclined I am to believe you were right. Of all the countless words you've learned, and of all the beautiful ways you've taught yourself to craft them so others can know the thoughts that fill your head and feelings that spill from your heart, one has always been, and will always be, my favorite.

"Mama."

I hope you never get too old to call me that. 

The truth of the matter is that you're at that age now that you're going to look back on one day and wonder why you were in such a hurry to get to the other side of childhood. I don't think you're in as big of a hurry as others, and that makes me happy. I've always said that children do what they do and are who they are for three reasons: because of you, in spite of you, and some of it has nothing to do with you at all. I think the vast majority of who you are falls into the third category. You've always invoked a response from people that have known you. Aunt Katie looked at me when you were little and in the middle of one of your biblical meltdowns and asked me incredulously what was wrong with you. I wanted to rip her face off. When you get going, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do except wait out your storm. I've had friends read your poetry and hear about the crazy, generous ideas you have come up with and made happen, and congratulate me on what a "good job" I've done with you. My response has always been the same. Your accomplishments are yours and yours alone. I've known my role for you since you were scooting across the kitchen floor. Stay out of your way, do not remove any obstacles from your path because you are fully capable of navigating them yourself, dust you off if you get hurt trying, and stay within shouting distance in case you decide you need me. That has been the routine for the last dozen years. I imagine it will always be the routine.

This age you're at is tricky. You are starting to shape who you're going to be as an adult. You get to try new things, whether it be a new sport, your writing, different groups of friends. Sometimes trying new things is intimidating not because they're new but because of how other people might react to them. Kids your age can be notoriously cruel, and the crap you're inundated with between music, TV and all things digital are way worse. There is an expectation that you act a certain way, sound a certain way, and look a certain way or there's something wrong with you. I've said this to you before and I am sure I will say it again. Fuck that noise. It's bullshit. All of these things that seem to matter now only matter if you let them, and they all add up to nothing when all is said and done anyway. Try new things no matter what people say or think. Find what suits you. Learn. Grow. 

Fail. 

Lick your wounds if you have to, but then get back up and try again. There's no shame in failure but there is in not trying at all. 

I've always said that I don't know if I could live my life the way you live yours if my heart was like yours. You have always had this amazing ability to feel what other people are feeling. You willingly do it because you take the time to put yourself into other people's shoes, like when Mr. Patterson died.  I was so worried how the chaos of the ambulances, coroner and police would weigh on you. It turned out that I was way off base. What weighed on you was that he died by himself, and how sorry you were that even though you knew there wouldn't have been anything you could have done, you could have at least held his hand so he didn't have to die alone. That's your gift. You've already figured out that the most valuable gift you can ever give to anyone is your time. It's the one thing you'll never get back but it is always best spent making someone else's life a little warmer. A little brighter. A little less lonely. I don't ever want you to lose that, no matter what happens. You'll be amazed at what comes back to you when you give it to other people. Wait and see.

If there is one thing I want you to remember as you begin to make your way through the next years, it's this: keep your mind and heart open. You're an outstanding little human being and even though the biggest hand I've had in that has been staying out of your way as you steam full-speed ahead, I couldn't be prouder you're mine. I've loved you since before I laid eyes on you, and I always will.

-Mama




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why I Stayed Became the Reason I Left

I came to the conclusion early this morning that this would be a day that I should probably stay off of the internet.  After my morning shower, I was scrolling through FaceBook over my morning coffee and my news feed was littered with everything related to the video.  I know you all know which video I am talking about because I am quite certain your feeds were littered with it too.  The screen capture of the inside of the elevator showed a very large man (and I use that term very loosely) talking to a security guard while a woman laid sprawled, unconscious, her body halfway inside and hallway outside of the elevator threshold.  I still have not watched the video, nor do I plan to.  I've learned through the years that things can not be unseen, and I choose to not add that to my memory.

