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Connecting the Dots…

 

CONNECTING the DOTS

 

 

 

      I didn’t want to write this. I’d shared what happened with certain individuals and thought that was enough, but apparently, it wasn’t. This is probably too long. It’s also embarrassing to write but I’d promised to be transparent and vulnerable in the hopes that it could help one person. Just one.  

 

     It wasn’t a near-death experience, though I worried I was suffocating at the time. In retrospect, I thought once the episode ended and called a few friends the story would be put to rest. But something kept nagging me. I didn’t see the relevance. Until today.

 

     Sometimes stories buzz in your ear like a gnat or a mosquito until you connect the dots and release words onto a keyboard. Until then, you cannot silence them. But some stories are meant to be shared.

 

     So, here’s what happened last Sunday.

 

     I’ve loved the singer Jack Johnson for decades. His music accompanied me through endless occasions. Happy songs sang in unison with my kids, mellow songs listened to in solitude while contemplating my marriage, and then the happy realization that someone close to me also adored his songs.

 

     For years we waited for jack to play locally, so I was thrilled when my beau scored tickets to see him. Not only were we going, but we’d be standing in the pit.

 

    

 

     The eve of the concert we arrived early and wormed our way as close to the stage as possible. Despite the blistering heat and tightly-packed bodies around us, I limited my water intake for fear of losing my coveted space. As the opening band played, the sun shone strongly and sweat streaked down my belly, stopping at the elastic waistband of my sundress.

 

     Dang, it’s hot, I thought. No breeze in the pit, no relief from the sun. The overhead fans weren’t providing a hint of comfort.

 

     The young gal in front of me that had been sitting on the dirty floor ended up fainting. I was thirsty but refused to ask for water.

 

     The opening act ended, and the crowd’s energy was infectious. As I glanced over my shoulder I saw nothing but bodies and smelled cannabis in the air.

 

     Sweat continued to drip down my belly, down the side of my face. I’m usually unnaturally cold, so this surprised me more than the man I stood beside.

 

     The crowd started to rumble and applaud.

 

    “There he is,” someone behind me said.

 

     I strained my neck to see Jack Johnson, and it happened.

 

     First came the “whooshing” sound. Then a wave of heat and a tingling sensation that ran from the base of my spine up to my head. My left leg started to shake and the sound in my left ear muffled.

 

      I felt a sickening wave of nausea, and my bowels threatened to open. I clenched my butt cheeks together and silently prayed to literally keep my shit together.

 

     I grabbed Eric’s arm, or his neck, and clung to his body. He was asking me if I was okay and I bobbed my head but I wasn’t okay. I repeated something he later told me was “hot.”

 

     The moments felt like they were playing in slow motion. I remember thinking don’t ruin this for him. Don’t poop your pants. Is this all the junk and lack of sleep from last week? I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

 

I. Can’t. Breathe.

 

I lifted my head and gasped for air which wasn’t enough and felt thick and soupy.

 

Jack Johnson had arrived and had played a few chords when I realized I couldn’t make it. Eric had been asking me if I needed medical attention, which I’d refused, but my pride and stubbornness were losing the battle.

 

“Can’t,” I whispered. “Hot… hot…too hot.”

 

I don’t remember getting out of the pit. I don’t remember walking up the stairs. What I remember is the lack of sufficient oxygen and finally seeing an empty row of chairs. I remember sitting down, slumping onto my date’s shoulder, my inability to focus. I heard music from my right ear, but my left side was still clogged. I remember thinking how awful I felt for ruining the concert for Eric. How close we’d been to the stage. The pictures I knew he’d hoped to take.

 

“Go take a picture,” I told Eric, “I’m fine now.”

 

“I’m not leaving you,” he said.

 

The significance didn’t hit me then. I knew I was lucky and grateful for having someone take care of me while I was under the weather, but I didn’t realize until today why this in particular meant so much.

 

                    ***

 

In 1991, I’d gone skiing with my boyfriend, my ex, and my ex’s girlfriend. We’d done long runs all day and I was past my limit but agreed to do a black diamond run before we left the slopes. My inner voice said no, but my boyfriend insisted.

