Don’t Slow Down

When I slow down, when I let the silence linger, turn off the TV and the chatter in my brain, when I stop streaming music or reading an endless flow of nonsensical, sometimes manipulative updates, occasionally deceptive posts and scams that plague Facebook, the pain corners me. Has its way with me.  Forces me to experience the full power of my raw, excruciating emotions.

I am very good at running.  When it comes to plastering on a smile and making it look like everything is wonderful, Facebook has nothing on me.  I am very good at telling myself lies so I don’t have to face reality.  I’m a master at running my brain around in circles, at circumnavigating the truth without touching it.  I’m very good at avoiding the pain and sidestepping the regret.  The disappointment.  The shame.  I’m good at convincing myself my life is worth living.  Until the silence stops me in my tracks and rubs my face in the emptiness of my existence.

In the darkness and silence, everything I’ve dreaded and deftly avoided captures me.  Surrounds me.  Body slams me into a wall and forces me to feel the agony and desolation I’ve strategically evaded.

Quiet is the enemy.  For silence is no fool.

Silence knows how to move in when distractions are at a lull.  It knows how to take advantage of the moment, sneaking up on me, overcoming all defenses.  And it uses its advantage to shine the truth like a laser beam that slices without mercy, taking aim through the smoke, shooting deadly arrows straight into the foundation of my fabricated reality.   It drives those arrows home where they deeply penetrate, massacring the most vulnerable places in my psyche.

The subconscious speaks in the quiet.  It speaks in a voice that can’t be drowned out.  Determined to be heard at last, it screams out, reverberating far into the cavernous regions of the soul.

When surrounded by the laughter of coworkers, the busyness of work and the white noise of life, nothing profound can penetrate those unfathomable regions of my being.  But when all the noise that masked the emptiness suddenly goes deadly still, the thoughts and feelings that were hidden and buried are jolted awake by that scream and then bubble to the surface where they slap me around.  Punch me in the gut until I can no longer stand.  They perforate my heart and pummel my weary mind.

There are no shadows to hide behind in the stillness.  No walls can protect.  No defenses can deflect the blows.  Clarity can be a curse.  Comprehension a lightning bolt that strikes hard and fast, stopping and felling me in my tracks.  Taking me down with one tremendous flash.

Thankfully, the beating doesn’t last.  The emergency protocol is initiated.  Well-oiled defense mechanisms operating on auxiliary power spring into action, numbing and plugging holes.  Turning up the white noise.  The blows become softer.  Clamor is restored.  Eventually, I’m able to get up and move on as if nothing terrible happened.  The pain is quickly returned to the deep grave from which it was aroused, once more carefully buried in the chasm where it can be contained without my heart sustaining further damage.

I do not mark the grave with a tombstone.  No headstone is placed above ground to remind me of what rests beneath the layers of my soul. Remembering is not the goal.  The goal is to forget.

I pick up the pace, running swiftly from the scene in spite of residual soreness, determined to distance myself from the truth Imprisoned within me.  I turn on some music.  Check Facebook as if my life depended on it.  Play a few mind-numbing computer games.  Stay busy.  Running faster and faster now.  Leaving the deafening silence in my dust.

My mind circles are humming once more.  I repeat a mantra as I gain speed.

Don’t slow down.  Keep moving.  Don’t look back.  Don’t slow down…

Big

I have always been the “big” girl.  I’ve played that role, though against my will, for most of my life.  I’ve been the biggest of my classmates, my church friends, my coworkers, my (ex) husband’s friends wives.  I was always the person others observed while exhibiting an expression of disbelief and horror.  As if I had leprosy.  Or worse.  They rejected me for my outer wrappings.  And had pity for my ex.

I was the freak.  The one who didn’t fit in.  Because I was big.  And that made me ugly.  Unworthy.  Disgusting.

The first time someone told me I was fat, I was 7 years old.  They told me I couldn’t be the princess.  Princesses were little and pretty.  Dainty.  Adorable.  They weren’t big.  They weren’t a fatty.  Like me.

Big girls never get the prince.

I hadn’t considered my size.  Not until that day.  I still remember where I was.  In my grandparent’s driveway.  Riding my bike around in circles as we haggled for a star role in our pretend game.  And when they told me I was too big to be the princess, unacceptable to play the role of the fair maiden the prince would rescue and fall in love with, I rode away with tears running down my cheeks.  Hidden away in a quiet place, I thought about what they said.  I started to compare myself to them.  And I realized they were right.  I was bigger, taller, looked older. There was nothing spindly or fragile about me.   I was not petite, girlish or cute.  Certainly not worthy of being rescued or loved.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was well on my way to being seriously overweight.   My band uniform pants were the largest size they made for junior girls.  Even my feet and hands were big.  And though I was no longer the tallest in my class, what I lacked in height, I made up for in bulk.   If anyone saw me at all, they quickly turned away.  To talk to the cute, popular girls.  The girls who were a size 3.  The princesses.

My parents told me I would be such a pretty girl, if only I would lose weight.  My great hair was my only redeeming feature.  And your hair can only buy you so much acceptability, even with your parents.