What blows my mind, however, is some of the discussion revolving around the issue.  There has been a range of reactions, but there is a mindset out there that I find disturbing to say the least.  I won't waste my time addressing the sentiment that she got what she deserved.  I adhere strongly to the belief that one should not argue with a fool because people may not know the difference.  What I would like to take a moment to perhaps give a little insight to is why people in abusive relationships don't just leave.  It seems like such a simple, cut and dry answer.  A one and done, problem solved, no bullshit solution.  There are countless stories out there about domestic abuse.  It's not a race issue, a class issue, or even a gender issue.  I won't speak about the parties involved in today's hot topic.  I can  and will only speak about my own experiences and my hope is that even if you don't agree with my choices, you will at least have a better level of understanding about why I made the choices I did.  A little understanding is really all one can hope for anyway.

I became involved with a man when I was in my early 20's.  It's no secret that I was at a pretty low point when it came to making good decisions at that time.  With some help, I had finally gotten my own apartment in a brick 3-flat in a decent town where I was happy with the schools, which was important to me since Banana would be starting kindergarten the next fall.  The rent was manageable and it was a nice place even if it was a little outdated.  I had been involved with him for some time at this point and he had never been violent towards me before.  He went from staying with me a few days a week to just staying with me all the time.  It seemed fine at the beginning but I have spent so many years looking at it through the gift of 20/20 hindsight that there were signs I either didn't see or chose to not acknowledge for what they were.  He became suspicious of my friends and acted injured if I chose to spend time with them instead of him.  He criticized what I wore and based his objections on his belief that I would be attracting the wrong kind of attention.  His moods would change in a split second leaving me to wonder what it was that I had said or done that offended him.  He was blatantly disrespectful to my friends in my home as well as out in public.  I had invited my coworkers back to my apartment after our Christmas party and he spent the night becoming more rude the drunker he got to the point where everyone left except for my best friend.  I remember her sitting at my kitchen table with her arms crossed across her purse and she refused to leave when he told her to get out.  She knew I was already growing uneasy about his moods and behavior because she had seen things and we had talked.  Her voice was steady as she raised her eyes to him and told him point blank that he could try all he wanted but he didn't scare her and she wouldn't be leaving until I asked her to.  Her voice never broke but I could see her white knuckles tremble as she clutched that purse.  I reassured her and told her I would be fine even though I was just as afraid as I knew she was.

He didn't strike me that night but he did slam me against a wall and choked me until I passed out just after I put the chain on the door after she left.

It was relatively quiet for a few weeks after that.  He apologized profusely and sobbed as he told me he didn't deserve me over and over again.  He lamented the fact that he hurt a woman the way he had seen his own mother hurt time and again growing up.  He begged for forgiveness as he wept.  He told me he could never live with himself if I left him and if I did, he would take his own life.

I withdrew physically and emotionally.  Every move I made, every word I spoke, every thought I had was based in fear.  I had to make a conscious effort to not recoil to touch, out of fear that it would provoke him.  I forced myself to keep my voice calm and steady when addressing him or responding to him, out of fear that the wrong choice of words or a slip in my tone would provoke him.  A few weeks had passed without any major incident and I slowly began to let my guard down because ultimately, I believe we as human beings are hopeful.  It's why we wish on shooting stars, it's why we buy lottery tickets, it's why we believe broken people can be fixed if we just love them the way they need to be loved.

It was a cold Friday night in February and my girls were gone for the weekend.  I had worked late at the restaurant and got home to find an empty apartment.  I slipped off my shoes and took my necktie off and placed my apron on my couch before heading into my bedroom to put my cash into my dresser drawer by the bed.  I opened the box I had put my tax refund money into that would cover rent and food for those two slow months the service industry suffers after the holidays to find all my money was gone.  I searched the house but I knew he had taken it.  He didn't have a phone but I called anyone he could have possibly been with to let them know that if he didn't come to the apartment with my money within the hour that I would be calling the police and having him arrested. It didn't take long for the word to get to him and within 45 minutes, he showed up with his friends.  They stayed for awhile, as he apologized profusely for causing me concern.  I went to the bathroom and as he was closing the back door behind them, I looked at the counter and realized my phone was gone.  He pulled it out of his pocket as he turned to me and broke it with his hands.  The beating I received that night lasted hours.  I had no way to escape.  I had no way to call 911.  I pounded on my floors, hoping the neighbors would hear me screaming for help and call the police for me.  Nobody ever came.

