We laughed over coffee in the wide, wide windows of 85*.
We tempted each other with strawberry buns and green matcha pastries.
We shopped like there was no tomorrow. We planned like there were guarantees to life.
March purred like a kitten. We waited for promise of ideas in showers of moonlight.
As winter waned, we rushed home in fear.
This week, last year.
We learned to love each other deeper. We learned to be kind.
We changed direction within four stiff walls and built cities in our minds.
As winter wanes, this week, this year,
kiss every dawn, treasure every happy tear.
Many years ago, I sitting uncomfortably in a hard wooden chair waiting for class to begin. The instructor had just begun speaking when the door squeaked slowly open and a rattling sound was heard, but no one stepped forward. We all turned toward the door wondering. The instructor even stepped to the side of her desk, ready to snap, “Close the door,” when a woman struggled in.
This lovely woman’s posture was bent and crooked, one hip higher than the other, one leg starkly stiff, the other crooked. She used two hand held metal crutches to help her maneuver through life. She huffed and hemmed, the groans of constant pain that the person making the noise no longer notices. Someone offered her a seat, saving her from walking two aisles over and four seats back, which she willingly accepted. Then we went on with class.
With the majority of us in our twenties, this class became a favorite. The teacher was a 40’s woman with a streak of gray in her blunt shoulder length dark hair. She was open and outspoken, persuading us to be the same. Her guest speakers were radical, loud, and insisted we stand up for ourselves and scream to be heard.
Throughout the semester, the woman who wore crutches on the first day, became less twisted, stood taller, began to use only one crutch instead of two. Her silence transformed into sharing, slowly and quietly at first. The mystery illness that had baffled her doctors was spooling away and that, too, left them nonplussed.
She stood and told us her story. She’d been assaulted and abused and afraid to tell anyone. Throughout the semester, the message of speak your story was freeing her body from the unexplainable pain and immobility her mind had trapped it in.
All types of trauma gets trapped within us – we need to get it out to free ourselves.
The Healer’s Daughter is the first story in How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s been suggested it become a novel in itself.
After hearing some of my story, a woman said to me, “Do you think writing saved you?”
I was looking out the window at the blue sky, avoiding her overstuffed office. Books, photos, and nic-nacs lined the dark wood shelves behind her and a lamp sat, too bright and hot, to one side. She was tall and thin, model like in her own way, and she looked at me earnestly, waiting for a response.
When I turned to her, she answered the question for me. “I think writing saved you.”
Ah, there it was.
Writing did help me toggle to the clearer side of sanity. Believing in something larger than my tiny distressed corner of the world helped me get through some very dark times. The ever present feeling that I had something to add to the world secured me from suicidal tendencies.
Some time ago, I thought to write an autobiography. My writing partner has lived a long life. Her stories rich in detail, tempered with the spiritual, and filled with agonies of another time and another kind. She said she’d write her own but for fear that’d she’d hurt people.
Hurting others is not my intention. Those who pinned my pain are are long gone in both their minds and mine. They don’t read me and they exist only as fodder for stories. Writing is how I survived my world. Now, the others are just players in my story, antagonist, foil, etc.
Bits and pieces of my memoir have been published here and there. Some as fiction. Some not. Sometimes, it’s all shaken up to create something new and wonderful – like how ashes are used in bricks to build a city.
Writing it all out – getting it all out – says it’s real – this happened. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be published. It has to be outside of our bodies, not locked into our psyches.
Too many pains in our bodies, tangles in our thinking, are caused from the unspoken past.
Closure comes in many forms. Sometimes just getting it out from inside of us is enough to begin the healing.
One of my favorite stories – an early piece that I was thinking about as I walked my dogs in the chilled morning air.
BEFORE MY MOTHER drank herself to death, I knew her as a gentle creature who fed wild squirrels from her hand. On the back patio at mid-day, she’d stand very still, calm, peanuts laced in the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The squirrel, a female, her babies came later, approached with caution, across the railing, onto the windowsill, grab the nut, run to the other side of the patio where the squirrel peeled back the shell, ate the meat, then returned for another and another. For a while, the squirrels became my mother’s greatest pleasure.