When you’re the big girl, you’re nothing at all.  And nothing can compensate for your repulsiveness.

I went on a diet for the first time before I started Junior High.  And my life has been one long diet ever since.  An endless battle, shunning the foods I enjoy and eating salads without dressing instead.  Of eating very little, yet still gaining weight.  Of watching others devour in one meal at least three times the amount of food I consume in a day…but they were still princesses because they never got big.  I ate only one healthy meal a day and still packed on the pounds.  Denied and starved myself only to be transformed into the wicked witch.

When you’re overweight, people don’t believe you when you tell them you don’t eat that much.  They think you’re lying.  They smirk and assume you eat in secret; eat massive amounts of fattening foods behind closed doors.  But it’s not true.  If only they would be forced to exist on the quantity of food I consume!  Then they would understand.  Wishful thinking.  Where is karma when you need it?

I have only been princess-sized twice.

In my late twenties, I began to strictly control what I ate because I couldn’t control anything else in my world.  I started walking.  Then running.  And then, I was running 13+ miles a day.  I weighed and measured my food, counted every calorie, refused to eat unless it was at times I deemed to be acceptable and only allowed myself small quantities of food, none of which was enjoyable.  I even counted calories in the gum I chewed.

Miraculously, I lost weight.  When I hit 90 pounds,  I started to feel really good about myself.  For the first time ever, I wasn’t a big girl.  I didn’t have to be ashamed because I took up too much space.

But it only lasted 6 years.  I broke my hip in two places, the result of the strain from all the exercise.  Turns out, I didn’t have big bones.  Turns out, my bones were on the small side.  You could see them pretty clearly at 86 pounds, the lowest weight I reached as an adult.  And I loved to look at those bones.  Because it meant I could be the princess.  It meant I wasn’t a big girl.  Nor an abomination.

I had never heard of anorexia.   Wasn’t until much later that I learned about eating disorders.  Took even longer before I realized I just might have had one.  One that abandoned me when I needed it the most.  For after I was forced to stop running, I started to gain weight.

I got bigger and bigger and bigger.  No matter how little I ate, how much I walked, the pounds accumulated.   I hated myself.  Was buried under layer after layer of shame and self-loathing.

My ex was ashamed of me too.  After years of living with his rejection, disgust and shaming, he finally decided to do some running himself.  He left me for someone younger, blonde and much, much thinner.

The switch suddenly flipped again a few years after he dumped me.  But this time, I learned a new trick.  I ate like a lumberjack, but threw up everything I ate.  Sometimes 5, 6, 10 times a day.  And I lost the weight; it all but melted off.  This time, I was older.  My body wasn’t as resilient.  I began to have some major physical problems about the time I hit 92 pounds.  Problems like not being able to stand up or walk without falling over. Crazy cramps from potassium depletion.  Irregular heartbeat.  Unable to control my muscles.

I slowly realized how dangerous my new friend could be.  It took a while because I hadn’t had any physical problems “before,” during my first encounter with anorexia.  But I didn’t care.  I downed electrolyte enhanced drinks, ate teaspoonfuls of salt and kept losing.  Staggering along the treacherous precipice while attempting not to fall off.

Just as suddenly, after 10 blissful years of freedom, the switch flipped again.  And when it flipped, I gained.  My greatest fear became reality.   I was nothing but a big girl in disguise.  And I was being unmasked in spite of starving myself.  Can’t fight who you are.  Can’t hide it forever.

The ugly, worthless, disgusting big girl revealed herself once more.  The despicable, stupid, piece of crap fatty began to take control.

But I can’t.  I don’t have the strength to keep fighting.  I simply can’t.  I can’t be THAT girl ever again.  The girl who is too big to be the princess.  The girl who is repulsive to the prince.  The 7 year old on the bike, rejected and teased for her size.  The big girl.  I can’t. I can’t live in that body.  I have reached the end of my ability to deal.  I can’t go back to that place. I can’t go back to being that person.

I won’t.

If I can’t be small enough to be the princess, I would rather die.

 

It Used to be My Sky

It used to be my sky.  I opened my eyes every day in the darkness and watched the sun rise in that sky.  I listened to the noise of traffic that roared continually beneath it.  I basked in the warmth and light that shone from it.  It was my sky.  It was the sky I loved.  The sky beneath which I wanted to live and to die.

The sun in that sky dressed up in the afternoon and went out to party in a magnificent display of glamour.  I enjoyed watching it slowly stroll down the horizon.  I loved the pageantry.

I chose that sky.  I chose the city beneath it as my home.  Chose it for the warmer weather. The mild winters it ushered in when it was frigid to the north and unbearable.  I watched the sky cradle and caress with warm breezes as it blew in short winters, shepherding them out with great haste.  Replacing the barren earth with abundant green. Painting the landscape with flowers of every color.  Watering them with gentle tears.

I loved that it only cried a few times a year.  Just enough times.  I chose this sky; treasured it.  And when I had to leave it behind, I lost my heart.