The next morning I awoke on my bedroom floor in an excruciating amount of pain.  I managed to partially open my right eye to see that the sticky mess I felt on my face was bloody mats of hair.  I pulled it from the floor with my hands because my scalp was so tender from being dragged by my hair.  I saw bruises covering most of my legs and arms but my back and ribs were by far the most painful.  I limped my way to the bathroom as he slept, hoping the creaking of my hardwood floor wouldn't wake him.  I knew my back was in bad shape but didn't realize how badly until I filled the toilet with bright red blood, a reminder that would stay with me for weeks as my kidneys healed.  I stood over the sink and took inventory of my facial injuries with the one eye that wasn't swollen shut from eyebrow to cheek.  The capillaries in my right eye were broken and the blood pooled around the blue.  The other eye suffered the same fate although it wasn't confirmed until a few days later when the swelling went down and I could see it.  I rinsed my face and hair with warm water, rubbing gently around my nose that made a weird crunching noise and now crooked to the side.  I rinsed my mouth and spit the blood as quietly as I could into the sink.  As I stood, I peeled the collar of my shirt from my chest, seeing bite marks and bruising.  To get a better look, I lifted my shirt to find angry purple bruises along my ribs and I couldn't catch my breath.  I started coughing, my chest spasming and tight  as I coughed more blood into the sink.  The coughing woke him and he made his way to the bathroom.  He stood in the doorway and we looked at each other in silence for a minute.  He reached for me and I covered my ribs with one arm and my head with the other.  He grabbed me by my hair and smashed my face into the mirror, demanding I open my eyes even though I physically lacked the capability.  He kept saying over and over that he couldn't believe what I made him do.  I can't even tell you how many times he said it until I finally managed to tell him that it wasn't me that made him do anything.  It stopped him momentarily, but only long enough for him to decide to throw me into the hallway and tell me to clean up the blood because the smell made him sick.  I told him I had to call into work because even if there wasn't a mark on me, I could barely walk.  There was no way I could wait tables.  He told me there was no way he would let me walk to the pay phone but his friend was supposed to stop by at noon and I could use his cellphone as long as he brought it to me in the bedroom.  He also cautioned me that if I even tried to call 911 that I would be dead before the police arrived.

I believed him.

When I didn't show up to work for two days in a row, my best friend showed up to the apartment and even though I think she knew what she was going to see, I don't think she was ready to see it.  He had left for a few hours and she took me to her dad's house and took pictures of my injuries.  I called my bosses and told them that I had taken a nasty fall down my front porch and even though everyone knew it was bullshit, that was the official story and I didn't lose my job.  I went to work a week later when I was healed up enough to walk.  My friends were ready for payback when they saw me, and I had to talk them out of taking any action to not only keep themselves out of trouble but to not add fuel to the fire.  Remembering his threat in regards to police involvement, I made them promise me they wouldn't contact the police. I came home from work on Sunday, two weeks after it happened, but stopped at the hardware store on the way.  When I got in, I packed all of his shit into garbage bags and left them with a note at the back door telling him his key wouldn't work and I never wanted to see him again.

