The Reconnect

I have been visiting with My Former Life these last few days.  Going back through my stories of various people and places, wrapping them about myself like a warm blanket to keep me company.  It is comforting to me to reconnect with people who were so incredibly significant in my life at a certain moment in time.  In some cases, it is the only place possible to do so.

In other cases, this blog has motivated me to reconnect with people from my past.  I’ve done so most recently with one of my former high school teachers.  Mr. V.  He was probably my most significant influence during my senior year of high school.  A year so full of torment and drama that I actually attempted suicide a week before Christmas that year.

To be honest, if it weren’t for Mr. V, things could have gone very differently for me during my final year of high school.

His class was a favorite of pretty much every student in it.  To earn his praise was the highest form of compliment, and earned you respect from every student in it:  even those who didn’t care much about school cared what Mr. V thought.  He pushed us.  He was tough, had high standards.

But he also cared.  You knew he cared.  You knew he was paying attention.

He was one of the first adults in my life outside of my family to truly believe in me.  I take that back, there were probably a great many that did.  There was something about his method, his way of letting me know that:  through quiet comments in my papers or my journal, through conversations after school, through his lessons that not only taught us about prepositions and sentence structure but about life.  His affirmation, his respect, when everyone around us respected him so highly, was huge.  It made a difference.  It put me on a different path.  He helped me finally start sowing the seeds of my own self confidence and belief.

Someone had mentioned him in passing on my Facebook page and I thought about him again.  I did a quick internet search and it wasn’t long before I found his Facebook profile, full of the same passion and energy about world events and life that he gave to us in class.  I thought about it for about twelve hours and then in a fit of reckless abandon, I sent a Friend Request.

I immediately regretted it, but somehow couldn’t pull it back.  I didn’t see any mutual friends in his friends listing, so I worried.  He probably didn’t accept former students into his circle.  Was it weird to think that he would remember me?  That he wondered where my life had taken me?  What if he didn’t accept it?

Days passed by and my fears seemed to be coming to fruition.  Nothing.  No acceptance.  I resigned myself to understanding that I wasn’t that different from every other student.  He might have been a standout for me, but after thirty years of teaching it was foolish for me to think I’d been a standout to him, who had taught thousands of kids, all with struggles and challenges of their own.  I wasn’t that different.  I wasn’t special.

And then, four days later, the notice came.  He’d accepted my request.

Just like that, reconnected.  With someone who made such a difference in my life whom I have always wondered about in the twenty six years since.  Reconnected.  Knowing all of the unknowns.  Knowing that he did remember me, that I made a difference, somehow to him too, all those years ago.

I’ve been enjoying my walk backwards these last few days.  Back through time.  It’ll pass, as it always does, but for now?  Having that one more piece of my lost puzzle of my former life back in place?  It’s priceless.

An Open Letter to Those Who Doubt Sandy Hook

There is a hard underbelly in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown that I’ve been wanting to address for a while now, but have scarcely wanted to acknowledge it for fear of perpetuating it. But my disgust and anger is so full and complete these days that I can hardly contain it.

At first, in the days after the tragedy, I found in some corners of the internet an outrage against the outrage.  That is, there was a small but vocal contingent indignant at the amount of emotion that was evoked by the Newtown tragedy.  How could one be so upset about these 26 (27?) lives being lost when lives are lost every day in Syria, the Congo, even the South Side of Chicago?  Why were these lives so much more worthy of people’s angst and attention than those lives?

Since the situation is so close to me, I figured that it was just me who found those arguments ridiculous.  Of course all senseless violence and loss of life is terrible.  These lives are indeed no more or less valuable than the other lives that may be lost in a similar way.  That doesn’t make it any less senseless or terrible.  It’s a false argument to me.  Just because other terrible things happen doesn’t make this terrible thing less terrible.  I brushed it off.

Then in the days that followed, new arguments came.  These were more judgmental, more spiteful:  that this type of thing would have never happened in a more conservative state, where folks routinely walk around with concealed weapons.  That frankly, we’re reaping what we’ve sown here with our more liberal leaning society up here in Connecticut.  There were even some crazy extrapolations of that, stating that this was simply God’s judgement call on a state that is full of wealthy folks, approves of gay marriage and continually sends more progressive type representatives to Washington.