 

I wiped out halfway down. My leg was twisted at an awkaward angle, but I was able to move it, so I doubted it was broken. Duke my verbally abusive an insanely jealous boyfriend taunted and teased me. While I asked for help he called me pathetic and mentioned something to the effect of “Ask B—-. Clearly you’re more in love with him than me.”

 

I was in too much pain to defend myself. Duke spit on me and skied away. I felt tears and shame but don’t remember a lot after that. My ex and his girlfriend came to my aid and the medics took me down the mountain on some kind of flatbed contraption. That was almost more humiliating than being spit on.

 

I never told anyone that part until now.

 

In California, Duke became physically abusive. The night he pushed me in the kitchen and grabbed a knife and stabbed a roll of paper towels I realized I’d hit rock bottom. I ran from my apartment and rode the streets of Santa Monica on my bike wondering what to do next.

 

The following day I called a hotline. They guided me to an anonymous meeting and encouraged me to get out of my apartment. I bought the book they recommended: “The Battered Woman” by Lenore E. Walker and sped-read through it.

 

I didn’t leave immediately, because I knew my boyfriend’s cycle. After abuse—mental or physical—they go through a honeymoon period. A super-attentive, loving phase. They become the boyfriend they should have been all along.

 

I confided what had happened to my closest California friend.

 

“We’re getting him out. Today,” my friend told me.

 

It didn’t happen overnight, but we did get Duke out. After that I vowed I wouldn’t speak of it. I’d never let it happen again. I’d reinvent myself. I wasn’t that girl.

 

I moved on and kept men at bay. I promised myself I’d never be vulnerable again. I’d never marry. I’d never let a man hurt me.

 

Time healed.

 

I loved again. I married. He was a good man. It worked for twenty plus years. Until love ran out.

 

 

          ***

While I leaned on Eric’s shoulder at the concert, I briefly remembered a few moments of being sick at clubs. Cheap wine and cigarettes had occasionally made me sick and others had come to my rescue. Two weeks before the concert I’d gone through a pseudo-breakup, and the friend I called on a moment’s notice arrive at my house without hesitation and offered a friendly ear.

 

There are good men out there. Good people who support you. Friends that show love through calls, texts, food, and laughter.

 

I didn’t realize the significance between the people in my life now and the man who degraded me on the ski slope decades ago.

 

Today I shared this ugly story with you because I don’t want anyone going through this to feel alone. Today I connected the dots. I don’t want anyone to feel weak or responsible for the poor treatment of another.

 

Find your strength to break the cycle.

 

Find a good person to stand beside you.

 

Be brave to leave.

 

Be brave to love again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Break the Cycle: A Mother’s Day Post

Mother and Child

BREAK THE CYCLE

 

      What I’ve learned is that you have to stop the cycle. I think I’ve done that, but each year on Mother’s Day, old familiar feelings stir, and I find myself falling into old patterns.

      I still cannot fathom how a mother could reject their child.

      She only physically hurt me once. I was just shy of ten and hadn’t come home immediately after school as was the norm.

      Mom scanned the neighborhood in a panic and finally heard from my schoolmate that he’d seen me on the bus but not since. He also told my mother I’d left my cigarettes behind.

What mom didn’t know was that I’d bought them for a friend, smoked one, and hated it.

      When I traipsed through the door hours later, I was greeted by my mother’s smoldering red cheeks, her long hair coiled around oversized pink plastic curlers high atop her head. She grabbed me by the throat and flung me across the room. I shook my head in disbelief. I wasn’t that late, and I hadn’t known about the kid who’d ratted me out about the smokes.

      Mom laughed whenever she retold that story to friends. I never saw the humor.

      During my adult years, mom was more of a sister than a parent. She was emotionally and financially unstable and never got her act together. She distanced herself from family members I adored: her parents, her brothers, my aunt who treated me like a mother . . . everyone. She kept in contact with my father, but it was usually to ask for money.

      I married and started a life. My ex and I gave mom money, but it was never enough and my success only seemed to fuel her anger. She wrote me scathing letters, banishing me for being a horrible child.

      I did my best to ignore the venom in her letters and cried on my ex’s shoulders.

     The day I learned I was pregnant I decided I’d break the cycle. My son would fill the void I’d carried, and I vowed I’d be the perfect mother to him.