I gave that sky the best years of my life.  My youth departed below it.   Precious periods of my limited time that can’t be recaptured were squandered there, under its watchful eye.

I am jealous of those who remain, enjoying the sunrises and sunsets, the beauty, the gentle breezes.  I am jealous that everything in their life worked in their favor, allowing them to stay and live beneath my sky.

I’m jealous of the lives they have built in the city I selected.  A city big enough to get lost within, but not so big it overwhelmed and drained the soul.  There were always many great things to do under the clouds that float lazily across the deep blue dome above the streets and parks.  I walked in those parks.  Smelled the frilly, multi-colored flowers.   Ran the trails.  Felt the grass beneath my bare feet.  Rode my bike on those streets.  Worked there.  Shopped in the malls and quaint boutiques.  Fought the sometimes frustrating, but mostly navigable, flowing ribbons of traffic.

For a while, I had a life there.  A hard life.  But a life.

It was a life of struggle.  But there was hope. Because I believed anything could happen beneath that sky.  I believed a day would come when all the struggle would be worth the pain.

I fought to carve out a life.  I fought to shape hard, sharp stones into building blocks.  To create a existence of worth; one that had value.  The kind of life those around me live and still enjoy.  Those who still look up at my sky.

I had to leave it all behind.  Because I fought, but I lost.  I believed, but I believed in vain.

I lost the person I was going to grow old with.  I lost my job, my money, my home.  My friends, for the most part, faded away.  Like fog over a lake in the morning, when the sun rises and is gone without a trace.  I lost the belief that I could have a better future…or any kind of future.  I lost my hope.  And so, I lost my sky.  I had to leave it all behind me.

When I left, there was nothing much left of me beneath that sky.  Not much left with which to move forward.

My life sits within me, a massive ruin.  A pile of rubble and crumbs.  I will never be able to rebuild, to create something healthy or good  or beautiful from this wreckage.  The sky now above me is cold and steely.  Stormy, it cries often.  Massive tears fall out of the gray-blue.  They turn to icy snow when the temperature dips.  And it dips often.

I rent a tiny box of a house beneath this unfriendly sky and fight idiotic traffic, drivers that don’t know how to merge or turn corners or accelerate onto an expressway.  The streets are narrow and flow is inefficient.  There are few parks.  No trails.  It costs more to live in this place where I do not want to live under this sky that is not my sky.  There are fewer jobs and they all pay less.  It is a harsh existence here under this brutal firmament.  Harsh and painful.

I stand alone below this steely unyielding sky.  I have no partner.  No one carries my heart with them and I have not been honored with the opportunity to carry theirs.  The one thing I wanted beyond all things in this life is that:  to love and be loved.

But it was an unrealistic dream; one that will never become a reality.  Not under this, or any sky.  Not even beneath the one I reluctantly left behind.

 

Brain Damage

I waited a very long time to get help.  This was partially because it took me forever to get to a point in life where I could afford professional therapy.  It was certainly delayed by the pressure  my (then) husband used to avoid involvement, unpleasantness or difficulty.  He told I needed to act “normal” and “keep it to yourself” because he didn’t want to be bothered with the darkness and brokenness inside of me.  It was also somewhat attributable to the heavy sense of shame I carried within me.  Shame for being defective and dirty.  For being repulsive and unsightly by simply being.  Because I wasn’t like everyone else.  And since I was working 10 or 11 hours a day as I tried to prove my worth to various employers, it was also partially due to exhaustion and an inability to make time for myself.

I learned early I was undeserving of space, care and acceptance.  Abuse, particularly when you’re a child, drives that point deep.

In truth, I didn’t make a serious, “all in” attempt at healing until a few months after my father died.  Suddenly, it felt as though the time had come to deal with the festering wounds I continually attempted to hide beneath layers and layers of makeup and masks.

At the time, I didn’t realize there was any need to rush.  I didn’t understand healing might not be attainable if the wounds were left unattended for a long period.  I didn’t know coping mechanisms, shattered perceptions of worth and self were being cemented more permanently into place as I aged.  I thought healing would happen “someday” when the stars aligned and someone finally valued me.  I certainly didn’t know my brain might actually be working against me as I slogged through all the ruin.

Did you know that child sexual abuse actually causes brain damage?

I didn’t hear about the results of this body of research or its implications until I was years into the healing journey.  I was in weekly “talk therapy” sessions with a gifted psychologist, giving the process everything I had to give.  I journaled, prayed, attended workshops, went through a few abuse and sex abuse recovery groups, completed 2 different yearlong Celebrate Recovery groups and allowed a couple of different psychiatrists to experiment on me by prescribing every different antidepressant on the market in various combinations and in ever higher dosages. Nothing worked.

The most frustrating part for me was expending so much effort when I had little energy to spare, yet it changed nothing, in spite of all I put into it.  In spite of the time and money spent.  I became dejected  and deeply dismayed, occasionally shedding a few tears because of the lack of progress or results.  I knew I wasn’t a stupid person, so why couldn’t I grasp the information I was being given and bring it to life in my soul?  Why wasn’t I being transformed?

