600 Posts

I started this blog nearly five years ago, in January 2010.  I was approaching my 40th birthday and I felt adrift.   How did I end up here, I often thought.  Who am I and how did I become this person?  I would find myself talking to myself in the mirror, having the conversations that I couldn’t have with another single soul on earth.

Then I started this blog.  This blog helped me.  Helped me figure out, if not the answers to those questions, at least find some peace in the journey I’ve been on.  When I look back on the way I felt then, the sadness that often permeated my days, the insecurity I felt, it is nearly embarrassing.  I’m not that person anymore.  I’m not the person who needs others for validation, for them to like her.  Who needs to always know everyone’s opinion of her and change it if it is negative.

Some of that is age, but some of that is the introspection this space has allowed me.

I journeyed through time here, taking the time to sort through the stories of my past.  For most of my life, I’ve felt like a victim of the tragedies that have befallen me, the rotten luck I’ve had or the lack of closure I’ve felt.  I don’t feel like a victim anymore.  I feel strong.  I feel like a fighter.  I feel like someone who has taken the blows and come back swinging.

I was able to meet again the characters that lived in my past, in my head, in the stories I told myself late at night.  And in some cases, upon reexamining those long ago events, I discovered that I wasn’t, in fact, blameless for the mishaps that befell me.  It wasn’t always my dumb luck or the world out to get me.  Sometimes it was me, and my own actions that brought about this thing or that.  Not an easy pill to swallow.

It’s been years since I finished writing my life story, one memory at a time.  I still keep this blog, to write in sometimes.  But mostly it is like a warm blanket I can wrap myself in when I need it.  If I want to go back in time, all I need to do is click a few times and suddenly there I am, in a room with my son’s father again.  I can give myself permission to love him again, to think about the funny way he used to smile or the way he would visit me at the drive through window when I worked at Burger King, his car spewing oil smoke so thick my coworkers would shoo him away.  It is 1988 again, and I haven’t made all the mistakes yet.  I’m in love, and I’m happy, and the world is my oyster.

Or it is 1992, and I’m in a hospital room with my mother.  I can allow myself to remember not only the beauty of caring for her while she was ill, but also the hard parts, the angry parts, the parts where we argued.  It’s OK for me to remember that it was a hard thing to do, to care for her alone in addition to my 2 year old son.  I’m there again, remembering the nights we cried together before she died.

Or it is 1999 all over again, and I’m standing backstage at a Rick Springfield concert.  He is telling me that he wants me to work for him.  I’m scared and excited and sweaty and not sure how I will be able to do this, and I’m also trying to quiet the thirteen year old girl screaming inside my head.  It hasn’t gone south yet.  It’s still fun.  It’s still amazing.  He still looks at me like I’m the best thing for his career that he is trying to reignite.

Or it is 2004 and my beautiful blond boy, my silent, stormy, sweet boy hasn’t been diagnosed yet.  There’s still hope, there is still the idea that maybe we are just like everyone else.  Even though I know we’re not.  Even though I am already hoping someone will tell me what to do with this child to fix him.  Because for every problem, I think, there is a solution.  There’s a problem, and you fix it.  That’s how life is.  Right?

Going back through my blog here allows me, even just for a moment, to imagine.  To dream.  To allow myself the fantasy of the paths that I didn’t end up traveling.  But it also gives me the thing that I wanted, always.  It gives me peace.  It lets me know that I made these choices.  I wasn’t a victim.  I was an active participant.  For each thing that happened to me, I reacted.  I chose.  I forged a path.  I decided what came next.

It hasn’t been an easy journey.  But it has been my journey.  And all in all, even with all of the pain and the heartache and anger and sadness, there has also been joy.  And truth.  And discovery.  I know who I am now.  I used to need someone else to tell me, to validate me, to let me know that I was good, smart, strong.  I don’t need anyone else to tell me those things now.

Because I know.  600 posts later, I know who I am.

