Tag Archives: Aging

No Sanctuary

Years ago, I watched a movie called “Logan’s Run.” The message continues to cause a significant amount of introspection and reflection.
I like science fiction and the movie falls into this category.   It has been years since I watched it, but the way I remember the plot, a remnant of civilization exists in a utopian society within a massive dome.  Their enclosed world is experiencing a terrible shortage of food and what is left to them of the planet can no longer sustain life long term.  For this reason, the computer that controls their lives has everyone fitted with a computerized clock to monitor their age.  A police-like military group oversees the city where these people live, enforcing the computer’s rulesand demands.  When a person’s life-clock reaches 30, they are taken to a large chamber where they undergo a ritual called “Carousel.”  During this ritual, they begin to float upward and disappear upon reaching the top of the chamber.  Everyone is told these people are being reincarnated and that they will never have to grow old.  The citizens are told they will all be renewed in this manner when their life-clock runs out. 
What the average citizen doesn’t know is that everyone who reaches 30 is being killed in the rooms above the chamber and their remains are being converted into food.  And this is the food that is being supplied to the remaining people within the dome.  It is keeping them alive.
Logan is one of the soldiers who keeps order in the city and who has terminated those who have tried to escape this fate.  To force him to go on a secret mission, his life-clock is moved forward from age 28 to 30 by the computer.  And he will be required to participate in Carousel with a group of suspected rebels who form a secret society.  They are being monitored and are expected to attempt to escape, as more than 1000 have reportedly successfully done over the years.  This group wears a symbol to identify them and some have been overheard talking about a place called “Sanctuary.”  They are planning to try to find this place of purported safety.  For they do not believe in the ritual of renewal and rebirth.  They are certain they will not be reincarnated, but will instead be destroyed.  So, they are going to run and Logan is to run with them.  Hence the title, Logan’s Run. 
Logan is to go with the group as they attempt to find the mythical Sanctuary. Once found, he is to report back and provide the computer with the location so their rebel fortress can be destroyed.
During his “run,” Logan learns the truth.  He sees what is happening to the people who reach age 30 and who are swept aloft in the massive chamber during the ritual.  Clever propaganda has been used to hide what is being done, but Logan now sees proof that it is nothing but terrible lies.  He realizes everyone is being killed, their remains processed and stored to provide sustenance to the remaining residents.   Disillusioned, frightened, his escape becomes much more than an undercover mission he was forced to accept.  It is now a genuine attempt to flee with the group of rebels upon which he is supposed to spy. 
What he discovers outside the dome is deeply surprising.  In unexpected ways.
Eventually, as he returns to let others know about his startling discoveries, he is recaptured by a fellow “sandman.”  His fellow soldiers, who have become his enemies.  They hook him up to the massive computer that runs all life within the dome and maintains compliance, balance and order.   He is interrogated.  They show him no mercy.  They spare him no pain. 
He is asked if he has completed his mission.  Then the question, “What is Sanctuary?”   Logan responds honestly.  Without deceit.  He has discovered the truth while outside the dome.
“There is no Sanctuary.” 
The answer is unacceptable, so the computer asks again.  Again, Logan responds, “There is no Sanctuary.” 
Again.  “There is no Sanctuary.” 
Yet again, and again, and again, the computer prods.  Logan can only tell the truth.  He can only report what he has come to know…there is life outside the dome, but there is no Sanctuary.  And this response, given while he is tortured, is the computer’s undoing.  It can’t process what it is being told.  Things begin to come unraveled within its circuitry.  Within the dome.  Things stop working.  Vital processes cease.  Things explode.  Seals release.  Cracks eventually develop in thick walls and finally the dome is split apart and crumbles.  Their world is forever altered as life within the confines of that sphere fail and come to a catastrophic end.  Because there is no Sanctuary.
I think I have finally learned this lesson.  And it’s a hard lesson. Not that there is no sanctuary, specifically.  But there is no place of being okay.  No safe haven.  No space where healing is accomplished.  Where all the wounds of the past are finally made well and health is restored.  Where things are put right.  Where the chains that bind are broken and one is set free.  There is no Sanctuary.  No magical spot or time where wrongs are righted and happy endings begin.  Not on earth, anyway.
Life is hard.  It does things to you.  It is harder for some than for others. 
My life has been a hard one.  Abuse…physical, emotional, sexual…riddled my childhood.  I didn’t learn many of the foundational lessons that others learn, so things that come easily to others are very difficult for me.  And the damage that was done to me at an early age goes deep.  It messed me up.  Changed me forever.
No one gets through this journey unscathed.  Or at least most don’t.  We are all walking wounded.  Some of our wounds are ghastly.  Others are relatively minor.  But we all get hurt.  There is no Sanctuary.  No safety.  No place of freedom.  No guarantees.
And once the damage has been done, nothing is going to undo it.
Looking back, it seems so simple.  There is no sanctuary.  There is no healing.  We are left with a cracked, demolished life that will never be what it could have been.  All we can hope to do is go from where we are and learn to live outside the dome.
It’s taken me a lifetime to realize I have spent years seeking something that doesn’t exist.  It’s terrifying to suddenly comprehend that life, the way it is, is what it is and that this is all it will ever be.  It isn’t going to get better.  There will be no sanctuary.  There is no better place, no better day, no moment of freedom, no time of healing. No putting the pieces back together.  No restoration.
I am what my life, what those who raised me, made me and there is to be no unmaking.  The damage resides within my cells.  It’s part of me.  I can only try my best to go on from here as I am.  There is no Sanctuary.  And finding meaning in this wild, terrifying world, a world where we grow old and are not renewed or restored, is no easy journey.

Somebody

I thought I would be somebody.  Eventually.