Shocked at the callousness of such statements, the disregard of the real human pain and suffering that I was witnessing all around me, I fumed.  I saw these postings on Facebook, heard them whispered on news outlets in the comments sections, but couldn’t muster myself to respond to them.  These were surely intended to inflame, these types of statements.  Better to ignore and not draw attention to these types of outlandish comments; to acknowledge them would give them validity, I thought.

Instead, I tried to counteract the dark side (is there a light one?) of this tragedy by doing good works myself:  working as a volunteer to help at the school where the Sandy Hook children would later attend, and the warehouse where they myriad of donations were being sent; spreading word of the various things locals could do to help; donating money to the groups set up to handle such things.  I prayed, a lot, to my God, asking Him to help these angry people find peace in their hearts.  I tried to be kinder, gentler to my children, family and those around me.

But still, the darkness seems to be continuing to spread.

A friend clued me in via an email that there seems to be a small but growing contingent of people in our country who are questioning whether the tragedy at Sandy Hook even happened.  They are calling it a “Sandy Hoax”.  Their arguments ranged from the inaccuracies of initial news reports to the lack of tears shed by victims’ families to the dearth of updated information regarding the shootings to the lack of visual images publicly available of the bodies of victims.  The reason for the “hoax” as stated by those who are perpetuating this fallacy is that the whole scenario was elaborately planned and executed, with the help of a left leaning media, to force a conversation and action on gun control in our country.

I am astounded and absolutely disgusted by such arguments and the people who would make them.

In my way of thinking, you’d have to be one cold hearted bastard (I was going to type in “human being” but couldn’t bring myself to use the phrase here) to even imagine such a scenario.  Let me tell you, I am sure these 26 (27?) families that were directly impacted by the loss of life from this tragedy would love nothing better than to wake up today and find this all a dream, a story, a made up reality television show.

Let me be clear, because I live here.   I have spoken with people who saw the bodies at the funerals.  Because I’ve spoken with the grandfather of one of the victims.  Because I got caught in the traffic at one of the wakes.  Because my own children were put on lockdown for hours that day and came home shaken and scared.  Because there are still, to this day, policemen patrolling the schools in my town of Monroe, CT. Because while I didn’t know any of the victims personally, I know so many people who do, too many to even count.  And believe me, those children aren’t hiding somewhere and their parents aren’t helping perpetuate some vast conspiracy game.  Those kids and teacher sare dead.  They’re gone.  The loss is real and raw and  palpable. Just because they’re not showing that grief on camera doesn’t mean it isn’t.

The events of December 14th were, and continue to be  horrific, tragic and unspeakable.  What happened that day is still trying to be unraveled so that those affected can find some way to move forward.

What happened at Sandy Hook isn’t about gun control, or mental health, or some national agenda, or inner city vs. bucolic suburb.  It is about these victims who lost their lives in a senseless act that can’t possibly be explained or understood.   It is about those who loved them.  It is about the many, many who are trying to help everyone affected by these terrible events put some of the pieces back together in a puzzle that will always be missing 26 (27?) of its pieces.  It isn’t about you, or liberals and conservatives, red states versus blue ones, or God’s punishment.  It isn’t about who deserves media attention and who doesn’t, it isn’t about fighting over who gets to sit where at the table of healing, and it certainly isn’t about politics.

So stop.  I say to all of you perpetuating the type of hate that started all of this in the first place, just stop.  Stop claiming it didn’t happen, because it did.  Stop rationalizing your own agendas and trying to fit them into the puzzle of Sandy Hook.  Take a step back, pull yourself away from your anger and your vitriol.  Your time and energy would far better spent trying to be a part of a solution that helps prevent future such tragedies rather than contributing to them with anger and fear.

**Regarding my use of the numbers of victims.  Many talk of the 26 victims of violence that day at Sandy Hook.  I am not sure why the mother of the gunman is not always counted in the victim tally, and perhaps there is a reason that I am unaware of.  Hence my use of 26? 27? in questioning the true number of innocents who perished that day.

 

 

Coming Here

They’re coming here.

The students.  The survivors.  Those who the gunman wasn’t able to kill.  They’re coming to a school in my town in a few days.

We closed a school, a few years back, in a contentious budget cutting year to save money.  We reconfigured our entire school system and changed the culture of our district.  It was a difficult, divisive time in our town.  Every time I have driven past that closed school to the current middle school, I have felt a twinge of anger and sadness.  It sits empty, the sign in front claiming it schools students in grades 5 and 6, but it doesn’t.  On the side of the building, boards fill in a space where windows should be; when the window broke, no one thought it was worth spending money to fix.  Because no one uses the building anyway.