Celebrate Life

Well, it’s here.  The big one.

Today my mother has been dead for twenty years.  A perfect, round number.  A really big number.

It’s a long time.  A long time to be without her.  I’ve done this now, twenty times.  Lived this day, twenty times.  Each time Feburary 13 rolls around, I I have mourned for my mother.  Relived that day so long ago.  Remembered each last moment.  The gift and the wonder and the terror or watching someone pass from this life to the next.  I have thought of her and remembered with sadness all I lost when she died.  All she lost when she died.  All that she missed out of her life, how much she never got to do.

Nineteen other times I have woken up, my first thought being of her, and spent the day mired in sadness and memories and what ifs.

This year, it feels different.  Or maybe I want it to feel different.  Perhaps I will it to be different.

I am not sure why.  What has turned inside my heart.  But it feels lighter this year.  I want to spend the day celebrating her, not mourning her.  Thinking of what a wonderful, strong woman she was, how much she persevered through the difficult times of her life.  What a wonderful model she was of a strong willed, determined woman.  How smart, determined and thoughtful she was.

She was a lawyer during a time when women who worked mostly were teachers or nurses.  She was subject to discrimination in her work.  She used to joke about wearing low cut blouses on hearing days with certain judges; she wasn’t above using what she had to get what she needed for her clients.

She was fiercely loyal to those she loved, offering a place to live to anyone who needed it.  We had extra people sleeping on the sofa or in the spare room from time to time, sometimes for months.   My mother didn’t have a lot, but whatever she had, she always shared with whomever she loved.  She was a kind and generous friend.

She was funny, smart, but also knew how to have a good time.  We used to joke that she had a more active social life than I did.  She had great girlfriends, and they loved her just as much as she loved them.

She loved our dog, initially having reservations about getting a rescue animal from the shelter.  In the end, he was her companion and confidante, and wouldn’t leave her body after she passed away at home on the sofa.

While my mother wasn’t a perfect parent, she always was honest and fair, and did her level best in sometimes very difficult times.  She was wonderful at withholding judgement and treating us children with respect and trust.  Even though she was a working mother, and therefore not always available, I never once felt as if she wasn’t 100 % there for me and my champion, always.

I miss her.  I love her.  But I think it is time to put away my heavy heart when I think of her.  She missed much, I missed much, but I also was so lucky.  Lucky to share those last moments with her.  Lucky to say all that I wanted to before she passed.  Lucky to take care of her when she needed me to.  Lucky that she passed onto me her determination and strength.

I know that she would not want me to think of her with sadness in my heart for the rest of my life.  So today, I choose to be happy.  I choose to celebrate her 53 years on this earth rather than gnash my teeth over the twenty she’s been gone.  I will raise my glass to her, smile, and appreciate all that she was and all that she gave to me in her too short life.

Love you, Mom.

A Long Slow Sigh

It’s been twenty years since I celebrated this day with my mother.  Her last birthday.  She turned fifty three that day, and would die five days later.  It’s hard to imagine that, that it has been twenty years.  Twenty years, a lifetime between then and now.  She knew me as a child, even though when she died I was doing very adult things:  I was a single parent taking care of my terminally ill mother.

But now, when I look back on those days, I realize how very young I was.  Twenty years will do that to you, of course.  But still, I just wish somehow that I’d been able to know her as an adult.  The way I know my father now.  The way he comes to me sometimes, seeking advice, counsel, as equals.  My mother and I certainly had much more of that type of relationship than any other 22 year old I knew with their mother, but still.

I was selfish.  I was twenty two.

When I watch my father these days, taking care of his aging mother, worrying about her health and her mind and how to manage the eroding of both, I marvel that I won’t ever have to do that with mine.  She used to joke, of course, that the cigarettes she was insanely addicted to were her way of getting out of the maladies of old age, but it was one of those things that was never really funny.  Because sadly, in the end, it was all too true.