He stalked me for a year and a half after that day.  He'd follow me to and from work and tried to run me off the road over the interstate overpass by my job.  I managed to salvage my sim card from the broken phone and popped it into another phone I had bought.  There were days he called me over 100 times.  I never left or entered my apartment without driving around the block first and hustling my kids full speed from the car to the door.  I began to call the police when he'd show up and ring my doorbell, demanding that I speak with him.  I showed up to the police department several times to report the phone calls and letters left on my car.  He was smart enough to never reference the beating in anything written and I was told that there wasn't anything that could be done because he just sounded like "a guy who's sorry and wants to work things out".  I saved everything in a binder and kept it in my closet, hoping that if my body was ever found, at least I left some paper trail as to who to look for.  My cousin moved in with me and his crazy shit continued.  One night he showed up drunk and pulled the t.v. off it's stand in my second floor apartment by the cables he tried to climb to gain access.  We called 911 and waited with baseball bats in our hands until the police arrived.  They took our information and were kind enough to act like they were doing us a favor by not arresting Sean, who had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear.  They sent him home and told him to sleep it off.  They cautioned me against filing a report because it would be grounds for my landlord to evict me, which I was sure he'd jump all over because I was late with my rent every month and I don't think he appreciated me turning down the offer to negotiate my rent in return for me spending some time with him.  I realized this wasn't going to stop.

I was entering my second trimester with Midge when I took my binder to the State's Attorney and sought an order of protection.  The judge was floored by my written statement I provided as grounds for seeking the order as well as the detailed records I kept on everything from dates and times of incidents to contact with the police department.  The pictures proved useful too.  I was granted an emergency order and was told to come back in 30 days when he would have the chance to show up to contest the order becoming permanent, which he did.  The judge granted the order, which is good for 2 years in Illinois, and ordered him to community service as well as anger management. It's kind of pathetic that grown people have to have a judge order them to take classes so they can earn a certificate of completion saying they've learned what most of us have learned by kindergarten: Keep your hands to yourself.  I moved a month after that and got married.

It's been 13 years now and I look back and second guess so much of everything.  I wish I could have found a way out of my apartment that night but I was too afraid and then I was too incapacitated.  I've been asked a number of times why I chose to wait it out a few weeks before I changed the locks.  The answer is simple: I feared for my life.  I've taken steps to make myself unsearchable.  If you try to connect my current identity to the one I had when I lived in the apartment online, you won't find me.  I ceased to exist and it was very much a deliberate move.  I still search his records every month or so, so I can tell you where he lives on any given month, just in case.  He's a little too close for my liking as of May, so we now avoid that entire part of the county.  He doesn't occupy my thoughts as frequently as he used to, mainly when I catch a whiff of someone wearing his cologne.  I had a moment the other week watching a Purge movie where a scene sent me back for a moment and my chest tightened and I had to concentrate on breathing.  The worst of it though is I still have very vivid nightmares on occasion.  I am so paralyzed by fear that I have to will myself awake after I realize the pain in my chest and numbness in my arms and hands is just a panic attack and not a heart attack.  It's hard to force yourself to breathe deeply when you're not lucid and to force yourself to remember it's the only way to combat hypoxia.  I like to think there will be a time that is the last time, but I don't know for sure.  I've earned back my ability to hope though, which is a good place to start.















Thursday, July 31, 2014

Unethical Parenting at It's Finest

Last weekend Bean and Midge had a sleepover at my cousin's house.  It's been a long-standing tradition in the family for the kids to all take turns spending the night with their cousins, the grown folk all take turns housing and feeding the little shits for the night.  It's a good system.  The kids all occupy the others and believe it or not, it isn't bad at all from the hosting parent's position.  They're up each other's asses and not ours.  It's a win-win situation.

As soon as I got home last Sunday, Midge told me about the prank her 8th grade cousin T-Money (we actually call him that, it goes on birthday cards and everything) and Bean played on him.  That's another long-standing family tradition.  Usually one of the kids gets pranked and depending on how good it is, you might still be laughed at about it twenty years down the road as you're trying to enjoy some Thanksgiving dinner.  I'm going to give you a little back story here.  Midge's great fear is severe weather.  We knew we were screwed when we got a call when she was in kindergarten from her teacher, saying she freaked out so badly at the fire drill that she actually had to be carried out of the school. She's never been a fan of chaos nor situations her very Type A personality is unable to control. The one thing none of us can control is that temperamental bitch Mother Nature and that really, really doesn't sit well with poor Midge.  Whenever the severe alert buzzes on the tv, she'd panic and tremble and it was generally a bad scene here until the threat has passed.  She has gotten better over the years, but she still has her moments.  At Banana's graduation party a few weeks ago, the skies got green and the sirens blew and she had to be talked off the proverbial ledge in my aunt's basement.  Cake didn't even help.  Just two weeks ago, she was actually banned from watching Tom Skilling at night because she came downstairs at 10:30, a quivering, visibly distraught, tears-in-her-eyes mess over an unstable air mass that posed a threat of potential severe weather the next day. So much like I was told I couldn't read Stephen King books before bed at her age if I was checking the closet for Pennywise the clown, Midge got herself banned from bedtime weather reports.  Ahem.