But now, in the wake of the horrible tragedy on Friday, our empty school is no longer a burden, a symbol, an albatross.

It is a gift.

It is a gift we can give those families that lost everything last week, so that they don’t have to return to the place where so much evil occurred.  They don’t have to go back at all this school year, if they don’t want to.  They will have the luxury of time to figure out what to do next.  Because they can come here.  They can come to our town, to our school, and hopefully feel some shred of safety and comfort in returning to some sort of routine.

I’m grateful that there is something tangible we can offer these families.

I don’t know any of those who died on Friday personally.  But I know so many who do.  I knew three of the names before they were released because they were friends of my friends.  One little boy went to preschool with a friend’s daughter.  Another took Tae Kwon Do with several friends’ kids.  A third used to work with one of the parents.  And the father of the gunman works for the same company as my husband, although in a different location.

My own daughter is fearful.  They put her school in a lockdown so strict that they all huddled in a corner away from the windows and the doors.  When the kids snickered and talked the teacher told them tersely that this was “not a drill”.  For a period of time, she thought the incident was at her school.  That the bad guys were coming down her hallways.  And now she knows that only a few miles separated her from that reality being hers instead of those poor childrens’.   She has friends that don’t want to return to school tomorrow.  There will be police, there will be counselors, there will be little learning and much talking about unspeakable things.

I do not know what kind of world it is that we live in.  Today, from my small town in Connecticut, it seems a very, very dark place.

Life With My Girl

I can still remember the moment when I learned I was going to have a daughter.  I was flat on my back in the ultrasound room of my doctor’s office in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  R was with me waiting with baited breath as the technician measured the femur, checked the heart chambers, and did the full anatomy scan that the 20 week check up entailed.  Me being me, I was listening hyperintently for any signs of hesitation or distress on the part of the tech, a sure sign that there was something wrong with my baby.  But there was none of that.  On that warm, October day, the news was only wonderful and happy.  The tech told us we were having a little girl.

I had always wanted a girl.  I remembered when I was pregnant with my eldest, thinking a girl would be easier for me to raise as a single mother.  My mother as well had hoped for that, wanting a pretty little thing to dress up in frilly frocks and dainty headbands.  Of course we loved my boy as fiercely as anyone could when he arrived.  Things happen for a reason.  I was given a boy.  And my boy was amazing.  But in the back of my head, of course, I had always hoped I’d have another chance.  A chance for a girl.

Laying there that October day, the news hit me like the hot summer wind of the state we were living in.  It washed over me, stinging a little, heating me up.  “We’ll name her after my mother,” I said quietly to my husband.  And in that moment, I had visions of the perfect, sweet little girl who would be the perfect tribute to my wonderful mother who was taken from life too soon.

Be careful what you wish for.

My mother was many wonderful things:  strong, determined, independent.  She was also insecure, addictive and hypersensitive.  And so it should be no surprise to me that my daughter, her namesake is all of those things.  Her spirit is unshakeable; it is what I love and hate about her. Can you say that about your own child?  You’re not supposed to, right?

As my precious girl gets closer and closer to her teen years, I ache more and more often to talk to my mother about how to handle her.  I have heard over and over that preteen and teen girls are like oil and water with their mothers.  I have a vague memory of my own mother telling me that they were tough years for her and her own mother; wounds inflicted by each of them didn’t heal until my mother had her own children.  I have friends who tell me that they barely spoke to their girls from age 12 to 17. Really?  Can that be possible?

But I can see it, really.  Because while I love my daughter, there are days that I don’t like her.  Even that doesn’t sound strong enough.  There are days when I truly dislike her, or worse.  She screams at me.  She grunts at me.  She takes me for granted.  She doesn’t see anything outside of her own wants and needs.  She is horrible to her brother sometimes more often than not.  She fails to see at all how lucky and blessed she is to live in a relatively wealthy suburb with two parents and two cars and a stable life. I get angry and upset and wonder how on earth I have raised such an ungrateful, selfish person.