I wonder what my mother would be like, these days, if she had lived.  Would she still be working, at age 73, or not?  Would she approve of the life I’ve built for myself, of the ones my siblings have built for themselves?  What would she look like these days?   Would she be one of those mothers that visited often or not so much?  What would she think of these grandchildren of hers?

Questions I’ll never know the answers to.

I miss her.  When friends of mine lose their parents, as they are starting to, I try to help them with some kind, encouraging words from someone who has been there.  But when they ask if you ever get over it, the answer I always give them is a tough pill to swallow.  You never do.  You never stop being sad about it, feeling that a piece of yourself is missing, wishing that life had not been so cruel.  You learn to live with it, you find eventually that the white hot pain becomes a slow, deep ache that you can almost forget about if you try hard enough.  But it never goes away.  Not ever.

Not even twenty years later.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

The Hardest Thing

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took our children to Mass, as we do every Sunday.  I wasn’t born Catholic, and I haven’t always been a regular churchgoer even after I became one.  But we love our church here, mostly thanks to the wonderful priests who run the place.   I originally became a Catholic because I felt that there was something I got during a Mass that I never was able to find anywhere else.  Our current parish carries that sentiment to the nth degree for me.  There’s always a peace, a message, a hope that comes over me during the service.  I’m able to put the petty worries of my life aside and just breathe.

During this week’s service, our priest talked about how so much of our time is spent running.  At first I thought he was going to rail on about the evils of this high impact exercise that I’ve come to love, so my dander was up (plus we went to the 7:30 service to avoid the crowds, so I was uncaffeinated as well).  But then as he continued, he made it clear that he was talking in much more of a figurative sense.  We’re running towards a financial goal, or a material one; we’re running from some horrible event in our past, or a person we were hurt by; running so fast, all of the time, that we don’t take the time to do what I do at church.

Breathe.  Reflect.  Be calm.  Remove the cobwebs and prioritize.  Figure out what is truly important.

Later that day, my husband asked me what I was running from.

“Excuse me?” I asked the tone I always assume when I feel my husband is making an accusation or a critical statement.

He was referring to the amount of traveling I’ll be doing in the next little while.  In a few days I am loading my children into our SUV and driving out to Michigan to see my brother and sister.  And I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of sense to him that I am doing this.  After all, neither of my siblings ever comes out to see me.  And most of the time when I drive out to see them, my brother and I get into some sort of fight that ends up in months of silence between us.  Why would I want more of that?

But my brother and sister have both had some trauma in their lives recently.   And frankly, they somehow seem less equipped to deal with the hard stuff that I’ve always been.  I’m not sure why that is.  For me, I thought the hardest thing I would do would be having gotten pregnant and 18 and have the father leave me.  And it was, until three years later.  That was when the woman who had supported me and helped me through that experience, my mother, was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.  I was her caregiver at home, while finishing my student teaching and raising my two year old son alone.  She died eleven months after being diagnosed, and then I was left alone with a college degree, a part time substitute teaching job and a pile of bills.  My father moved across the country six months later, weeks before I started the only full time teaching job I could find; teaching in the inner city.   The next few years were a mixture of fear, despair and worry that covered me and everything I did like a blanket.

It was different for my brother and sister.  My sister was married and independent.  Where I was 21 at the time of my mother’s diagnosis, she was 27.  She was an adult, and had been for a while.  She had gone to college for a while but quit when she started dating the man who later became her husband.  When my mother was diagnosed it was devastating for her as well, but she wasn’t expected to provide round the clock care.  She was helpful, very helpful.  But not responsible for everything, like me.

My brother had dropped out of college and was floating from job to job when my mother was diagnosed.  He had partied his way through his late teens and early twenties, barely scraping by.  He had friends, and they drank and smoked through the weekends as lots of kids that age do.  When my mother was diagnosed he was working part time at a gas station.  He actually lived with us briefly but found his own place nearby later.  Again, it was an awful thing for him when my mother was diagnosed.  But the only responsibilities he had at the time were to himself.  He would show up, sometimes.  When he was able to.

