Category Archives: The Path

where i’ve been, where i am, where i’m going and why

nightmare

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the fabric of life is torn from me.
I cannot bind these strips of bleeding flesh with your tears.

circles are widening on the canvas.
I fill them with pale light.
the blackness around them wonders why.
I have no reply. just go away.

pretend I was never here.
make it mean something.
otherwise it was all just a nightmare.

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1962

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It happened a long, long time ago. But it is also happening this very minute, like time travel. And I cannot make it stop.

I am 8 years old.

I smell the bacon as I pull on my dress.

I hate this dress. It’s ugly and it leaves scratches on my side. But she likes it.

I go into the kitchen. She is angry. I must have done something wrong. But I’m afraid to say anything.

She makes us eat breakfast every morning. I am queasy in the mornings and I hate breakfast. But she is a good mother and we are lucky. She wasn’t so lucky. She won’t talk about her childhood. She says it makes her sad.

She turns the eggs in the skillet. One of the yolks breaks. She sets down three perfect eggs, one for her, one for my brother and one for my father. She gives me the broken one. Now I know I have done something wrong.

My father comes to the table. He is angry, too. He and my mother don’t look at each other.

My brother doesn’t notice that anything is wrong. She speaks tenderly to him. He is the best thing in her life. I am just there to help with the housework. I wish I knew what made the difference.

So I ask her. She stammers and I never really get an answer. It’s a question I will ask her again when I am older.

“I was always afraid that you would be smarter than me,” she will say. “But I realized that since I am older than you, I will always know more than you.”

She doesn’t love me because I am smart? What do I do about that? I thought I was supposed to be smart. They fuss at me when I don’t make all A’s, even though they are happy with my brother’s B’s and C’s.

I already know I am not pretty. She is always telling me how pretty my friends are. She tells them how nice they look and she laughs with them. I wish she would laugh with me like that. But I am a disappointment.

I think if I were not around my parents would be happy. My brother is their true child. I wonder if I was adopted. That would explain why they don’t like me.

Maybe I can smother myself. I crawl into bed and put a pillow over my face. But I can’t do it. The air feels so good when I breathe it in. I would hate to die by drowning.

My mother comes into the room. “What are you doing in bed? Get up. You’re burning up.” My hair is wet from sweat. She thinks I went to bed because I am lazy.

She tells me to fold the laundry. I don’t know why she gives me this chore. I never do it right and she always complains. I’d rather be outdoors with the other children. But after this she is going shopping and I have to go with her. Dad is watching the game on TV and I will bother him. My brother gets to stay home and play outside. I do not understand this.

I hate shopping. It is boring. The store smells bad. But she loves it. I walk between the racks of clothing. I like the way the fabric feels. If I squeeze myself into the middle of a bunch of dresses it feels like a hug. Someone tells me to stop and behave myself.

My head hurts and I am tired. I just want to go home. But I don’t even know where home is anymore.

mindvideo

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I’m so distracted I lost a shirt and my cup of coffee between the kitchen and the living room. I started a home project and couldn’t focus on what I was doing. So I’m just going to write it out.

My mother is dying. Conversations with family members invariably turn to memories of her.

Mine seem to be different from everyone else’s.

Utter one of her several bynames, and mindvideo from my vast collection queues up, my mother’s face distorted in anger, spewing criticism and humiliation.

This morning I am trying to see if I can edit those old tapes. I’ve never done this before and I can only make a start. But I figure anything I try can only make things better. And I have to trust the process.

Someone posts a photo of Mom on Facebook, remembering her with tenderness.

I see a woman about to explode with rage.

I step into the photo. Mom holds it together until she and I are alone. Then I will witness a barrage of frustration and vitriol. Granted, it’s not all about me. Maybe none of it is about me. But it will wound and deplete me all the same.

I’m trolling my mind for times when she and I laughed together. Those are the easiest ones to find. And the one that shows up is 50 years old. As other loves entered my life and vied for my attention, the laughter began to die. But in 1969, I was her best friend.

My father was 6 feet tall. Mom was 5’4″. When Dad was happy he’d come into the kitchen, where she and I were preparing supper. He’d hug her and then lift her straight up off the floor. He’d bounce her in his arms and she’d complain that he was hurting her boobies. But they’d both be laughing and I would be, too.

Mom loved to laugh and laughed easily, as did my father, when they weren’t fighting, which was often. When the two of them were laughing together, I knew my brother and I could relax for a few hours and they would be sweet to us and to each other.