Perhaps not in a big, fabulous and famous way.  But from some perspective.  In someone’s estimation.  In someone’s eyes.

I thought I would have an impact.  I felt I could make a difference.  I believed I had something to say.  Something worth saying.  I thought speaking out would, if only in a trivial way, leave a permanent mark within a few hearts.  I supposed I would come to matter, even if only slightly and insignificantly.

I started writing when I was six.  As soon as I learned about words and how to put them together; to arrange them on a page, I fell in love with them.  They saved me.

My first poem?

My pencil went over the ocean.
My pencil went over the sea.
My pencil went everywhere I wanted to go,
But it always went without me.

It was written on the kind of lined paper that also provided a dotted guide so a child learning to write could gauge the height of upper and lower-case letters.  The printing was crude.  But I used some big words (relatively speaking) for a six-year-old child.  And even then, my struggle with aloneness was evident.  My pencil left me behind.

I was already being abused.  Had a couple of years under my belt by that point.

By the time I turned eleven, I was writing songs.  Pouring my wounded heart out in poetry set to music.  This was around the time I started to think I had something to say.  All those years ago, I saw beyond my childhood.  I focused on the day I could leave.  When I could begin to recover.  Then, finally, I would be able to tell my story.  And surely, telling my story was going to have an impact.  On someone.  Some shadowy unknown person out there in the big new world that awaited me.

I genuinely wanted to touch hearts.  Deeply.  I longed to connect in meaningful and poignant ways on a level that went beyond the ordinary.  Until then, I created poems.  I wrote songs.  I used words in an attempt to expose the indelible damage and crippling pain within my soul.

But the abuse and agony weren’t to be my whole message.  I fully expected I would overcome the destruction.  Find healing.  My journey would be worth listening to because of the positive outcome.  That’s when I would become someone.  Somebody who was whole.

I did survive.  I endured the sick sexual abuse of my father.  I accepted their slaps and strikes and punches.  They knocked me down, but I got back up.  I endured being dragged across the room by my hair.  Being thrown into walls.  They were artists…hitting me hard enough to leave big red welts, but not hard enough to leave suspicious bruises or broken bones.  I internalized their angry, cutting, degrading words.  Words that they used as weapons and fists.  Telling me I was nothing.  That I was a disappointment.  That I had let them down.  I was supposed to fulfill their dreams and rectify the wrongs in their world.  I failed them time and time again.  They repeated their disdain and the message of their displeasure to me with grating consistency.  My anti-vitamin.  Infused in my brain year after year.  I sucked it up, enduring their rejection.  The isolation.  The neglect.  Their unreasonable demands and ridiculous expectations.  I believed every word they said.

But I also survived.  And then, I escaped.  Two weeks after graduating from high school, diploma finally in hand, I fled.

Now came my opportunity to pick up the pieces; put myself back together.  My time to become somebody.

It didn’t take long to find out no one cared about a battered and abused child fighting to win despite starting far behind the pack.  No one wanted to hear my story.

My heart was too disfigured and horridly crushed.  Even though I patched the pieces of my soul together as best I could, instead of a butterfly, I created a Frankenstein.  A monster.

Dreams die hard.  They die slowly and painfully with time.

Trying to be somebody who was loved, trying to build deep connections, led me down dark paths.  Lonely paths.  Desiring meaningful relationships with people who could see the good and bad in me without turning away took me to ugly places.  Because there was no acceptance.  No matter how hard I worked or how much I gave, I wasn’t adequate.  I was intrinsically defective.

I thought I could be a “real” person.  A person who had something to say and give that mattered.  But my message was unpalatable.  I was undesirable.  Deplorable.  Disgusting.  An aberration.

I shut myself up within high walls. Wrote my words and filed them away in folders and drawers.  I pretended to be normal and whole, wearing the mask to spare others from having to look at me.  I denied my brokenness and emptiness, even during the dead of sleepless nights when the truth was hard to ignore.  Being lonely was far better than being utterly alone.

I wanted to be somebody.  I thought I could.  Be someone who had a worthy story to tell.  A story of abuse survived.  Of a life being born from the ashes.  Ultimate victory.  I believed I could provide inspiration and light to others; to those coming along after me.  I wanted to help them find the way.  Point them to a path of healing and love.

But I never made it out of the darkness.  My story is but another sordid tale of failure and anguish.  I never found healing.  Never found love.  I am nothing more than a cautionary narrative that lacks a satisfactory ending.  There is no inspiration in my saga.

I am not somebody.  Even the little I was able to attain is fading away into nothingness.  Drowning in the emptiness of my hollow, fragmented life.  Dust returning to dust.

Still, I arrange words on pages.  Casting them into the cosmos, though they are void of meaning.  Though I am nothing more than a nobody with nothing left to say.

 

If I Could

“If I could turn back time…”  So goes the song.  So sings my heart.  So cries my soul.