I have to say, the prank her sister and cousin executed was a stroke of evil genius.  Let me emphasize, it was pretty evil considering they both know how acutely she reacts to bad weather.  They both woke up, and decided it would be hilarious to darken the room while Midge slept.  They somehow managed to stifle their laughter before waking her, urgent voices breaking her sleep telling her that she had to get up and they had to take cover because there was a tornado warning.  She panicked and freaked out before she was awake enough to realize her cousin and sister were cracking up and had gotten her ass good.  She was dismayed when she told me about it, contempt in her voice and giving Bean serious side-eye as Bean could barely contain her triumphant snicker.  She said she doesn't mind being pranked but she felt that prank crossed the line because she picked the one thing that scares the living shit (my words) out of her and used it against her.  I did tell Bean that it was actually a little mean and pranks aren't fun anymore if they are mean and prey on someone's fears.  I could tell by the look on her face she didn't really care what I thought and that's fine.  Kids all learn these things on their own time.

I decided to help along the process when opportunity presented itself and Miss Bean learned today.

I was at my aunt's today helping her move some furniture around and she asked me if I had heard about the prank.  I said that yes, I had.  She offered that she thought it was a mean prank and she thought it was terrible.  I agreed.  While we were down in the basement (the one we took shelter in a few weeks ago in the middle of the party, which I am sure was the inspiration for the now infamous prank), I went over to the window to wipe down the sill, and there I had my own stroke of evil genius.  I picked it up gently and called up the stairs for Bean to come help me real quick.  She came down and I told her I had some trash I'd like her to throw away for me.  I held my closed hand out for her and she responded by extending her arm and opening the palm of her hand.  I then deposited a lesson in it for her.

Say hello to my little friend. Don't worry, it's dead.

The next ten seconds or so were so perfect that I almost saw them in slow motion.  First, the color drained from my already fair-complected little ginger's face and her lips parted as she gasped.  Her blue eyes darted up and met mine as I smiled at her.  Her long fingers began to tremble ever so slightly as she managed to form the word "Mom" as she realized that yes, I put a bee in the palm of her hand.  At this point the tremble spread from her fingers to her hand, as she began to pant.  The tremble finally worked it's way up her arm as she found her voice and it built into a crescendo of a wail.  She eventually shook the bee off her hand as she turned and darted her little ass right up the stairs, shrieking the whole way. 

I picked the bee up off the floor as my aunt and I laughed and I threw it in the garbage.  I let her sit upstairs for a few minutes and stew before I went up.  As I climbed the stairs, I saw her sitting at the kitchen table, eyes on me the whole time.  When I reached the top, I made my point.  I said, "Hey, Bean, you didn't like my prank?"

She shook her head and looked at me and I knew she knew what was coming next.

"Do you mean to tell me you don't think it's funny when someone plays a prank on you and it actually scares you?"

"No, Mom, it wasn't funny.  It scared me.  I didn't know it was dead."

"Oh," I replied, "do you mean like when you woke up Midge telling her there was a tornado and she didn't know there actually wasn't one?  Weird.  I thought you'd think it was funny."

At that point, she turned to her sister and told her she was sorry, which is something that had I made her do it when I was relayed the story, would definitely not have been sincere.  This one was.  Mission accomplished.

Sometimes you've got to go with efficacy over ethics if you want the lesson to stick.   