Some years ago, a lovely new writer appeared one Saturday at the wooden kitchen table of our host’s home where we met regularly for critique group. A woman with long, blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes, who shared that she’d almost drowned.
Being washed into the Pacific undercurrent and sinking down, down, down, in this near death experience, she began to relive certain events in her life, but not from her point of view. She became her mother dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter; she landed in her lover torn to shreds and heartbroken.
She relived the emotions of those whom she had caused pain.
What a gift! Or, maybe, a curse.
This inspired me to wonder if we die the way we live. Death and karma. Was that lovely woman a selfish, thoughtless human, and her experience was to feel that pain she’d caused others?
If you’re a horrible human being, do you die a slow painful death? If you allowed kittens to suffocate, do you die gasping for breath?
I know someone who caused a lot of pain to others and he developed a disorder, later in life, in which every little bump would bruise and swell in painful edemas. A callous could glow into an infection. He spent the last years of his life in more pain that he might of caused.
However, I know plenty of lovely humans who have died in unfavorable circumstances. Certainly, that wasn’t karma.
I choose to move through this life causing as little pain and unhappiness as possible.
But it’s not because of the fear of death. It’s not even the fear of karma. There is so much pain and vexation in this world already – I don’t need to add any more to anyone’s life. I’d rather add laughter, happiness, joy. Not that I always succeed. This still is life.
I remember that woman from our critique group, her story, her presence because she yelled at me. Upon reading my story, the group began to respond. She became outraged and began gesticulating wildly. “You can’t write this. This will hurt people. You will pay for this. You can’t write this.”
I reflected on this and asked the group – after she was removed by our host – does my story lack empathy?
I attempt to create characters and stories that express the range of human emotions, the best of which teeter on the axis of sympathy and empathy. My writing partners and my readers believe I’ve achieved that.
I believe in karma in some sense. I believe what we put out there, we receive back in one way or another. Maybe death is random. Maybe not.
Thank you for reading. Be well.
One might think that would be celebrated. The truth is those who know where you came from aren’t that joyous that you abandoned them. While some of them will smile, rarely will you hear “good job.”
Many of my childhood friends have remained in childhood, a distant memory of what was. Sometimes, when visiting, I’ve run into them in a shop or store. They say, “Oh my goodness, we have to get together!” but then don’t answer my call. One of my running buddies (and I don’t mean exercise) pretended not to recognize me, couldn’t remember the years we held on to one another for safety and sanity.
One of my mother’s friends sat in our yard and said, upon hearing my college plans, “sounds like someone thinks she’s better than us.”
And so I’ve heard it all really – “you brag too much,” “no one really cares,” and the silence. The silence that states they have nothing more to say to you because you are not one of them. You’re a traitor to the cause, in some strange way, as if you abandoned your friends in the war.
There’s a backlash for getting out, staying away, becoming your own version of yourself.
Change is all kinds of hard. Changing the way they see you, makes them have to gaze at themselves. It’s really not me or you that’s the problem. It’s the mirror they have to face when they can no longer see themselves in us.
I explore this concept of reflections, families, and mirrors in the story “Mirror People” in my book of short fiction, How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party.
Stay Strong. Stay Well
For many years, I have walked confidently on the stones in the stream, believing the fall not that deep, won’t hurt that much.
The truth is that the fall might not be very deep, might not hurt at all – it’s the fear of the fall that worms it’s way into the squirmy regions of my brain. That’s where all fear starts – somewhere deep inside the brain which is supposed to warn us of danger. We begin to feel it all though our bodies.
I come from a legacy of anxiety.
I, however, have never subscribed to the fear. I’ve never allowed it to control me or my life. In fact, I pushed back by crashing through obstacles of all sorts, by caving, and diving with sharks, traveling to far away places, and teetering on the edge of canyons for selfies. Yes, I’m one of those!
This past year, however, those rocks seem far more precarious than I ever noticed. The water rushes past so quickly, loosening the stones, unsteadying the path.
When I take one step at a time, I’m okay. If I look at the other side, if I concern myself with two or three stones ahead, I begin to panic.
Walk steady. Walk slowly. Head high. Believe it will all be okay. The other side is nearer than it seems.
I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.
I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.
There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.
The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.
Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.
Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.