If I could…oh, if only I could. 
If I could turn back time, I would not keep secrets.  I would tell someone.  And I would tell someone else.  And I would tell another person and another and another until someone listened.  Until someone believed me and realized I existed within a tortured reality while attempting to act as if everything was normal and safe.  I would shout if I had to and tell the truth until someone heard, reacted and removed me from my parent’s home.  I would tell them about the sexual abuse.  The physical abuse.  The neglect.  The rejection and constant deriding.  The emotional abuse.  I would speak up and keep speaking until someone understood.  Until they took me seriously.  Until someone reached into the darkness where I was trapped and helped me escape.
If I could turn back time, I would do whatever it took to get help a lot earlier.  I would allow myself to believe I was worth the time and the money.  I didn’t believe it then.  I started so late.  So late, it was too late.  The brokenness had calcified.  Cemented into place; impossible to dislodge.  Instead of trying to figure it out on my own, I would find someone who could help me untangle the knots, put the broken pieces back together and mend me.  A gifted professional who could wade with me into the depths of pain flowing from the wounds created by my destructive childhood.  I would let them show me a different reality and how to wade out of that vicious current to the other side.  I wouldn’t put it off, thinking there was time…later.  I would pursue healing relentlessly, with extreme urgency, doing whatever I had to do to make it happen.  Because being healed would have completely changed the course of my life.  In a wonderful way.  It would have taken me into a new and healthy dimension where robust, genuine life was possible.  I would have sacrificed whatever I had to sacrifice early in life to pursue wholeness and not given up until I found it.
 If I could turn back time, I would never have gotten married when I was 17.  I was so young.  I felt old.  I felt like I had already lived a lifetime, battling to survive.  Going back, I would whisper in my own ear, “You have time…let yourself be young!”  I wouldn’t have given my heart to an 18-year-old boy who would ask me for a divorce a mere two weeks after our wedding. 
And I wouldn’t have married again at 25.  At least not the person I married back then.  I let him convince me he loved me and wanted to be with me.  I wanted so badly to be loved!  I took the bait, longing to be filled.  So, if I did again foolishly believe and marry him, when he told me a few months after we wed that he didn’t love me, I would have filed for divorce right away.  I wouldn’t have wasted a lifetime hoping he would someday, somehow come to love and want me.  I wouldn’t have hung on, believing he was the best life had to offer.  I wouldn’t have given him 22 years of my time.  I wouldn’t have allowed him to move into my soul, breaking my heart in the process.
If I could turn back time, I would have gone to college.  When I was young and just out of high school.  Lived on campus.  Had the whole experience.  Taken interesting classes and hung out with friends until I could discern a path that excited me.  I would have worked hard too.  I was always good at making the grades.  But I also would have torn down my walls, raised my expectations, explored, learned, laughed, figured out who I was and moved forward into the light of a promising future.
I would also relocate to one of the places I dreamed of living.  I would move there when I was young.  When it was easier.  When I wasn’t so encumbered with the burdensome responsibilities and debts of life.   I would have made my way closer to the ocean.  And started building my life there.  Not wasting time living where things seemed to fall into place, taking the path of least resistance.  I would move to a desirable location and find ways to stay as I created the existence I yearned for and dreamed about. Even if it was hard initially.  I would carve out a home in that space and finally find a sliver of joy.  I would spend time on the beach, listening to the soothing and calming voice of the waves.  Basking beneath glorious sunrises and sunsets.  Rejoicing in the warmth.  Greeting the day with gratefulness instead of reluctantly waking while bound by heavy disappointment and despair.
I wouldn’t have worked jobs that demeaned and demoralized me.  Not if I could turn back time.  I wouldn’t slave for bosses who didn’t appreciate me.  Who used me all the more because I was too unsure of my value to protest.  I would have pursued fulfilling work instead.  Pursued my dreams. While I still had dreams.  And hope.  And a future ahead of me. 
If I could turn back time, I would save more money and spend more on the things that create memories with those I love. 
If I could turn back time,  I would surround myself with those people…the ones who live in my heart and bring joy into my life by simply being.  I would work harder at staying real – even vulnerable – so I could truly connect with others in a deep and significant way.  I would take the risk instead of hiding and pretending and trying to fit in with the crowd.  I wouldn’t close myself away in darkness or shroud myself with shame that I wore like skin.  A skin I grew into while still very young.  Because of the abuse.  I would seek help.  I would tell myself over and over again that it wasn’t my fault.  I would tell myself until I believed it.  Until I knew without doubt that what was done to me didn’t mean I should be ashamed.  Didn’t mean I was disgusting and tainted.  My past wouldn’t be something to hide.  It’s my reality.  My history.  So, I would stop denying where I came from and what it had done to me.  I would acknowledge that past, embrace the possibilities of the future and begin to connect deeply with special people when I encountered them.  Meaningfully.  I would be transparent, unmasked, open and do what it took to build deep relationships.  Those connections would be my priority.  If I had another chance.  Another chance to do it over.
If I could turn back time, I would listen more to my heart and less to my brain.
I would try more things, even if I was afraid of failing, looking stupid and making mistakes.  I would kayak and kick-box and learn a martial art.    I would dance often.   I would visit the ocean frequently and let it sooth my wounds.  I would live where there was lots of sunshine.  I would ride in a hot air balloon, even if I had to save up for a long time to afford the pleasure.  I would take classes on subjects that were of interest to me.  I would sing more.  Write that book.  Publish those poems.  I would risk and not let fear rule my choices.
If I could turn back time, I would hold on to each moment.  Live it.  Fully experience each day.  The pain and the joy.  The fun and the difficulties.  I would be present in the present and tattoo each experience on my brain for later enjoyment.  For later contemplation.  I would fill my memory bag with experiences so when I looked back, the years would not have disappeared in an unending chain of monotony.  There would be more happy memories and less regrets.  More to recall.  More worth remembering.
I’m sure I would still make mistakes.  But I think I would make smaller ones, less costly ones, having learned some hard lessons the hard way.  I wouldn’t make so many of the huge, monumental errors that erode quality of life until there is no life left.  I wouldn’t let life…or the people in my life…tell me I didn’t matter.  I wouldn’t accept being a worthless object to be used and cast aside when inconvenient or if not operating up to user expectations.  No, having worked hard early on to find a place of wholeness, I would believe in myself and in my own worth.   I wouldn’t be beaten down, settling for simply being tolerated.  I would move on.  Cut my losses.  Find a healthier path.
If I could turn back time, I would understand the value of the minutes that were sifting silently through my hand and I would cling to each one.  I wouldn’t live for a blurry tomorrow.  I would live for today.  Milking each moment for every drop of happiness and meaning I could find.  I would dance in the rain and soak up the sunshine.  I would follow my dreams.  I would refuse to be numbed by the blows.  I would feel each emotion: deep, small, hurtful, joyful.  I would face the damage, tear it apart and rebuild when I was young, strong, more pliable.  And continue to rebuild throughout my existence, repairing, refinishing, refurbishing, restoring.  I would not settle.  I would not sleepwalk through the days.
I would give my heart only to those who also gave their heart to me.  Never casting my pearls before swine.  Understanding that even my broken heart was a pearl.  That life is a treasure.  And I need to spend this treasure carefully.  I would savor each one of those seconds while I was standing within them.
If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t now be sitting in a dark room alone but for my dogs, surrounded by regrets and loss and pain.  I would be a different person in a different place living a very different life.  Silence wouldn’t accompany me throughout my days.  Numbness would not cripple me.  There would be laughter and tears and conversation.  My world would not be empty.  It would be messy and full of all that results from a life well lived.   I believe I would understand so much more clearly what was at stake and would act accordingly.  I would discover the person I was meant to be…before the wounding, abuse, rejection and destruction.  I would be fully alive.  Finally. 
If only I could turn back time.  If only there was such a thing as a second chance.
 