Today I will play this mindvideo over and over to see if I can find footage before and after it, to look for details, like the pan of potatoes I was peeling or the dishes she was washing in the sink of our tiny kitchen. I will remember that I went to pick okra from the garden, washing and slicing it, dredging it in cornmeal and frying it in a cast iron skillet.

My mother is happy because I am helping her and I am good company and we are going to have a fine meal very soon.

As I write this, I’m aware that my palms are sweating and my heart is racing. I really don’t want to dig this deep. My friend, pain, is a festering abscess and I’d rather run in the other direction. But the only way to heal is to open the wound. And I’d rather face pain than live with bad memories.

It was only in the last couple of years that this type of abuse had witnesses. By then it was dismissed as a symptom of her dementia. No one believed me when I complained because she was consistently charming and kind to others. By the time I was 8 I was convinced I was just not worth loving.

What I do know is that hurt people hurt people and my mom’s story is full of pain. And through our family’s generations we have changed that trajectory. My grandson is proof of that.

This is limbic memory and no amount of positive thinking is going to change it. So I’m just letting the truth emerge as it will. And when it shows up, it looks like confusion, pain, anger, distraction, depression.

So I write. If the gods are with me, the stories emerge. I’m trying not to judge them as they do. What’s new for me is it no longer matters if anyone believes them. I know what happened.

My goal here is to tell my truth as I know it and to encourage others to tell theirs. It serves me nothing to perpetuate the myths of my family. If I do, I will never heal. And maybe through my healing, others will as well.

In one of my last conversations with my mother, I lay all my cards on the table. I like to think that I made amends to her but the only thing I remember is her saying, “I hope you’ll forgive me.”

That’s what this is all about. I’m sure gonna try.

Hebrews 13:2

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This is a true story.

After dealing with LabCorp today and getting nowhere, I decided to run errands. It was sooo hot I wore a tank top and my tattoo sleeves.

I found a penny by the car, money side up. This has happened to me so often when I’ve been concerned about my finances that I’ve taken to calling it angel money.

In Tuesday Morning, I was a little annoyed at having to wait on the cashier to finish her story. So I eavesdropped.

She said to the customer in front of me, “And then this little boy sitting behind me pulled three roses out of the arrangement and handed them to three different women. I took it as a sign that meant everything is just going to be OK.”

In Kroger, I was a little annoyed at having to wait on a woman talking on her cell phone at the salad bar, who was dawdling over the romaine. So I eavesdropped on her, too.

She said, “She’s got about two weeks to go on her treatment. There’s a whole list of people praying and pulling for her.”

At least half a dozen people stopped to admire my tattoo sleeves and were shocked they weren’t ink. Young men smiled at me and stepped politely aside. Young women asked where they could get them for themselves.

A guy more my age followed me around the gourmet section and asked me on a date.

I told him I was expensive.

He said, “I’ve got Mama’s money until they cut me off.”

I laughed and kept walking, but in hindsight I should have asked him to pay my lab bill. I’m sure Mama wouldn’t mind.

This is what happens when people like you offer prayers and healing energy. A flock of angels arrive with messages of hope and joy — and even romance, or something like it. And they seem to be in no hurry to move out of my way.

Thanks for your contributions of love and money. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Forget not to shew love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ~ Hebrews 13:2, English Revised Version

Mexican Quicherrole

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20161117_113009This one was easy. I had all the ingredients on hand that I’d bought for other recipes and didn’t use. The pico was on its last legs and was the inspiration for this. Makes a 9″ x 13″ casserole; serves 6-8, depending on size and appetite of diners.

INGREDIENTS:

Two refrigerated pie crusts, room temp
Six eggs
One can evaporated milk (or 1.75 c regular milk, half&half, etc.)
One 10-oz tub of pico de gallo (or a drained can of Rotel. Or your own chopped tomato, onion and jalapeno)
One cup finely grated Mexican blend cheese (or your own… well, you get it)
A big bunch of fresh spinach, torn into pieces (I used half a bag of bagged fresh).
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Line a 9″ x 13″ pan with the pie crusts.
If they overlap, that’s OK. If they hang outside the pan, just fold them over the top of the casserole.  Make them pretty if you want to.  Obviously I like the asymmetric look.

In a large bowl, gently whisk the six eggs.
Add milk and whisk again.
Stir in pico.
Add the spinach and cheese and stir again.
Salt and pepper to taste.
(You may wish to S&P at table if pico or cheese is salty.)