I’ve always felt damaged.  Like I’m faking it, hoping to someday make it.  But it never occurred to me my brain was the part of me that had probably sustained the most damage because of my abusive childhood.

I was told by my counselor that I needed to reprogram my thought processes.  I tried.  For years.  But I slowly began to realize, what I needed was more encompassing than this.  In actuality, the sexual abuse, in particular, overwhelmed and fried the circuitry in my brain.  What I need is not to be reprogramed.  I can load new thoughts all day long and run them through my head again and again, but it’s never going to make a difference if the program can’t run properly.  And it can’t.  Because the problem isn’t so much the program as it is the wiring.  It’s been incinerated.   Nothing is going to process and transmit the way it should with smoldering, shattered and scorched wiring.

It was a small relief to learn I wasn’t a failure for failing to reprogram my thinking.  Though hard to believe and comprehend, I started to glimpse the real problem.  It was deeper than poorly written and executed programming.  I had experienced a circuitry overload that burned my brain, creating a philological barrier, changing how I process data and interpret experiences.  The two hemispheres of my brain aren’t as integrated as the brains of people who haven’t gone through the trauma I survived as a child.  Perhaps this is due to an engulfing need to compartmentalize and isolate.  Or maybe it’s simply the way brain development is affected by continual trauma, abuse and intense stress during childhood.  Regardless, I have begun to realize I’m not merely fighting old, wrong programming.  I’m fighting a brain that has been singed, seared and annihilated by severe, horrific child abuse.  It’s no longer capable of making the connections I’ve long tried to make as I’ve sought to be healed.

Trauma is biologically encoded in the brain in a variety of ways. Considerable and often negative changes in structures like the hippocampus, and the coordination and integration of neural network functioning have been identified. The nervous systems of children who are abused runs on a constant high because of the continual anticipation of further danger. There are documented alterations in cortisol production in children with histories of abuse and neglect. And this state of chronic ‘hyper-arousal’ persists throughout adulthood, so even when the abuse and violence has ceased and the environment is “safe,” adults who experienced childhood abuse perceive the threat to be present; their fear is maintained and becomes pathological.

The brain is so damaged, it begins to dismantle us.

The experiences of childhood abuse cause changes that are reflected in physiological, psychological and interpersonal experiences.  Adaptation to trauma, especially early in life, becomes a “state of mind, brain, and body” around which subsequent experience organizes. Research has even documented significant changes on a genetic level.  Every function of mind, body, heart, soul, emotions, logic and even cell structure is altered by the abuse experienced in childhood.

The brain governs everything.  And when the brain is damaged, certain functions become impossible.

When I say I was forever changed by the abuse I survived during childhood, or explain that my path was eternally altered, I’m not speaking metaphorically.  The damage is comprehensive, large-scale and wide-ranging.

Who I was and who I was meant to be was obliterated before I entered grade school.  That destruction changed every fiber of my being and shaped me into someone far different than the person I was created to be and become.  My life and an ability to truly live and enjoy life was massacred by abuse.  My brain has been extensively damaged on a physical, as well as mental and emotional level, just as surely as if I had experienced a horrendous car crash that fractured my skull, leaving me barely alive and unbearably traumatized.

Brains don’t bounce back.  Once damaged, the consequences will be noted in various aspects, both minor and momentous.  The entire personality is altered.  Health, both emotional and physical, is compromised as various bodily and cognitive functions are short-circuited.  This is the gift my parents gave to me.  This is what I have been fighting against and attempting to overcome.

No wonder I am weary.  No wonder the results have been limited and the path too difficult to traverse.  No wonder I feel as if I’m damaged goods.   A failure.  My heart knows, even if my brain can no longer comprehend the extend of the mutilation.

My wiring has been short-circuited.  I’m trying to change what has already been radically, fatally altered.  I’m attempting to transform myself into a normal, healthy person, but I am not normal and my health has been broadly compromised.  My brain has been unspeakably damaged.  And it’s quite likely healing isn’t a reasonable expectation or probable outcome.

 

Child of Pain

The world that I was born into was a dark and lonely place.  I figured it out pretty early.  My life wasn’t like that of other kids.  My parents weren’t like their parents.  The things that happened behind closed, locked doors, out of sight of those my parents sought to fool and impress, were very unlike those experienced by most other children.

 

I was a child of pain.

 

The very first thing my eyes were able to see, blurry though the image might have been, were the faces of my parents.  The people who created me, so to speak.  They claimed they wanted me.  But these people who struggled to name me, who never really adjusted to having me, who were supposed to love and protect me, introduced me to a hostile, chaotic, dark world.  A planet where pain ruled and thrived.

 

Pain claimed me at birth and never let me go.

 

It became a way of life for me and it wore my canyons deep.  When I awoke, it greeted me.  And it held me as I would weep.  As my life went on, it became my song.  It was all I knew.  It was the way I grew.  It penetrated my bones and as my soul grew numb and cold, it wrote on my heart of stone. Marked me forever.

 

From the womb that bore me, that grew, ripped and tore me, to the abuse, the out-of-control screaming and hitting, the demands and expectations that I could never meet or fulfill, through all the ugly and despicable things I endured, I became pain.  Pain became me.