I think for my brother and sister, while their lives too were sad and hard in the aftermath of our mother’s passing, it wasn’t going to change much in their lives.  They would still live where they lived, work where they worked, and go back home to a house that was going to be the same as it was before.  I didn’t have that.  Everything in my life changed.  It was horrible.  When I read back in my diaries or the words I’ve written here about it, I still can’t believe that I made it through, that I did everything that needed to be done.  That I went on to have a pretty normal life, despite the scars that I carry with me every single day.

Now, both of them are going through some pretty life altering experiences.  Different, for both of them, but still harder than much of what they’ve ever had to deal with before.  They are scared.  They are paralyzed.  They are unable to cope.  And so I am running, I suppose.  Running to give what I can in the hopes that it will help.  The same way that they “helped” me when I needed it, during my most difficult time.  I won’t know what it is like to live in either of their lives right now.  But I can be present, lend a hand or a shoulder or a few bucks, and try to make the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do a little easier.

Not Great News

“So then what did they say?”  I asked R, turning towards him while we both lay in bed ignoring the ten o’clock news.

R had refused the position in El Paso.  I wasn’t sure how much he actually wanted to refuse on his own merit, but he was able to see the logic in my argument that it was unwise for us to move right now.  Between the baby on the way and Z just gaining footing here, it just seemed crazy to go chasing after another job with this company that couldn’t seem to make up it’s mind.

“They told me that they understood, but unfortunately, that means I need to find another job.”

I replayed the sentence I’d just heard in my head before responding, “What?  How do they go from offering you one job to telling you that you’re fired?”

“Well, apparently what they really meant by offering me this position in El Paso was that they were moving the job I currently have to El Paso, whether or not I wanted to go.  Meaning, if I say no to going, then they will fill my position with someone else who will go to El Paso.”

I gulped.  “That’s not good.”

R sighed in the flickering dim from the television set.  “No, it isn’t.”

“Do you want to go back and say yes?”   I couldn’t even imagine it.   With all of the back and forth about this job business it was now early December.  Moving at this stage would put me between 7 and 8 months by the time we moved.  It seemed crazy, but it wasn’t like losing your job before having a baby was a great choice either.

“No,” R said firmly.  “At this point I’m frankly a little irritated with them.  Don’t worry, they said I can stay on until after the baby is born.”

Somehow, that news didn’t really make me feel any better.  “Well, what are you going to do?”

“I can look internally within the company for a job.   Which is what I will do.”

“Are there any jobs here?” I asked hopefully.

“No.  There aren’t any jobs for someone with my skill set, at my level here.  We’ll definitely have to move.  It’s just a matter of when, and where to.”

“What do you think the options are?” I asked, my voice tinged with doubt.  “Will you go back to Wisconsin?”

“It might be a possibility, but the company has a lot of subsidiaries.  There’s stuff all over.  I’ll start putting out feelers and we’ll see what sticks.”  R looked at me, my brows tight with worry.  “Look, you can’t freak out about this.  It’s not good for the baby, or for you.  It’ll be fine.  I’m not worried at all.  It’s not like you love it here, anyway.”

I nodded.  “That’s true.  It wouldn’t break my heart to leave here, maybe move back somewhere closer to family.  But I just hate to uproot Z so quickly; he really does like it here.”

R was silent for a moment next to me.  “We’ll figure it out. It’ll be OK.  I promise.”  He leaned in to softly kiss my mouth.

I kissed back, trying to not let my worry, still so close to the surface, show.

Photoshop and Memories

Amy greeted me warmly at the coffee shop.  “Oh my goodness, look at your belly!  You really have popped since I saw you last!”