 

Once

I was her once.

She is young; no more than 25, and she sits across the table from her mate, staring into his eyes.  Her eyes are filled with love and adoration.  She is happy.  Hopeful.  They are having a date night, taking advantage of the cheap prices at the “all you can eat” buffet.  It’s a big deal.  They don’t have the money to go out often.  They are celebrating.  Laughing at each other’s jokes.  Enjoying the moment.

It doesn’t have to be fancy.  They are together.  That’s all that matters.

Newlyweds, they barely have enough to pay their bills or buy essentials.  They count the days until payday, hoping they can get by until they can deposit their next checks at the end of the week.  They worry about how they’re going to afford a pair of retread tires for their car.  What they’ll do if anything unexpected happens.  Praying it doesn’t.  But they’re in it together.  They will make each other strong.  They believe in each other.  They will get through it, whatever comes.  Somehow.

I was there once.  I remember.

Tomorrow will come with its worries and challenges.  But tonight, all worries are set aside.  Tonight, they are enjoying each other’s company and are content in their love for one another.  Tonight is all about having a good time, talking, dreaming about the future.  A future when they don’t have to worry about how they will afford tires.  When they can buy them new, four at a time.

They work 8 to 5 with a little overtime thrown in when they’re lucky.  They brown bag their lunch, eating bologna sandwiches on week old stale bread with a bag of chips and a glass of water.  Their clothes come from the resale shop and shoes are purchased at Wal-Mart.  When they’re on sale.  They buy gas $5 at a time.  Clip coupons.  Plan carefully.

They save up for their date nights at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

It’s them against the world.  United.  Together.  Strong.  Moving forward together.  They have nothing and no one but each other to cling to.  And that is enough.  For now, it is enough.  More than enough.

This was me once.    They are a reflection of my past.

Full of excitement.  Just starting out, believing the best was yet to come and that it was coming soon.  Young.  Filled with energy and hope.  Newly married.  In love.

Back when I was her age, an entire world lay before me, ripe for the picking, waiting for me to finally begin to live my dreams. Waiting for me to step into a brand new and beautiful future.  I knew everything was going to be wonderful.

And I was so completely in love; head over heels.  I looked at him the way she is looking at her young man.  Her new spouse.  I was that giddy once.  I believed we would build a good life together and that our love would allow us to overcome all obstacles.  Even though there were a lot of obstacles.

Back then, I still believed in love. In the power of love to transform me.  I still believed someone could love me.  Even me.

Time passed swiftly.  Far too quickly.

Then I was 33.  A young professional.  So excited when I was finally promoted to management.  Went to Service Merchandise and carefully selected my very first briefcase.  Maybe I was less hopeful about my marriage.  Okay, I was pretty much out of hope. I now knew beyond any doubt the love I had for him wasn’t returned.  That he didn’t love me and never had.  But I still believed things would eventually work out.  I thought if I worked hard enough, made enough money, did the right things and was a good person, he would eventually see there was something about me that made me worth loving.  I might have to go through unpleasant times, but he would come around.  He would begin to love and appreciate me the way I thought he did when we married.  I just had to prove my worth.  I just had to do everything perfectly.  I had to BE perfect.

I didn’t notice right away…though we had the funds to go to a better restaurant, it had been a long time since we’d had a date night.  It had been a long time since we had openly talked.  I was no longer the young woman at the buffet.

I watch her, remembering.  Wishing for another chance.  Oh, if only…

I hope she doesn’t someday sit where I am sitting now, watching another young woman the way I am watching her.  I hope by the time she is my age, she is still holding the hand of her adoring spouse.  That they still talk about their dreams and deep feelings.  That it’s still them against the world.  I hope they are together and that being together is all that matters.  That being together is enough.  More than enough.  And I pray they are still going out for date nights.

 

 

Alone Again, Naturally

“…In my hour of need
I truly am indeed
Alone again, naturally

It seems to me that
there are more hearts
broken in the world
that can’t be mended

Left unattended
What do we do? What do we do?

 –Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again (Naturally)–

In a couple of weekends, many of us who are fortunate enough to be off for Good Friday will have a holiday weekend.  A time when family and friends get together.  Share.  Connect. Relax.  Enjoy.  At least, that’s what genuine friends and healthy family members do to celebrate a holiday.  Close family.  Close friends.  It is a time to celebrate.  Together.

But I’m going to be alone.  Again.  Life happens all around me.  Not with me.  Not in me.