 

There was no safe place of laughter, no nurturing, no dinner conversations about my dreams…or my day.  My world was lists of chores, front and back, 30 items or more long that were supposed to be completed every evening before my parents got home.  It was straight A’s, or else, smiling on demand, keeping my mouth shut, and hiding from their violent outbursts whenever I could see them coming.  I didn’t laugh together with my parents or act silly and have fun with them.  Instead, I learned about secrets and how to keep them.  I learned about monsters who hide in plain sight, who wore masks of respectability, but who snuck into my room at night to rape and abuse me.  I learned about double standards, surviving the darkness and nightmares all alone, keeping my head down, and trying to do as many of those chores on the never-ending lists my mother made for me without complaint.  But nothing I was or did was good enough.

 

I learned slapping leaves a big red welt, but it fades pretty quickly.  I learned that you can be knocked across the room with one punch, but you can still get up, go to your room and do your homework.  I learned that being alone, totally and utterly alone, was crushing, but being with people who trampled and molested you was even worse.   I learned about the power of words to cut you to your core.  To leave you bleeding and deeply wounded.  I learned about pain.  Pain provided the only air I was allowed to breathe; to take into my lungs.  It was the blood that flowed through my veins.  It was my skin.  And my eyes.  For everywhere I looked, pain was there, waiting to take me down.

 

I stumbled through endless days, trying to avoid land mines.  Trying to stay alive…physically and emotionally.  I succeeded to a degree.  I physically endured.  But my body was the only part of me that made it out alive.

 

Child of pain.  It ate my soul and devoured my heart.  It permeated every fiber of my existence.

 

Fate spun her web made of poisoned thread.  I have a multitude of scars to show for it.

 

Once you are wounded and marked, once you have been saturated by pain, it doesn’t go away when finally you physically escape your abusers.  Abusers who gave you life, then sucked it right back out of you.  It stays with you.  Sometimes forever.  Once a child of pain, always a child of pain.  The scars don’t fade easily, if at all.  Pain enjoys torturing and destroying. Playing with you.   It finds you wherever you go, delighting in the chase.  There is no escape.

 

Some things cannot be repaired.  Some wounds can never be fully healed.  Some pain is so deep, you drown in it.  You are absorbed into it.  It changes you.  And once you know pain this intimately, you are joined with it forever until you become one with the agony and anguish.

 

Born into pain.  Living with the shame, sorrow and heartache, trying to build a life in spite of massive damage and debilitating brokenness.  Living with the emotional encumbrance, longing for escape, until death ultimately marks you, claims you and carries you away.

 

Child of pain.  Until death do us part.

 

Single

At my age, “married” is the most common marital status.  Singles groups are filled with those in their 20s and 30s…even a few in their 40s, but not with those in my age bracket.  People my age are beginning to enjoy their grandchildren or they’re traveling with their spouse as they celebrate 25+ years of marriage. So, when someone asks if I’m married and I tell them I am not, there’s always the sound of mild surprise in their voice when they ask their next question.  And the next question, without fail is this:  “widowed or divorced?”

I discovered early on, within mere weeks of my ex-husband’s departure, it was better to be widowed.

The end result is basically the same.  You’re alone and that’s not really what you wanted.  You’re left to pick up the pieces of what is left of your life, your dreams.  Now, you’re supposed to move on with humility and grace.  You have to fill out a lot of legal documents, switch accounts into your name, erasing the last traces of the person you loved.  Build new traditions and routines.  But the differences are significant.

My ex left me after years of belittling, rejecting and deriding me for not being the person of his dreams and for not living up to his expectations.  He “fell in love” with a younger, more beautiful and more lovely woman than I can ever hope to be.  She was to be the perfect wife.  One who cooked, who cleaned, who worked and made good money, who never had an opinion that contradicted his own and who was always ready for hot, dirty sex.

When a spouse dies, they aren’t leaving you because they want to.  They have no choice in the matter.  You might not have had the most perfect marriage overall, but for most women who are left to cope with the death of their husband, love was shared and parting is extremely painful.

What I found, having been dumped and not parted by death, is that I lost almost all of my friends when he left me.  They didn’t know how to relate to me as a single.  We had done “couple” things and now, those things were awkward.   In truth, they probably liked him more than they liked me.  He had a much more outgoing personality.  He was funny.  Not too deep, but lots of fun.  I, on the other hand, am introverted.  I spend vast amounts of energy hiding all my many deficiencies and the brokenness in my soul so as not to offend.   I work extremely hard to be normal.  This brokenness is the result of growing up with abusive parents who did a lot of damage.  Couple this with waiting too long to get professional help to recover and rebuild.  I’m deep; too deep for most.  I think and feel things most people never want to consider and I’ve experienced the kind of abuse they don’t want to know exists.  I try, but I know I’m not even close to epitomizing the definition of a “good time.”

They liked him more and they kind of figured he dumped me for good reasons.  So, life got very empty very quickly…and it wasn’t full to begin with.