But then something happens.  Last week, for example, I went to her sixth grade parent teacher conference.  And I heard two teachers describe the wonderful, smart, helpful, generous girl that I send off to school every day.  I listened to them enthuse about how curious she is and thoughtful of the other students when they need help or advice. And I kick myself internally, because my first thought is:  “they can’t possibly be talking about the same girl that screamed at me this morning because we were out of cream cheese.”

But they were.

I guess it’s time I learned how to ride the roller coaster of Life With A Nearly Teenage Girl.  Because I’m finding myself dizzy all of the time with the twists and turns.

Knocking On the Door

It took me several days.  Days of mulling over the what ifs and the if onlys and the why the hell nots.  I looked through the window online a few more times, trying to envision my friend Dennis and what his life would be like now.  He’s older, of course.  Would he have grandchildren?  I was sure he’d retired from teaching already, and clearly was making music in a band.  But what else?  What else?

I went back and reread all of what I’d written about him here, trying to form in my head his possible responses if he heard my voice on the other end of the phone.  In every case I couldn’t imagine him not wanting to catch up or talk to me; we’d left things on very good terms.  In fact, truth be told, it has been me all these years that has stopped keeping in contact;  I guess I had never been quite sure how to merge a part of my former life into the new one I was trying to build for myself.  My marriage, my pregnancies, my children….did I really want to muddle that all up with someone whom I’d loved once upon a time?

But then I realized, the love part of it, the romantic love part of it, was only a small piece of the puzzle.  If the puzzle was the entirety of what Dennis had meant to me and his place in the story of my life, the part where we were involved with each other was just the top right corner.  The rest of it was a wonderful care and concern of a man who saw a young girl in harm’s way and did a million little and not so little things to make sure that harm didn’t take her into its dark being.  He held my hand as I cried over my absent father, my abusive brother, my crushing insecurities and my suicide attempt.  Later he offered a shoulder as I navigated becoming a single mother at age 19 and my mother’s cancer at age 21.  I wondered, sometimes out loud to him, what on earth he received on his end of the relationship; it felt often like I was taking, taking, taking.  But somehow, he never made me feel anything less than a valued friend, a person important to him in the most equal sense.

And when I added all of those things up, I couldn’t think of any reason not to open the door.  So yesterday afternoon, with my heart racing, I picked up the phone and dialed.  He answered the phone, and it felt as if the 13 years we hadn’t spoken to each other hardly existed.  The conversation was easy and genuine, the casual back and forth banter that I had always loved between us.  My curiosity slowly ebbed as he talked about his life since we’d last been in touch.  He admitted to thinking of me and consulting Dr. Google as well when his questions had reached a critical level a few years back.  His chuckle at hearing about my Rick Springfield adventures sounded exactly the same as it was twenty five years ago when he read the essays I wrote about that far away rock star.  “I wasn’t at all surprised to find that you’d found a way to him,” he laughed.

An hour and twenty minutes later, I looked at the clock and realized it was likely time for me to hang up and let him get on with his day.  After all, my children would be home soon and there was plenty I needed to do as well.  We exchanged email addresses and promised to connect in person the next time I go out to visit my family.  Just like that, the conversation ended, and I went about my daily tasks of children and cooking and chauffeuring as if nothing had changed at all in the world.

But something is different, of course.  Something is very different.  A piece of my former life, the person I used to be, a piece that had long since gone missing and left a tiny hole in me, was put back in place.

It feels good.

I’m glad I knocked on the door.

 

Looking Through The Window

I don’t know what made me think of him last night.

R is out of town, as he often is, and I was having myself a little Grey’s Anatomy marathon on my computer.  Me, myself and a bottle of wine hunkered down after the children went to bed, and I fantasized about happy endings with my own personal McDreamy.  I know you’re reminding me I’m married and all that, and you’re right.  I have my own real life version of a happy ending with a good man.  That being said, I know that it’s TV and it’s not real, but sometimes it just is easier to imagine that had life taken this turn or that turn that I living a completely different life with an insanely handsome man who knows how to use hair product in addition to being sensitive to my dark and twisty needs.

When I opened up my computer screen this morning, my internet browser screen was still open.  And I realized that I had drunk Googled a few people in my wine induced haze late last night (I also woke up wearing my jeans and the turtleneck I’d worn all day yesterday; don’t judge me).  Thank goodness I hadn’t drunk Facebooked or worse, drunk emailed, or the grandaddy of them all, drunk dialed.  Although I’ve already done that with this person before.

I’d searched for Dennis.