Most of my time after work is spent sitting on the couch with my dogs on my lap.  I am their bed.  Their protector.  I give them warmth.  They snuggle their noses under my hand and breathe heavily. They keep me company and I am glad they are with me.  But I am still very alone.  Again.  Naturally.  Just me and the dogs. 

I thank God for the dogs.

The TV plays endlessly.  I’m not watching.  Or even listening; not really.  It’s noise.  To keep me company.  To chase away the silence.  To distract me from the emptiness.

I feel so isolated.  So unwanted.   Life holds no meaning without connectedness.

The upcoming holiday is one that prompts us to reflect.  To reflect on the past.  To be grateful.  I remember.  But I do not want to remember.

The past holds no appeal.  It holds only pain and sadness. Abuse. Rejection.  Brokenness.  There is no hope there.  The past is the place of my demise.  The past is where I was destroyed. Fractured.  Fragmented.  Ground to dust.

But the future doesn’t hold hope either.  Only the promise of more of the same.  More rejection.  More pain.  More isolation.  More destruction.  More silence and emptiness.

I fought it.  I fought this fate.  But fate was not intimidated by me, nor impressed with my efforts to escape.  My past became my future became my past became my future.  A river with swift and dangerous currents that flow where they want.  Eroding the ground where I stand.  The currents sweep my feet out from under me and carry me away. 

I absently listen to the television playing endlessly.  Background noise.  I need the background noise. Distraction.

It has been rainy and it is predicted to be wet and gloomy over the holiday weekend.  I have been in this place before too many times.  I will watch the water painting rivulets down each window pane, my vision distorted; blurred.  I will try not to think about the emptiness of my life.  I will try to blur reality.  I will try to convince myself that what is isn’t.  But running takes energy and I’m almost completely drained.

I’ve been alone.  For too many days.  For too many years.  For too may decades.  It has been raining. For too many days.  For too many weeks.  I’ve been in pain.  For too many days and for too many long, sleepless nights.

They say more storms are coming.  Wind.   Violent weather.  My whole life has been a violent storm.  I have been alone through too many violent storms.  I am weary of the storms.  Of being battered and beaten by them.  I don’t know how many more storms I can face…alone.

Alone.  As I have been nearly every day of my life.  Alone.  In a vast universe.  A dot.  Nothing.   Alone. 

Life holds no meaning.  My life seems so empty…because it is empty.  I have tried to fill it up.  I have tried in vain.  My life, like the coming holiday, is hollow.  I am drowning in endless emptiness.   Desolate.

I talk in the silence to cover it with my words.  I turn on the TV.  I talk to my dogs.  I make noise to drive away the meaninglessness.  But nothing works.  Nothing.  I pretend.  I ignore.  I discard reality.  Deny.   But in spite of my pretense, there is one fact I can’t escape.  I am alone again.  As always.  I am alone and disconnected.

Alone again.  Naturally.

I dance to the radio to make myself move.  To force my limbs to life.  I dance alone as my dogs watch me, amused by my wild contortions and seeming madness.  They grab their toys and run around me, shaking them viciously, happily squeaking squeakers.  I dance on.  Alone in the midst of their joy.  I twirl.  Alone. 

Beating back the silence. Trying to beat back the silence.  Always trying to escape the silence.  And the emptiness.  Always trying to fill this yawning void that can’t be filled.

Alone again, naturally.

 

 

 

Carving

When we are born, with our first cry and gasping breath of air, we begin a lifelong quest to find our place in the world.  A place where we have what we need.  Where pain can’t reach.  Where we can “be” without having to fight for every crumb.

We enter this life confused and often leave just as befuddled as we were on our first day.  But we are usually much more tired and considerably more jaded by the end, having lost hope of ever building something meaningful or of leaving our mark behind.  Weary of the battle in our futile attempt to find a small place where we can plant our feet, that we can call our own and where we can be safe from the hardships of life, we slip and slide through the days, trying to navigate around traps and trickery, attacks and trials.  We learn fairly quickly that no matter how much or little we gamble, no matter what chances we take or how safe we play it, the house always wins.  We are born and we will die.  We arrive empty-handed and will be forced to leave the same way.

In between, we are frantically carving.  Carving out some semblance of an existence.

In fact, we spend a good portion of our days seeking to create a small space in life in which we can exist without too much disruption or pain.  We spend a considerable amount of time carving a life out of emptiness and despair.  We tell ourselves that what we do matters.  That we matter. Our contribution matters.  That we are creating a legacy of which we can be proud.  But in our quiet and lonely moments, we know better.  The truth becomes all too real.  We have nothing worthwhile to offer and will have even less to leave behind us when our time runs out.  We are one of millions who exist only to die, having accomplished nothing much, if anything, of lasting value.  The world goes on.  It leaves us behind as if we never existed.

Very few of us are remembered beyond a handful of years after our death.

All the time we spend carving out a tiny bubble that offers us minimal protection and that allows us to breath and live, life is carving away on us.  Carving away pieces of our heart.  Carving lines on our face.  Whittling away at our hope.  Our dreams.  Until there is nothing left.

We go on vacations to “relax” because the stress of trying to keep what little we have makes us sick and keeps us up at night. We take up hobbies and spend way too much money on entertainment.  We sit, playing game after game of solitaire to pass time, never realizing until it’s too late that the short time we were allotted has been whittled away until nothing is left but dust.

We think we are making something of ourselves.  We think we are creating a worthwhile life.  We carve and carve…careers, clothes, houses, cars, power, building up bank accounts  and stacking up possessions as if we could take it all with us.  We work long hours at jobs we dislike to “provide” for ourselves and those who are important to us for reasons me may never fully understand.  We constantly seek a better address, a more important job, authority and recognition.  We attempt to carve something beautiful out of our busy lives.  But in the quiet of the night when the emptiness is magnified to the point it can no longer be ignored, even we don’t believe in the beauty of our creation.