I am well acquainted with a couple of women who lost their husbands when they were too young.  It was astounding to see how everyone rallied around them.  Yes, their life was also empty in a horrible way.   A loss is a loss and it’s always going to hurt deeply.  But they didn’t also lose all the other significant people who had been a part of their life and on whom they relied.  Those people were still there.  A lot.  They walked beside them as they cried and raged and vomited their grief.  They included them in events, ignoring the “fifth wheel” discomfort.  They reflected acceptance and let them know they were no less of a person, nor less worthy of love because of their loss.

Those ladies didn’t fill out all their legal forms alone.  Nor did they always have to wipe away their own tears.

If you reach a point where you long for love and dare to hope you can find someone with whom to share your life once more, I have also observed, though divorce is common, men tend to shy away when they find out you are single because your ex left you.  This is particularly true when you objectively share they “left for another woman.”  You’re then regarded as being tainted, defective and assumed to a bitch who got what was coming to you.  Why else would the guy you were married to have bailed?

But if you’re widowed…well, he didn’t want to leave you.  You were still prized, cherished and maybe even a little spoiled.  You were probably a real catch!   Some guy wanted you; wanted to be with you forever.  Which makes you someone worth pursuing, worth getting to know, and possibly, someone worth loving and sharing life.

I am single.  At an age where being single is a bit of a strike against you, right off the bat.  I am alone…and not by choice.  I was dumped.  And yes, I am flawed.  Deeply wounded with many faults and failings.  I see each one of my deficiencies…and oh, how I wish I could make myself into another person altogether.  I know I’m probably harder to love than that person who had never had to rebuild their soul from dust and ashes.  I keep hoping, if I dig around in those ashes long enough, I’ll find something within me that’s worth loving, even just a little.  I keep praying I’ll have something of value to give.  But what I’ve experienced is unending aloneness.  Struggling simply to survive.  Digging through those ashes by myself.  Because realistically, who is going to spend their time poking around in the dirt when there are beautiful gardens to explore and gorgeous landscapes to enjoy.

 

We All Fall Down

It was written about the plague, you know.

Ring around the rosie,
Pockets full of posies;
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down.

About death, disease, falling down into forever darkness.  Leaving behind this world of joy and laugher,  desire and triumph, meaning and meaninglessness, tears and striving, heartache and cruelty.  This world, where we are told that anything is possible, is a trickster.  For those possibilities are rarely achieved.

We will all die.  Even the baby you hold in your arms today.  That little one who is unable to crawl or speak.  Their time will come.  Life is all about dying.  There is no other option.  It is the last thing each of us will do and there is nothing we can do to prevent it from happening.

There are a plethora of ways to die.  Some were more common at points in history than they are today.  When the plague was harvesting a large number of us during medieval eras, which was a very common way to pass, car wrecks were unheard of.  Because cars hadn’t been created.  Nor had antibiotics. The times change, but our fate does not.

Regardless of the decade in which we were born, regardless of the manner in which we will depart to the next stage, depart we will.  We will all fall down, never to get up again.

Death does its thing.  It wears many faces and has many names.  But the end game is always the same.

The ultimate purpose of life is to die.  We creep closer to it every day, to that moment when our final breath departs from our body.  So, why is life viewed as a gift when in reality, it’s nothing but a period of time during which we are required to find some way to survive as we move ever forward toward the inevitable moment of our departure?

We all fall down.  We cannot escape our fate.  Death will come to claim and smother us, collecting us.  Everything we have held dear will be ripped from us in that moment.  Everything we’ve worked for will be left for strangers or strange family members to take, disperse and sell.  Nothing of what we have done here will endure.  Time will swallow it until we are remembered no more.  Because even those who remember us for an instant will themselves eventually fade into obscurity and die.   Soon, there won’t be anyone left to remember.

We all fall down.  It is our destiny.

Why do we struggle so?  Why do we keep trying to achieve, to succeed, to leave a mark?  Why do we continue to seek purpose when our purpose is to die.

In the end, we will be wiped from the face of the earth.  The clock will keep ticking long after we have stepped out of the timeline.  Dust will return to dust.  We all fall down.  Down for the count.  Everything will go on without us.  And every day that comes after we are gone, others will follow and also fall for the last time.

I used to believe my purpose was to tell the story of the abuse I endured as a child so others would better understand the horrible impact.  So they would begin to comprehend the terrible wounds and crushing pain.  So some would be compelled to confront and end this kind of treatment of children. But I also believed I would win the war I was fighting…the war to survive and thrive.  I believed I would heal.  Find love.  Have a happy ending that made all the suffering and destruction worthwhile.   I would be an inspiration.

I have no happy ending.  I can’t inspire or even guide you on the journey to wholeness because I was infected with a plague when I was a toddler and the damage to my heart was extensive.  Most of my soul didn’t survive.  Healing has been illusive and elusive.  I have no words with which to motivate you because there is nothing inspiring about the place I’ve come from, what my wounds have made of me, what I’ve become as a result of these hideous injuries and where I’ve ended up in life.