      During the sonogram, the assistant told us I was carrying a girl. I felt the sensation of a trap door opening in my gut.

      Please, no. Not a girl.

      My daughter arrived the following July, and from the moment she looked up at me with her big baby browns, it was love at first sight.

      We were inseparable, and I finally understood the meaning of “unconditional love,” a phrase I’d heard but never fully understood.  

      Years later, I welcomed another child. A healthy baby boy.

      They say sons love their mothers, but my daughter and I shared a bond I’d nevber imagined possible. To this day, we fight, we disagree, but I feel connected to her like no other person. I often tell her, “I’m your mom, and sometimes I have to implement rules you won’t like, but if I were your age, I’d love to have a friend like you.”

      In the past, Mother’s Day had been difficult, but my ex and my kids understood my feeling and went out of their way to make my day joyous, make me feel cherished. My ex had lost his own mother—a remarkable woman who’d treated me like a daughter.

      I had surrogate mothers. My aunts, both mothers-in-law, girlfriends, women I’d admired. To this day, I tend to gravitate to older women in my writing groups. They, too, tend to treat me like surrogate daughters.

      I do not lack for love.

      Last night, while watching TV with my kids, I sat between them, my back resting against my daughter’s chest. The dog was nearby, and my kids and I shared a red fluffy blanket. I glanced at my son, and then squeezed my daughter’s hand.

      This is all I want. This is all I need, I thought.

      I broke the cycle.

      Life is good.

      Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

      I’ll be thinking about you this Sunday.

 

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Before the Storm

IMG_4440.JPGBefore the storm

Twisting leaves fall

And I strain to hear the wind’s aria,
Beneath the cacophony of

tree-trimming tools

the undertones of a running fountain
the jangle of my terrier’s tags
As he persues lizard tails.
In order to hear nature’s opera

one must listen with implicit clarity

block out the noise of
motor’s whirr

fountain fuss
and dog tag jangle

Only then will you hear

Nature sing

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Nature, reflection, short stories

 

Quiet in Water

Bathtub

Quiet moments are fleeting. This week has been exceptionally hectic, and when my kids are with me it’s a wild, wild world.

I have a pool. And a Jacuzzi tub. Luxurious items people would love to sink into that, for me, rarely get used. Call it mommy guilt or poor time management, but the things that would help alleviate stress are the things I stare at longingly but never indulge in.

Today, I made an exception. After my run, I turned the faucet for my shower then hesitated. The morning had flown by, my best friend and I had played phone tag, there were documents to be signed, and I had to write my evening’s lecture, I’d snapped at my daughter due to heightened anxiety, but I stopped, took a much-needed breath, and turned toward my bath.

To heck with it.  I needed a soak.

The tub was half full when I heard my cell chirp. One call, two, three in a row, I knew at least two were from my friend.

Tag, I was it.

Instinct had me reach for the phone, but the small voice in my head instructed me to let it ring.

So, I did.

While soaping my legs, I checked for stubble and felt the smoothness of my skin. It’s funny, I thought, how infrequently we touch ourselves. Aside from masturbation, I rarely touch my skin. I’ve always been fascinated with the warmth and softness of others’ epidermis but hardly ever feel myself.

I stared at my exposed breasts and belly and the soft voice in my head shouted: “Look at that. Your abs are weak, your breasts too hard. You shouldn’t have eaten so many carbs this week. Sit-ups are required.”

I shushed my inner voice and rolled onto my belly.

My cell rang again but I ignored it with a breath I exhaled into the water.

The ripples made half moon circles and I caught the reflection of the Hollywood lights above my mirror reflecting in the water. I moved my hands and listened to the splish-splash sounds.

I’ve been in the tub too long, my inner voice scolded.

I silenced the voice with another exhale into the water and rolled onto my back.

Eyes closed, hands on my belly, I concentrated on my breathing.

Stillness is foreign to me. Idle hands a proverbial sin.

Toady, while soaking, I realized how important it is for us to slow down sometimes. As a society, we overschedule ourselves and our younglings. We rush through our day, our meals, and our lovemaking, rarely enjoying what we’ve experienced. We drive to destinations with divided consciousness, creating to-do lists in our head, multi-tasking, not enjoying the surroundings.