For all the whittling we do as we try to make the best of our circumstances and opportunities, for all the maneuvering and positioning, no matter what our intent or what level our integrity, we all end up at the same place.  Death takes the final slice of us, cutting off our breath.  It turns out the lights as it carries us away into the darkness.

We think we are creating a masterpiece.  That is what we tell ourselves as we pat ourselves on the back and soak up each “success.”  Yet our masterpiece is but a tiny, insignificant dot in the fabric of time.  We can deceive ourselves into believing we are something magnificent and important, but reality always has the last laugh.  Our fantasies are no match for reality’s chisel.

dust-760x380We think we are the carvers.  We tell ourselves this because we carve a life out of nothing. But it comes to nothing, and so it is nothing.  And at the end, we learn that we were not the master craftsmen we believed ourselves to be.  Life has whittled us into a shape and form we never intended.  With our final breath, we discover we have created only sawdust in spite of all our hard work and backbreaking effort.  We’re left holding only scraps and slivers and splinters.   This is when we finally see that we are indeed nothing but dust..and to dust we all eventually, inevitably return.

 

 

The Invisible

We walk beside you.  Work with you.  Go to the same class you attend.  Watch the same shows.  Cheer for the same teams.  Drive the same roads.  But you don’t see us.  Don’t notice us.  We are the invisible.

The abused.  Trying to blend in.  To look and act “normal.” To deflect attention. To be noticed is to be scrutinized and judged.  Rejected.  Mocked.  Because no matter how hard we try to be normal, we are different.  We have seen, experienced and felt things that we weren’t designed to see or experience.  We aren’t equipped to handle the gut-ripping emotions; the overwhelming and intense pain of the soul.  Fractured, we become the walking wounded.  One of those pathetic, disturbing creatures who should surely be avoided at all costs.

We try to fit in.  We laugh when you laugh, hoping you won’t notice that it took us a split second longer to react.  The computer in our brain is always analyzing as it seeks to produce the correct response. To find the proper words.  The correct facial expression for the occasion.

If we are good actors, you will never notice us beyond a passing glance.  We won’t stand out.  We will remain invisible.

The old.  We’ve nothing to flaunt.  We can’t shake our head of shiny, thick hair in the sun to demand attention because we no longer have a lush mane.  Our shorts are longer so as to hide skin that has lost elasticity.  Our tops have sleeves to camouflage our flaccid arms.  Parts of us resemble a Sharpei.  Mid-drift tops are shunned and low necklines have long ago been abandoned.  We may still wear fashionable clothing and have a spring in our step.  But your eye will not be drawn to firm buns or toned calves because we don’t possess them.  In fact, it is likely your eye won’t be drawn to us at all.

We move through the grocery store unnoticed.  At best, we do our shopping without leaving a trace of ourselves behind.  At our worst, we are sometimes in the way.  A pest.  Quickly assessed and then disregarded.

The un-pretty.  We don’t fit the proper mold.  Our features are not perfectly symmetrical.  Our eyes may be too close together or too far apart.  They aren’t blue and our hair isn’t full and blonde.  Our legs are too short.  Our feet too big. Our smiles crooked or too generous.  Our ankles too fat.  Our thighs rub together and our stomach protrudes.  We turn heads…in the other direction.  No one smiles when they see us coming.  If they notice us at all, they look away, avert their eyes, find someone more pleasing to watch until we have passed by.  Someone who is impressive.  Who is worthy of adulation.

The abused who are also older and who don’t meet…and likely never have met…our societal standards for pretty – well, it’s a triple whammy.

Silent.  Invisible.  Here and gone without leaving a ripple behind.  We don’t even imprint on your retina.

I’m sure there are others who feel this way.  Refugees.  The poor.  Who can’t afford a cool car or trendy clothing.  The obese.  The unintelligent.  Those who never had an opportunity to go to college.  There is an army of marginalized members of society lurking in the peripheral vision of the masses.  Those who failed the test because of factors that were and that remain far beyond their control.

The invisible sea of individuals who don’t measure up.  Who are odd.  Who have no hope of acceptance because of how they look, what has been done to them and a pathetic lack of resources.

I am adrift in this sea.

I am one of the abused.  Badly abused.  Rejected.  I am older.  Old by the standards of youth.  I have never been one of the beautiful people.

Not only has the outside of me failed to measure up, no one has been able to find beauty in my soul.  Or in my heart.  No one has been able to accept me for who I am.  My warts are somehow far, far worse than those of most others.  My flaws too horrible.  So, I go through my day without acceptance.  Without touch.  Mostly without notice.  Without anyone to care or to assure me the difficulties and hurts I’ve encountered will somehow work out.  That I can and will get through them.  In reality, they probably won’t work out and I’ll only get through them if I can find the strength within me to keep walking in spite of the agony.

You don’t see me, but that slight breeze you felt on your cheek may have been the air I stirred as I walked past you.

We are the invisible.  Imperfect creatures.  Broken.  Not as successful as is expected or required.  Certainly, not as glamorous or physically pleasing.  Our deficiencies are often hard to mask.  And so, people block us from their mind and gush over the more perfect among us instead.  Worshiping youth.  And “hotness.”

It’s actually not too terrible…not be recognized as being a person or of having value.  I’m certainly left alone.  And though no one speaks to me beyond what is necessary, though they cut me off in line and seem surprised to see me standing behind them if I have the courage to speak up, for the most part, life’s transactions can be conducted in the shadows with a certain amount of efficiency.  And without too much hassle.