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Graduation

Thirteen years and several lifetimes ago.
The first time I watched you walk across a stage and receive a piece of paper tied with a gold ribbon, you were five.  The next time you graduated was from kindergarten when you were six.  You walked across the stage and shook hands with your principal as you took the piece of paper they printed off and mounted on construction paper.  The next graduation was eighth grade.  That one seemed more official. Everyone gathered in the high school gym on that awful hot day that our air conditioning broke. True to form, we disregarded the instruction to wait until all graduates had crossed the stage and hold our applause.  As your name was called, we erupted into applause, whistling and whooping fit for the winning goal of game 6 of the Blackhawks and Bruins series when they took the Cup. I know when I saw your face, you expected nothing less.

Today you will walk across the stage to receive the diploma for the last bit of your mandatory education.  It's the last diploma I ever received twenty years ago.  I know I talked to you briefly yesterday as I steamed the wrinkles out of the gown your little ass will be swimming in as you take the stage.  I told you I'm proud of you and you smiled and acted like you understood what I was saying.  I know you think you do but I didn't have the opportunity to tell you what that really means, partly because you were in a hurry to leave and partly because I was suddenly struck with the gravity of it all and struggled to find the words without tearing up.  

There are a bunch of things you have to know in order to earn your high school diploma.  Outside of knowing how to speak and write and not sound like a complete idiot to future professors and employers, I promise you, very little of it matters a single bit.  The ACT that you worried so much about means absolutely nothing other than the value a college places on it.  Information and processes are important for grades and will hopefully provide you with the foundation you need to be successful at KU, but it's really all the other stuff you've learned over especially these last four years that will carry you to wherever you decide your future will be.

You struggled with things that challenged you in ways that define your person.  Of course you had to learn to navigate the social hierarchy of high school.  That alone can stick with people for years to come.  You learn skills about how to trust and manage people's perception of you, and whether or not you even give a shit what others' perception of you might be.  You learn how to prioritize which issues and responsibilities are most worthy of your time.  That's a skill you will need to know for the rest of your life, whether you have a career or family or both.  You leaned how to deal with a broken heart and how to break the hearts of others with as little damage as possible.  All of these things are what most kids deal with in high school, and whether you know it or not, I felt every little bit of what you felt when these things all happened. It hasn't always been easy because I'm your mom and it is always my first instinct to swoop in and fix your problems for you so you suffer as little as possible.  I know you make fun of me for ignoring you and sometimes you actually get angry with me because I won't tell you how you should handle a particular situation.  I hope that by now you understand that I do that very deliberately.  I am not raising children.  I am raising my daughters to be women, capable and confident in making their own decisions, learning from their missteps and being able to own the pride of their own victories.  I even stayed true to this after you got out of rehab.  Honestly, there were so many times I almost threw the whole philosophy out the window out of crushing fear that you would falter and I would lose you.  As difficult as it was and as many times as I second guessed every choice I ever made with you, I am content with the fact that you are the one that created your own permanence and chose your own path.  You are the sum of your choices, and I am proud of the choices you have made.

You have learned to invest in your own future.
You have learned to pour your heart into your relationships with your sisters.
You have learned to allow your heart to be vulnerable even when the possibility exists that it will break.
You have learned to let go of things that don't grow you as a person.
You have learned that you will only ever be treated as well as you allow yourself to be.
You have learned to keep your circle small because quality trumps quantity.
You have learned to ask for help when you need it, and that doesn't make you weak.
You have learned to give of yourself and that's the most important thing you can ever give anybody.
You have learned to get back on your feet when you've been knocked down.
You have learned that you've got to go out and earn what you want if it is going to mean a damn thing.
You have learned your opinion of yourself means more than anyone else's.
You have learned you're capable.

I hope that these augment the things you have always known.  