It was true.  The last time she’d seen me was late October, when we’d driven seven hours north to Omaha to see Corey Hart open up for Celine Dion in concert.  We’d had nosebleed seats, it had been a long drive for me with my burgeoning belly.  It was now early December, and I was very obviously showing.

I hadn’t made a lot of friends in Stillwater.  We’d gotten here in April, and the first month or so I’d spent unpacking boxes.  I spent the next month doing everything I possibly could at Zach’s school; payback for five years of schooling during which I could never volunteer because I always had a classroom of my own to tend to.  I had hoped that while shelving books at the book fair or holding the tape at the end of the fifty yard dash on Field Day that I’d meet a few other mothers.  But so far, I’d not bonded with any of the few that I had met.  And then I’d gotten pregnant; a few months were spent sleeping and just barely keeping up with my tasks around the house.  I’d felt better in the fall, but I was now immersed in working on Rick Springfield’s website too much to go looking for new friends.

It was a good thing I had Amy.   R might not like that the base of our friendship was our mutual adoration of rock stars, but he recognized that she was a liferaft in a sea of unfamiliarness.

“So tell me about Chicago,” she asked after I’d ordered a herbal tea and had the steaming bowl sized mug placed before me.

In addition to our Omaha trip, I’d also flown solo to Chicago in November.  R hadn’t been pleased, but when a Chicago TV station had contacted me via the fan club website and asked if I would be able to round up a group of fans for a TV show taping while Rick was in town.  Would I?  I immediately contacted Vivian and we put the word out.  It was my job to keep track of who would attend and create the guest list.  I could hardly miss going since I was doing so much legwork; two concerts and a TV taping?  I booked my own flight out of Tulsa on Southwest using an online service called Travelocity.  I didn’t even need a ticket; they gave me something called an “e ticket” that I could print out and show at the airport.

“It was a little nuts,” I started to tell Amy.  “The shows were at a bar, with no seating.  Probably not the best place for someone who is in the second trimester of pregnancy.  It was like a mosh pit during the shows.  But there was a little balcony area where they put me and the fan club VP so I wouldn’t be caught in the fray.  Which was good.”

Amy looked at me impatiently.  I knew what she was waiting to hear.  Were there any good stories to tell?  “Did you get to talk to him at all?  Or was it too crazy?”

I thought back to the soundcheck Vivian and I had attended on the first day.  All of the other shows I’d been to, when fans had been allowed at soundcheck, it was a group of ten or so of us.  This was different.  It was just Vivian and I.  I was surprised to find that the other band members had far more to do during the process, so Rick sat down on the side of the stage and talked to Vivian and I.  We told him about the new mailing list we’d set up for the fan club, an idea for a chat room that I was researching that would allow us to host “moderated” chats with him; fans could see him typing answers but couldn’t enter the room.  He told us about the live CD they were recording here at the shows, how excited he was to be working on it.  It was just an easy conversation back and forth, and once again, I’d quickly forgotten who I was talking to as the time moved quickly.

“Yeah, he talked to the fan club VP during soundcheck.  He seems to like the direction we’re going in with all of the online components, which is nice.  He made a big deal about me being pregnant and that his sister in law was about as far along as I was.  She came to the show that night; how she wears high heel boots at this stage I’ll never know.”

Amy listened, with the proper amounts of ooohing and aaaahing in all the right places.  As the story started to lag, I realized she had her laptop with her.  “What’s doing on the computer?”  I asked.

She opened it up.  “I wondered if we could maybe talk about this new website someone wants me to do.  I have so many ideas but I’m not sure how to make them happen.”

I nodded, eagerly, looking over at the screen.  It was beautiful; how did she create this amazing graphic?  I couldn’t do anything like it with the software I had.  “But I’m not sure how to work with this…what software do you have up right now?”

“Adobe Photoshop,” Amy answered.  “Are you familiar with it?”

I wasn’t.  But I would be.

Another Move?