There was a time when I wanted someone to see me because I prayed there was someone special in the world who would love and accept me despite my flaws and brokenness.  I have learned.  Reality has replaced fantasy.  And reality is empty of most everything, though it is filled to overflowing with isolation.

Now, I am content if people don’t bump into me and knock me down.  If they don’t cut me off.  If they lower their eyes as I walk by.  I am content when no one is hurting me.  No, not content.  But grateful.  Grateful no further damage has been done.  That I have returned safely home.  Have made it through the day without additional wounds and scars.

There is something to be said for being left alone.  There are worse things than being invisible.  I am trying to find the good in it.  Or to at least ignore the bad.

I’m trying to embrace invisibility.  To hold it close, even as I have always longed to be held.

 

For Edith

This is for my friend Edith.  Because old friends are special.  They just are.

We became friends in junior high and were very close until our 3rd or 4th year of high school.  Best friends.  Best friends of the best kind.

Not that we weren’t friends after we graduated.  We were.  We wrote each other for years (I had moved away; she hadn’t).  We sent each other birthday and Christmas cards.  I was a bridesmaid in her wedding.

We were different.  Very different.  In a lot of ways.  But there was a connection.

She was honest.  Real.  Genuine.  She had a good heart.  She was intelligent.  Loved animals, especially dogs…like I did.  She lived on a farm.  I was a town kid.  She drank unpasteurized milk.  I tried, but I just couldn’t swallow it.  She rode horses bareback.  I fell off the back, literally.  If I could get on in the first place.  They scared me.  She was a horse whisperer.

Different.  But somehow, we connected.

We did our algebra homework together over the phone.  We talked about what was in our heart and on our mind.  We understood each other.

I respected her.  I saw a purity and beauty in her that inspired me.

Still does.

One recent Friday night, we got together for the second time since her wedding all those years ago.  The first time, we met in a restaurant and it was awkward.  It was hard to reconcile the older version in front of me with the person I knew in high school.  Probably was for her too.  But when we met at my house, we talked.  And it was easy.  It was fun.  I saw the young girl I knew way back when.  When we were 17.  We still had a connection and it was special.

We’ve gotten together a few times since and each time, I see more of the friend I knew so well.  I see her integrity.  How genuine she is.  How caring.  Giving.  Unique.  We are still different.  She has kids.  I don’t (except for my dogs).  She still lives out in the middle of nowhere on a farm.  I’m a city gal.  I love clothes.  To her, they’re something you need…but they’re not fun.  Yet the differences don’t matter.  They only make our relationship more interesting.

I’ve also discovered some things about her that I didn’t know back then.  Ways in which we aren’t different.

We both love mysteries and we read a lot of the same authors.  We are both Christians.  She was even in high school, though I didn’t know.  Took me longer, but I got there.  So we share quite a few values.  We think a lot alike.   We’re both a little shy and socially awkward, even after all these years.  And we run deep, preferring to talk about things that carry some weight instead of rattling on endlessly about nothing in particular.

I don’t have many friends.  I only have a couple who know anything about the real me.  Edith knew me and loved me back in the day when I was raw, messed up, struggling and pretty close to unlovable.  She believed in me when no one else did.  And I am grateful.

We lost touch.  We missed out on a lot of years.  But still, I feel her acceptance.  She has opened her heart to me again and I am amazed at the treasure she holds within.  Though I am still battered and messy, she sees a person worth knowing.  And she is willing to take the flaws with the good she finds in me.

She enriched my life then. She enriches it now.

So, this is for my friend Edith.  Because old friends are special.  And Edith is one of the most special of all.

Boots

About 7 years after I married the man I was with for 22 years, I finally landed a fairly good job that paid reasonable wages and that offered some stability.  It certainly wasn’t my first job.  And I worked hard to get this far. It was my first management position, my first time as a salaried employee and the first place that offered me a little bit of a future.

I felt comfortable enough to think about buying a house.  Not a big house.  Not a new house.  But a starter home with a yard for a dog and a garage.  A spare bedroom.  I even considered getting a new car.  Nothing fancy.  But something that wasn’t 15 years old with all kinds of mechanical problems.  Something that wouldn’t leave me stranded by the side of the road.  Something I could rely on.

Around this same time, I decided it was time to get myself a nice warm pair of snow boots.  I didn’t live in a part of the country where winters were long and severe, but we did get some ice and snow, sometimes a lot of it, if only for short periods of time.  I was tired of not having anything to wear when it was ugly out, getting snow in my shoes, freezing my toes.

My (then) husband loved Cabela’s and it was in one of their catalogues I spotted the perfect pair of boots.  They were made of a tan leather that was thick and water repellent.  They had a fluffy fleece lining and they were tall enough to reach half way to my knees.  They laced up and had slip-resistant rubber soles that promised to provide traction.  But they were pricey.  At least on my budget…good job or not.

We managed to purchase a 1500 square foot home for $55,000 in a fairly nice part of the city, filled with young families and police officers.  It had a big yard and a two car garage, walk in closets and 3 bedrooms with 2 baths.  I also purchased a brand new Honda CRX with 15 miles on the odometer.  My car payments were only $125 a month and, because of the down payment we made on the house, our house payments were less than our rent had been.  So I bought the boots.

They were out of my size by the time I decided to buy them.  They were a popular item.  I had the option of going up a half size or down.  I went down.  Vanity ruled.  My toes hit the end making them just a little uncomfortable with thick socks, but it wasn’t as if I was going to wear them all the time or hike in them.  These were my bad weather boots.  They were reasonably cute, but they were made for cold, wet, snowy conditions.  They were created to serve a higher purpose.