Eventually, the death plague will claim me.  All my trials, wounds, scars and attempts to free myself will prove to be without meaning or merit.   We all fall down.  My day is coming.  And who I am, what I am, what I’ve suffered and what has shaped me will ultimately hold no meaning, provide no lesson or inspiration, nor have any redemptive value for those who are left to travel on within life for another day.

The final loss will come.  I will fall.  And my life, in spite of all my efforts, will have no lasting value whatsoever.

 

Storms

There was a storm last week.  Last Thursday evening.  Wasn’t the worst I’ve ever seen; ever survived.  The wind was intense.  Knocked out my power around 6 pm and it wasn’t restored until after 3:30 the next morning. In some places, trees were uprooted, fences were flattened and because it hit suddenly, with little warning, over 15 people died on a nearby lake.

I sat in my closet with my dogs for about an hour.  Then, I sat in the dark until I finally drifted off to sleep with a couple of candles flickering to provide a small amount of comfort.  When you’re without electricity, there are so many things you can’t do.  Sometimes, sleep is the only way to escape.

Without electricity, you can’t cook, heat up a cup of coffee, cool down the house, keep your refrigerated food from perishing…or even do something mundane, like clean house or vacuum your carpet.  You can’t open your garage door, read, shop online, post on Facebook, binge watch a show on Netflix, do something crafty to pass the time or flick on the light when you walk into a dark room.  Though it didn’t stop me from trying.  Out of habit.  More than once.

It didn’t seem like it would be much of a storm.  It was nice out.  Then, the sirens went off, a warning to take cover.  I grabbed my dogs, my purse and external hard drive, then headed for the closet.  Eventually, we were all panting and hot, so I cracked the door and listened for a moment before venturing out to see if it was safe.

Everything was more or less intact.  But it was dark.

We survived.  We survived the storm that took the lives of others less than an hour away from where I live.  We survived with windows open and candles sputtering, encased in the darkness.  Numb and fearful in the eerie aftermath of the storm, waiting to assess the damage.

I have known many storms.  Weather.  Personal crisis.  Abuse.  Rejection.  Unfairness.  Neglect.  Many storms of varying strength, with countless levels of impact.  I have been battered physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  I have been broken and wounded.    But somehow, I have survived.  Not intact.  I’ve taken a lot of direct hits, experienced extensive damage and waded through mountains of debris.  I’ve been left to pick up the pieces over and over again.  To patch together a life from what was left of me.  I’ve not been wildly successful.  I have not healed.

Life is one continuous storm.  It’s hard.  People can be monsters.  They do monstrous things.

There are storms…and there are STORMS.  Sometimes, you walk away from them, a little bruised and stressed, but otherwise unharmed.  Some of them, you’re lucky if you can crawl away.  Sometimes, you have to sit there for a while, figure out where you’re bleeding, how deeply you’re cut and what is broken, until you can work up enough strength to turn over, breathe and attempt to stand.  Sometimes, you’re so wounded, you can’t even move.  You know the damage is terribly deep and significant.  The pain is crushing.  All you can do is lay perfectly still, barely breathing, stunned and trembling, unsure if this will be the one that finally brings you down.  After those storms, you can only pray you will be rescued.  And parts of you die a little bit at a time when the rescue never happens.

Even if it takes a long, long time, It’s easier to fix the electricity than it is to put the pieces of your heart back together.  Surviving the storm doesn’t mean you made it out alive.

 

Blanks

We begin with nothing but blank pages.  Yet, even while in the womb, we start to write our story.  The prologue to the book of our life is created as we form in the darkness.  And then, violently, we are born.  Taking our first breath, we cry out.  At that moment, we put pen to page and record the first line of our first chapter.

We aren’t aware we’ve begun to write our saga.  We don’t even realize we are on a journey.  This revelation doesn’t occur until much later.  But with our first cry, we wildly slash, leaving a bold, daring line across the pristine sheet of paper before us.  We are.  We make our initial mark.  And so, we begin to fill the pages of our book.

Our first poopy diaper.  The first time we roll over.  Our first smile.  The day we discover our own arm.  The first time we crawl.  Take a step.  Run.  Outgrow that poopy diaper.  Say our first word.  Our first day of school.

Chapters are written and they can’t be revised.  Or replayed.  Nor can they be undone.   Time writes with indelible ink.

In a weird twist, we forget our story even as we are writing it.  Who recalls the exact moment they first tottered across the living room floor without falling?  Who can remember saying their first word?  And who recollects the first time we excitedly ripped our hand out of that of our parents, running onward without them?   We achieve, but continually move forward.  One step follows another until we no longer recall from where we have come.  Blank sheet after blank sheet, filled, written, then forgotten.  We turn the page and keep writing…whether we want to or not.  What we do each second creates a line or paragraph within our book.  But most of those minutes are lost almost as they happen.  Only the major milestones are remembered.  And often, they are only recalled with difficulty.

We catch and release.  Moment after moment, lived and lost.