I don’t know what made me think of looking for him last night.  Maybe it was because the episode I was watching (Season Finale of Season 4 in case you’re a fan) had to do with kids in high school.  Dennis defined my high school experience, my kind English teacher who gave me the attention I craved while nursing the wounds (both literal and figurative) that forced my family into lockdown during my teen years.  I harbored a not so secret crush as I lobbied to be his favorite student during my high school years and his over achieving mentee during my college ones.  As we transitioned from teacher student to colleagues, our relationship changed as well, eventually turning into an affair.  I swayed dangerously back and forth between guilt and full on life fulfilling love until I forced myself to stop seeing him.  We remained friends and kept in touch sporadically until I moved away from my hometown in 1999; I haven’t contacted him since.

I think about him though, sometimes.  And in these days of 21 century technology, that means I consult Dr. Google to see if I can find him.  A phone call after all of this time seems so intrusive, but I always think that a casual email would be a fine way to reconnect.  Or a Facebook message, as so many have done with me over the last few years. And each time I have consulted The Big G, I find bupkus.  Nada.  Nothing.  Not even a random comment on a message board.  Which seems odd to me, always, and then I go back to my life and don’t think about it again for weeks or months or longer.

But for some reason he popped into my head last night.  And when I opened up my computer this morning, I saw something different.  I saw his name listed on a cover band website.  The name, an unusual one, was right.  The location was right.  And sure enough, there were photos.

It was him.

He looks about what I’d expect him to look like 13 years after not having seen him; he was 22 years my senior, which puts him now in his sixties.  He plays guitar.  There are photos of him singing, playing, in a recording studio.  There he is, alive and well, and living life…just like me.  One of the photos is of him and his wife, sitting together after a gig.  Smiles, his arm around her.  Happy looking.

I’m glad he’s happy.  And frankly, I’m glad he’s still married.  I’m glad he is still that good but flawed human being.  At least I think he is.  I don’t know, of course.  And that’s the rub.  Because now I’ve seen him.  And now I want to know things.  Like if I was the only one or were there others after me.  Or if he ever told his wife about us.  Or if he now thinks what we had was a mistake.  Or if he randomly Googles me from time to time.

Which is all insane.  Because all of that, it’s all about me.  He’s gone on to live a good life; so have I.  I don’t need his validation and approval and attention anymore.  These days I know who I am and I am (mostly) secure in my self worth and place in the world.  Why do I need to hear that he remembers me?  And thinks well of me when he does?

I can see him now, through the window.  A one way glass, he doesn’t know I can see him.  But I can.  I can see where the last thirteen years have brought him to in his life.   So why I am I struggling with this?

I can’t decide if it’s enough to just look through the window.

Part of me wants to knock on the door and see what happens when he answers.

Why isn’t it enough just to look through the window?

A New Reality

It should have been more momentous.

Sitting there, in a classroom last week, listening to my autistic son’s teacher tell me that he was doing well in all his subjects was the stuff of my dreams a few years ago.  A reality I couldn’t imagine, but one I hoped to attain in the far away world called Someday.  A scenario I’d all but dashed after his preschool speech therapist told me my son would “never be normal” and would “never catch up” after I’d seen their IQ testing.  He’d tested a 70, just a cut above mentally retarded.

But somehow, this is now my reality.  My son is in fourth grade, and after years of struggling to help him assimilate into the main stream, he is there.  I sat across from his teacher this year only to hear glowing after glowing report.  My son wasn’t just doing well “under the circumstances” as is usually the case.  He was simply, “doing well.”  He is on grade level in all of his subjects.  He has friends and in fact shows concern for others who are not doing well socially or academically.  He is funny and well liked.

It took a long time for us to adjust our expectations for our youngest son.  To put ourselves in the mindset of not just being parents, but being “special needs parents”, a small but mighty breed of fighters whose sole focus is advocating for and pushing their child as far as they can reasonably be expected to progress.  To accept that he might not ever live an independent life, or go to college, or hold a job, or even drive a car.  But we did it.  We were there.  It was our reality.

It isn’t anymore.

It almost feels too soon, too scary to think about readjusting our expectations and goals again.  To dare to dream that someday our son might just live, but thrive.  That we could experience days of pride and joy for him as we have with our oldest child.

For now, I will be happy with where we are.  It’s going to be a while, I think, before I know that this is new reality is going to stick.

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