I am more proud of you than words could ever do justice and I love you more than you could ever possibly know.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Wilton Lane

Last week I picked Red up from work at the mall when she got off at 9.  Our to and from work ride ritual is either end of the spectrum, never in between.  If it's been a bad day, we listen to the radio softly in silence.  They are all their mother's daughters in terms of how to deal with a bad day.  I give them the space I know I want when I'm having one.  If it's a good day, as last Friday was, we crank music that I really have no business liking as much as I do (Jason Derulo and 2 Chainz? Check.) and generally make asses of ourselves dancing in our seats at red lights.  Music and laughter flows and I take twisted joy in seeing the looks on people's faces that pull up to us to discover that one of those obnoxious and loud teenagers is actually a 37-year-old mother of four with a regrettable amount of white hairs contrasting the red in her pajamas.  I'm easily amused.

I always turn down the volume as we pull into the subdivision off the county road.  It's a habit I've developed when taking my husband's car so he doesn't leave for work at 5:20 in the morning and have a heart attack when he turns the car on.  I pulled to the stop sign, looked left, looked right and hesitated for a split second before I made the turn.

"Mom, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, why?"

"Don't tell me nothing's wrong.  You were fine a second ago and now you're not."

Sometimes I forget that these children spent nine months cradled safely inside my body.  It's easy to forget that because as my dad says, the days pass slowly but the years fly by.  My daughters are a far cry from the pink, wrinkled babies I met all those years ago.  Nevertheless, they spent months in my womb, hearing the muffled pounding of my heart as they grew.  Sound was their primary sense before they were born, and each of them sought out the beating of my heart again after their bodies no longer depended upon mine for their survival.  Sometimes the only way I could get them to sleep was to hold them close with their heads against my chest, so they could hear the sound they were most familiar with.  I am convinced that sometimes they still hear it, even if they're not aware of it.

I lived on the street I was turning onto for about a year.  I never pass the house, instead turning the other way faithfully for the almost 10 years I've been back in the town I was raised in.  I was 15 when my sisters, mother and I moved in after my parents divorced.  I caught a glimpse of it as I looked left to make sure there were no cars coming.  There's a basketball hoop in the drive now, and a car that is not the brown Chevy Caprice that belonged to my mother.  I could see a red door illuminated in diffused blue light from the metal halide street lamp.  I don't remember what color the door used to be anymore.

What I do remember is my husband asking me if I would be ok buying my grandma's house after she died, considering it's proximity to the house I lived in before I left is a mere two blocks.  I assured him that yes, I would be fine.  I wanted to raise my family here, and it's one of the best decisions we've ever made.  I would do nothing differently if given the chance to do it over.

A few years ago, I took the kids out for a round of trick or treating, and I let them lead the way.  We ended up on that street, and tried to herd the girls past the house.  Midge saw the light was on and insisted we go to it.  I told her I thought we should skip that house and she wanted to know why.  I told her I used to live there; her eyes lit up and before I could even grab either of them, they raced across the lawn and rang the bell.  It opened, and the smiling woman that was dropping candy into my girls' baskets commented on how cute they were.  I stood on the drive where it met the walkway, noticing the rosebushes I helped plant years ago.  I thanked her, and Bean blurted out that this was my old house.  The woman stepped back, opening the door, and asked me if I'd like to come in.

Come in?

I'd rather douse in gasoline, throw a match on it, and watch it burn.

It's the same thought that came screaming to the forefront, demanding to be heard as I pulled to the stop sign and let my eyes wander just right off the pavement last weekend.  When Red heard the change in my heartbeat and asked me what was wrong, I clenched my jaw to keep it from pushing past my teeth and contaminating the air I shared with the blue-eyed redhead I borne that is the same age I was when I left that house with the now-red door for the last time 21 years ago.  I've trained myself to tune out my rage, just like I tune out the very existence of that house most days, but even I get caught off guard. When I fail, red fury bubbles hot and red from my chest, drawing blood from my extremities as fuel, leaving my hands cold as my face flushes hot with anger.