We fill in the blanks as we carelessly fill our empty pages.  I was born in _______ city.  I grew up in a house on _______ street.  I got my driver’s license ___ days after I turned 16.  I graduated with a ____ GPA in ____ year.  My first real job was at ______.  My first car was a _____.  I was ____ years old when __________ kissed me for the very first time.  My first love was ___________.  I got married when I was _____ years old on _______ date.

We write chapters with increasing speed.  The memories are lost even as we live and create them.

We fill in the blanks.  We fill up the blank spaces.  But we also blank out large chunks of our life.  We blank out the pain; the painful memories.  We erase from our minds large portions of what we have written.  We run from our own story.  Or deny we have one.

We create a chronicle of our life, chapter after chapter, year upon year.  We don’t foresee the end.  We never know when time has decided to leave us behind.  We don’t realize we are writing the final word upon that last page; not until the pen slips from our hand.  We grasp for it, but in vain.  It tumbles and falls silently to the floor, empty, used up.

We don’t know we are taking our last breath until suddenly, we fail to take another.

That last page?  I can’t tell you what it’s like.  I’m not there yet.  And no one lives to share their experience.  Even if they did live to tell, it’s very different for each one of us.  We reach that page at assorted ages, in dissimilar conditions, at various stages of life, and in a variety of ways (car wreck, cancer, heart attack…it’s a long list).  We are in differing states of mind, at a distinct place emotionally, physically and spiritually.  No two of us are alike and our final moments are as varied as snowflakes.

The last page, the final breath, the last word we write is very private event.  For this is a journey we make alone.

Everything is finite.  We all have an expiration date.  We don’t acknowledge or comprehend this when we’re young.  We don’t truly grasp it until we gasp in our final lungful of air and exhale for the last time.  Then we know with absolute certainty.

Suddenly, there are no more blanks.  Nothing exists beyond that moment.  Every experience we will ever have has come and gone.  Lived and ended.  Every moment allotted to us has been spent.  Every blank has been filled. There will be no more firsts.  No more memories to record.  Nothing for us to struggle to remember as it slips away.  No memories whatsoever.  It’s as if we have been erased.  As if our book was written in disappearing ink.

When we fill the one remaining blank – the date and time of our death – our story, good, glorious, or heartbreaking, is complete.  Someone else will add “The End” to our closing page when they say goodbye for the final time, then turn and walk on without us.

 

Ronnie P Has Left the Building

I have known him for a very long time.  He was an old friend.  One from way back.  One who never failed to have my back.  Who was always there.  Always cared.  One of the rare ones who “knew me when,” knew me now and who was still a presence in my life.

Too young to die.

I got the news yesterday morning.  At 1:30 a.m. on July 4th, Ronnie had a heart attack and died.  No warning.  Just like that.  They “worked on him” for 45 minutes, but couldn’t revive him.  Ronnie had left the building.  His final exit.  Curtain closed.  The story of his life finished.  There will be no encore.

Ronnie was one of the very few people I knew in high school who accepted me.  I was allowed to be part of his gang of mismatched castaways.  A little group of rejects who never quite fit in anywhere else.  The thing was, Ronnie was not really one of us.  He was a bit of a jock.  A football player who was friends with the popular kids, but who, for whatever reasons, hung out with us outcasts.  He was the core around which we all revolved and having brought us together, he held us close.  He was our touchstone.    We were friends with Ronnie and then became friends with each other.

After high school, we briefly lost touch.  I moved to a big city several hours away.  Last I heard, he had joined the military and I had no idea where he was stationed.  I thought of him often and wondered where he was, but in those days, finding someone was hard. There was no Facebook.  No internet. At times, I wondered if I would ever see him again.

About 5 years after we graduated, I pulled into the Sears parking lot one night.  There was a small key-making kiosk on the lot and as I walked by, I saw his face grinning at me.  Big goofy smile.  He had moved to the same city I now called home to attend college after he was discharged from the military and he was working in that kiosk while going to school.  Fate, it seemed, brought us back together.

There were times we again lost touch over the years, but he always tracked me down.  He was the one who put in the effort to find me and to maintain the bond.  I was that important to him.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care.  Or that he wasn’t also important to me.  But I was never good with connections.  I struggled with relationships.  Forever an outcast; inferior.  Ronnie didn’t care.  He went the extra mile, as if he understood it was something I couldn’t do.

And now, he’s gone.  The connection broken.  And even if I try, I can’t track him down where he has gone.

I am struggling to imagine a world with out Ronnie in it.  Without his big, tender heart.  A heart that loved strays…both people and animals.  A heart that opened up and swallowed you whole.  That loved you even when you couldn’t love our accept yourself.  Ronnie saw the good.  He never gave up on you when you were at your worst.  He was there.  Always.  And now, he isn’t.  I simply can’t comprehend it.

Ronnie P has left the building.  He loved deeply and cared even more.  He pulled people to him.  Somehow, now that I know he is gone, now that his light has been turned off, the darkness feels even more menacing and overwhelming.  He was a force.  A presence.  Without him, the world seems much more empty.

Oh, my friend…you left too soon.  You were too young.  And I don’t know how we’re going to make it without you.

 

The World Through My Eyes