I’ve moved 3 times since that first house.  Three different houses in progressively better areas, one of them a state away.  I’m on my 4th dog since the one I had when I lived in that house.  My marriage ended in one of those houses when my ex left me for another woman, professing his lack of love for me and undying love for her.  I’ve held 6 jobs since the one where I became a manager for the first time in my life.  I’ve gained and lost weight, gained and lost friends, aged considerably and wrinkled even more.  It has been 30 years since I decided to buy those Cabela’s boots.  They’ve kept my feet warm and dry every snowy, cold, icy day during each of those 30 winters.  Sometimes I’ve worn them when it wasn’t snowy, but just because my feet were cold.  They still look brand new, other than the fact that the fleece in the bottom is packed down a little from having carried me around over time.

Yes, those boots have outlasted jobs, houses, dogs, friends, positions, dreams, and even my husband.  They are still there for me, faithfully keeping me warm, dry and upright when the weather is nasty.  I suppose only God has been with me longer, but because He seems so distant, it’s hard to remember He’s also still with me.  Though He has probably carried me more than they have, sadly, the boots seem more tangible.

boots-1-2017-fb1I put them on a few days ago because it was cold and rainy out and I was surprised to feel some dampness on one of my socks when I came back inside and took them off.  It made me sad.  Even though they look fairly new, they have, after all, aged just as many years as I have.  They’ve been there for me in the worst of times.  They’ve stood with me during the worst storms.

I can’t blame them for this tiny failure, in light of their long and faithful service.  And I will surely hang on to them for a few more years until they no longer offer me any protection from the bad weather of life.  In fact, I will likely keep them even after I can’t wear them simply because they have been there for me when everything else in life fell out from under me and left me broken and alone.  When I retire them, they will have earned some honor.

After 30 years, they are the only thing I still have that I had then.  This fact makes me both happy and profoundly sad.  Piece by piece, I have been dismantled and now, only the boots remain.  They are all that is left of the person I was those many years ago.  A little leaky, but still standing by, ready to protect and serve.  When I put them on, I am touching my past.  A past that was fitted with hope, belief in a wondrous future, a place of new beginnings and potential.  None of which survived.  Even my body has not fared as well as this simple pair of boots.

So much is wrapped up in those boots.  They represent a completely different universe, one where I once lived, and they carried a very different person within them.  Now, when I say goodbye to them, I will be saying goodbye to all that they symbolize and all that has been left behind.  We’ve made tracks, me and those boots.  Boots that cramp my toes even as they warm me.  We’ve come far together to have never gotten anywhere at all.  To have left so much behind.  To be all that is left to each other.

I Am One of the Old Folks Now

I feel as if I walked a long road from one end to the other, and as I was walking, someone held the ends together.  I stepped from a time far past and distant into this moment today.  Back then, before I crossed the fold, I was one of the younger generation.  Back then, I had years in my pocket and dreams in my heart.

I am one of the old folks now.  My pockets are almost empty.

I remember that past, that past so distant, the one I lived before I took my final step across the fold.  I remember how it felt to live in that world, to have that mindset, to possess time.  I remember it so clearly, so vividly.  I feel it in every particle of my body and deep within my bones.  I remember almost nothing in-between.   I fact, I often wonder if I, like Rumpelstiltskin, slept through those between years, waking old and confused and dreamless.

Back then, my grandparents were the old folks.  At some point, they handed the baton to my parents and they stepped out of the fabric of this world, through the veil and into the next dimension.  I vaguely remember my parents becoming the old folks.  But I am still unsure when most of the generation before me departed or how I came to wear and walk in their shoes.  I don’t recall the moment when the baton became mine.

I believe it has something to do with the way I have survived.  “Let me get through this, and then, then I’ll start living…”  I have hunkered down, braced, shielded myself with mighty walls I built to protect me.  I have guarded my innermost being as I walked through each minute, each week, each month, each year, hoping only to get through what that minute, week, month or year held.  Hoping only to get to the other side mostly in one piece.  But the joke is on me.  There is no other side.  There is only the end.

There is also no such thing as surviving in one piece.  Mostly or otherwise.

How strange it is that I feel that young girl intimately close to me now.  Now that she is so very far away from who I am today.  So far in the distant past.  Yet I feel her breath on my neck.  Her nimble limbs that could run fast and strong stir mine now stiff and weary .  I can almost touch her hope for the future.  A future where abuse would be a distant memory and love would become a reality.  She walks with me, reminding me of all that has been lost.  All that never came to pass.  All that has fallen to the ground in shattered pieces and perished in the dust.  I feel her, but I am not her any longer.  I remember her, but I do not resemble her.  I am one of the old folks now.  My time has come and gone.

Were I given the chance to go back, to become  that young girl once again, I would do a million things differently.  I would not stay with those who told me I had no worth.  With those who hit, rejected, used and abused me.  Those who judged me and found me lacking.  I would not cast my vision toward some distant future where everything would finally be set right and where everything would be set right in the end.  Where happiness supposedly waited.  Instead, I would grasp each second, grasp it with both hands, and milk it for every thought, experience and emotion it held.  I would not stop my eyes from crying or my heart from feeling pain.  Because in numbing the pain and drying the tears, I also stifled the laughter and choked the joy.  I would live the now.  The good and the bad of it.  And I would not seek only to get through to the other side.  I would not so easily be tricked into frittering my hours away with only the goal of surviving.  I would not trade living for existing.  Nor would I walk across the folded ground between then and now to spare myself everything I hoped to avoid between youth and aging.

I look back at this point with the same longing I once had when I was always looking forward.    I look back with such longing because there is so little left ahead.  I am one of the old folks now.  All that is left for me to do is to pass the baton and step over the next wrinkle.  Into that place where time is no more.  Where the old folks go after they reach the end of the road.  Pockets empty and turned inside out.