“So…” R said, lifting his bottle of beer to his lips.  He looked in the direction of Zach’s bedroom to make sure that Z wasn’t still in the hallway.  We were sitting at the dinner table, the remnants of my latest experiment scattered about.  The windows were open; even in November, the weather was still in the 60s and warm.

“What is it?” I asked.  R hardly ever engaged in leisurely conversation after dinner these days; there was always something to attend to.  And frankly, I didn’t mind.  I ended up in bed most nights not long after I’d cleared the dinner dishes, sleeping twelve hours before I woke up, still tired.

“Well, my boss called me into his office today.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” I countered, filling the loaded pause.  I remembered R’s boss; he’d come over a few times after we’d moved in, and had us over for a barbecue in May.  I had walked around their house, completely intimidated.

“It depends, I guess, on how you look at it.  They are happy with the work I’m doing.  But to really be more effective in getting us into the Latin American market, they’d like us to be in closer proximity.”

I digested this for a moment.  “But wasn’t that the whole point of moving you here from Wisconsin? Everyone said you’d be able to do this all from here.”  We still hadn’t even unpacked all of the boxes; the guest room closet housed them, floor to ceiling.

“I guess they feel that the experiment isn’t working out as well as they’d hoped.”

I gulped.  “Experiment?  It would have been awfully nice to know this was an experiment before we uprooted our whole lives to come here.  I would have stayed back in Michigan if I had any inkling this was temporary.”  I could feel my emotions rising, fast.

“I agree.  I am a little pissed, frankly.  This is definitely not the way they framed this position when they offered it to me.”  The olive branch of solidarity lowered my blood pressure, slightly.  I put my hand on my belly and absent mindedly rubbed it.

“Well, spill it.  Where do you they want you to go?”  San Diego, maybe.  I hated the thought of being so far from family, but the weather and water might assauge all manner of ailments.  Arizona might not be terrible.  I remembered Tucson fondly, and it wasn’t that far from the border.

“El Paso, Texas.”  I could see R looking to me, sizing up my reaction.

“Oh no!” I said, a gut reaction.  “That’s even worse than here!”

I meant no offense to those who loved El Paso, but it seemed like everything I disliked about Oklahoma would be intensified there.  The heat; I’d hated the hot, dry summer.  The brown landscape that didn’t support anything green from mid June until October.  The fact that nothing grew locally, so produce had to be shipped in from places as far away as Colorado.  There were no cider mills for fall fun here; apple trees didn’t grow. The endless driving everywhere because nothing was close.  Even the politics of it; I was a moderate, but I felt completely alienated by the red state culture that lived and breathed around me.

I looked at R, carefully.  “When do they want us to go?”

He shrugged his shoulders, his expression flat.  “Before Christmas.”

I could feel my blood pressure rising again.  “That’s impossible!  We just got here, for heaven’s sake.  We haven’t even been here a year!  How am I supposed to tell Zach that he has to move, again.  To somewhere even farther from our families.  He’s finally made friends here.  And do you honestly mean to tell me that you want me moving at six months pregnant?  Really?  Does this make any sort of sense?”

R held up his hand.  “Calm down.  We don’t have to decide this tonight.”

I looked at him, puzzled.  “Decide?  Can we say no?”

He nodded, slowly.  “We could.  I don’t know exactly what they would do if we said no, but we could.”

I concentrated on breathing in and out.  I felt so helpless, so out of control.  My destiny, my life, none of it were in my hands.  I’d just gotten my Oklahoma teaching certificate, just learned which store was better for produce, the short cut down to my friend Amy’s that I hadn’t realized was there before.

“I don’t want to move again so soon,” I said quietly.  “I can’t even imagine us in El Paso.  I’d have to find a new doctor and hospital and…” I trailed off.

R nodded.  “It’s not ideal.  Let’s chew on it for a few days before I give them an answer.”

I got up from the table and started clearing the dishes, ending the conversation out loud, but with many, many voices floating around inside my head.

All of them were saying, “No.”

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