I didn't go into the house that Halloween.  I can still see the cigarette smoke hanging thick in the air and ash spilling from full ash trays on the glass coffee table and kitchen counter.  I can hear the thick gravel voice of the man who wore the appropriately-named wife beaters like an unapologetic dare every day, drilling insults about everything from my weight to what a dirty whore I was, dropping words like lead at my feet.  They were heavy enough to crush me at the time.  I imagine the door to the bedroom at the top of the stairs has been back on it's hinges now for some time, not that the flimsy push-lock on it protected us in the first place, or by closing it you could keep the smell of urine that had been deposited on our mattress from permeating the air.  The phone was rarely on the wall in the kitchen, but there was always plenty of empty bottles of Jack Daniels around.  Maybe we could have smashed them against the floor in hopes one of the neighbors would have called the police for us, not that they ever would have.  The stoop remained unscathed, showing no signs of the night I was literally thrown down it barefoot in February, wearing nothing more than my Catholic school uniform, for having the audacity of not making a batch of cookies.  The scars on my knee and hand have faded considerably, and are really only visible on my pale skin when I am cold and they blush purple.  I went to my grandma's and banged on the front door that is now my own, begging to be let in before that man came after me once he realized I wasn't going to throw myself at his mercy to be let back into the home that was mine before he snaked his way in.  My friend's mother came to pick me up a few doors down and take me home with her where she cleaned me up and kept me for a few hours.  I didn't go back into that house after I left until my uncle brought me with a baseball bat and rolls of quarters in his hands, where I gathered up what remained of my belongings in two trash bags.

So there the house still sits all these years later.  We have an agreement.  I don't drive past it and it lets me go about building my life in the town I called mine when I was young.  In return, I don't throw bricks through the windows when my unexpected anger demands release.

I've entered and exited the subdivision the long way since last weekend as a demonstration of good faith.

Monday, February 3, 2014

All Things Being Equal

How fitting that yesterday was Groundhog's Day, and not in terms of waiting to see if that fat little groundhog would see his shadow. I mean more along the lines of the Bill Murray movie where Phil Connors finds himself living the same shitty day over and over again. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Cory Monteith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston all came before. Yesterday's addition to the list was Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Of course, the internet being what it is, because it is a reflection of us all, followed the same pattern it always has when this happens. Shock and grief give way to outrage in it's various forms. Some people mourn the loss of an artist. Some people are bitter of the fact that someone in a position of privilege has abused it and garnered more attention than the people not in that position that have fought and lost those same battles. There are of course the arguments of addiction being a selfish choice versus it being a disease with multiple manifestations. I've discussed my position in that debate before, and you, like everyone else, are free to agree or disagree with me as you see fit.

I read a piece in Esquire today about Mr. Hoffman, and it was a poignant piece. It spoke of his talent and the depth that he brought to his work. It was a wonderful tribute to him until the last paragraph. The author made the assertion that Matt Damon would never be found dead with a syringe in his arm just as George Clooney would never essentially eat himself to death because they "have too much to lose".

Come again?

The reason this assertion has bothered me so much is the same reason the assertion that nobody should care when a celebrity pays for his addiction with his life. Addiction cares absolutely nothing about who you are or what you have.  Privilege and wealth do not insulate you. Education and income do not insulate you.  Your neighborhood and home do not insulate you. Hell, not even people that have loved you since the day you were born nor children that have been born to you can insulate you. Addiction is indiscriminate and insidious. If you have been fortunate enough to not have addiction hold you or someone you love hostage, be grateful. I have been on both sides of that coin and I wouldn't wish either on my own worst enemies.

In the end, the reason I care about any overdose, celebrity or otherwise, is simple. When you strip away the bank account, the $10, 000 dollar a month apartment, the Oscar and the celebrity, what you are left with is a human being with an addiction no different than myself. He had almost 23 years of sobriety and he relapsed.  That is the same threat that anyone who has earned their sobriety lives with every single day. I have over 10 years, and I have come dangerously close to relapse myself. The truth of the matter is he died alone in his bathroom, ashamed and hopeless.  His wealth and status make him no different than than the junkie that dies in a smack house in Baltimore.

 It makes him no different than myself.