Pour into pastry-lined pan and cover pan with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes or until set (filling doesn’t jiggle when you shake the pan).

Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before serving.
Refrigerate leftovers (if there are any).

what I did on my Facebook vacation

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My part-time job as TV news editor has been sort of hateful lately.

So on Thursday, when all my assignments were preempted yet again by another assassination, this time in front of Parliament, I opened my Facebook page to a string of hateful posts related to other crises in America.

I’d had enough.  So I started my weekend a little early.  And I took time off from Facebook.

1. On Thursday afternoon, driving down Walnut Grove,  I laughed out loud at a Blue Screen of Death on a digital billboard.  I’ve never seen one that big.  Maybe another media conscript was feeling mutinous.

2. On Friday, I walked to the Art Center to buy origami paper.  I decided to step into Inz and Outz Gift & Cards, thinking I’d shop for Father’s Day.

Y’all should have told me what that place was before I went in there.

I didn’t buy any cards.  I did, however, consider some of the leather thongs.  Bet those zippers get awfully hot in this heat.

3. On Saturday, I perfected an origami envelope for a direct mail project and designed an outdoor sign, a non-digital one.  No BSODs here.

Sidebar:  I used to have a recurring dream, working at my old job as a graphic designer.  Today I’m literally living that dream.  Life is full of surprises.

4. On Sunday, I was grateful, grateful, grateful for so many things.  I’m grateful that I have air conditioning in my entire apartment now and my butter doesn’t melt if I leave it on the table.

I’m even grateful for my part-time job as TV news editor, even if it does make social media unbearably redundant some days.  There’s lots of love at that job.  My co-workers bring it every day.  Otherwise, I just couldn’t cope.

Actually, there’s lots of love at all my jobs, some of which necessitate my using Facebook.  I just have to remember that I have a choice:  I can unfollow people or pages that post stuff I don’t want to read.

I am one lucky girl.  I live in America.  I get to read about it all, the bad and the good.  Life is full of surprises.  It’s also full of choices.

1. Today I choose to be grateful.

2. Today I choose to show up for the love.

warm front

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just two hours away
the storm grows heavy

the trees bash the sky
with great bales of wind

and the unlikely spout
of an ice cream van

burbles “jingle all the way”
down a childless avenue

in the first week of April
in the middle of the day

the dove falls silent
with her rooftop forecast

my body sings with tiredness
as my thoughts take cover

even napping now and then
in a lullabye of weather

one street over

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One street over
grapevine reindeer
celebrate their faded glitter bows

One street over
phlox and jonquils
push through thatch and leavings

One street over
clothes, stilettos
piled onto a windshield

End? Hiatus? Who can know
this crazy Memphis winter.

windows

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I dreamed that I was on the phone with a nurse, trying to complete the information necessary for Dad’s hospital stay.

I dreamed that my brother and I went to a group therapy session where Mom said that I was not actually born in January and that she had two other children that we did not know about.  We looked at each other while trying to decide if this was the truth or delusion.

I woke suddenly, my desperation and confusion as vivid as it was nearly a year ago, when it was real and daily for almost three weeks.

In the recovery community we are well aware of the emotional tides that an anniversary brings.  And while some brush it off as folklore, others of us invariably have a using dream around the time of our sobriety date.

When I was a young woman, a beau took me to his aunt’s beach house for a holiday.  The sea was rather rough on our first day out.

“If a big wave comes along,” he said, “just duck down and let it wash over you.  That way it won’t knock you down.”

That advice has been a metaphor for me throughout recovery, reminding me that humility and surrender are not evidence of weakness, but of courage.  They are also the biggest windows one can open to allow grace to enter one’s life.

So this morning I am letting the waves of grief wash over me.  I am giving myself time for my heart to slow down and my panic to subside, reminding myself that it’s over.  I got through it.  And I am OK.

I am remembering I have more than a dozen friends who’ve lost a parent, a sibling, a child, a grandparent, even an ex-spouse in the past three years.  From time to time they reach out to me, surprised by the intensity of their sadness.

This is for them.  I love you.  You will get through it.  And you are OK.

triage

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when Faith is a well-chewed pencil point breaking mid-page,

on the periphery, Hope quietly burps and squints through a frazzled curl.

The skyline returns to its place in the distance
while Love finds a spot not far from the marker,

merrily beaming and resolute as the greening wood.

~ for Rachel