“It’s the destination, not the journey,” my friend and I always say, yet I’m guilty most of the time of being unaware of the road I’ve traveled.

Today I spent thirty sinful, unproductive minutes in a bath touching my skin, listening to the splish-splash of water, taking slow breaths.

Best half hour of my week.

After dressing, I high-tailed it to my keyboard to share this with those who take the time to read my blatherings.

Sadly, many of the thoughts I’d hoped to share disappeared like the bathwater that funneled down the drain.

Why share such intimacy with strangers? Because a close friend who’d left social media had said that the things people share weren’t real. She was frustrated that we don’t talk about real life–even the ugly side. The day she’d told me that, I’d vowed I’d keep it real. Even if it was ugly or embarrassing.

I’m not sure my friends want to hear about the beautiful necessity of touching yourself, but I hope some will listen.

My cell is ringing.

I have to call my friend back.

 

 

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This One Sang To Me Today

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I’ve been thinking about the friends, lovers, and orgastic interludes that have shaped my heart. This song sang to me today.

“I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”
by Colin Hay
I drink good coffee every morning
It comes from a place that’s far away
And when I’m done I feel like talking
Without you here there is less to say
Don’t want you thinking I’m unhappy
What is closer to the truth
Is that if I lived till I was a hundred and two
I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you
I’m no longer moved to drink strong whiskey
I shook the hand of time and I knew
that if I lived till I could no longer climb my stairs
I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you
Your face it dances and it haunts me
your laughter is still ringing in my ears
I still find pieces of your presence here
even after all these years
I don’t want you thinking that i don’t get asked to dinner
cause I’m here to say that I sometimes do
and even though I may seem to feel a touch of love
I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you
if I live till I was a hundred and two
I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you

 

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The Trick Is To Keep Breathing…

The Trick Is To Keep Breathing…

“The Trick Is To Keep Breathing”
It’s the eve before my daughter’s sixteenth birthday, and I’m sitting outside watching the moon overhead, smoking, what I hope will be, my last cigarette.
I needed an appropriate song for the occasion, so I keyed up Spotify and turned on “Keep Breathing,” the song that played when I started smoking again, the song that played on repeat when I wrote a particular blog.
I remember that day and the concerned comments and personal messages that followed.
People worry about you when you smoke.
Here’s why I do it.
I like it.
It helps me escape.
It transports me back to places and people I long to be with.
It makes me feel mischievous.
When I smoke, I’m somewhere else. A place other than Suburbia, a gritty city with bohemians and better writers like Fran Lebowitz or Bukowski, perhaps.
Anywhere other than Boynton.
Everyone has vices, but mine is hard to conceal. There’s the telltale smell of stinky hair, the scent that lingers on one’s fingertips, the clothes that retain the stench of stale Capris, the treadmill screen that notifies me that it’s taking longer to reach the six mile mark, the lines that bracket my mouth, the neck—my neck—that once looked fuller.
Ugly things. Things I don’t welcome when they greet me in the mirror or tickle my olfactory senses.
Smoking is a disgusting habit.
So I decided to quit, and now I panic at having made that promise. I panic that I won’t be able to succeed. I panic that my only escape will dissipate. I panic that, if I fail, I’ll disappoint the one I vowed to quit for: my hours-away-from-turning-sweet-sixteen daughter.
I promised to quit for her.
“It’s an escape,” I tried to explain to her this week. “But for you, I’ll try to give it up.”
For months I tried to hide it. When I finally confessed, she admitted she knew all along.
As I take my last drags, I remember the day she came into the world. Three hours of pushing, and there she was, this tiny creature with giant almond-shaped eyes. She looked fragile and helpless, and watching her nuzzle my breast I felt more scared than she would ever be.
Because suddenly I was responsible for someone other than myself. Suddenly, I had to take care of another human. I was petrified of fucking things up and foolishly enamored with the idea my daughter would change the world, cure cancer, or perform some other notable feat.
I was too scared to bathe her in the hospital. My ex took over with joyful enthusiasm. Parenting came naturally to him. Like riding a bike or flicking a lighter.
I don’t remember her cry or even a peep that announced her arrival. I remember her big eyes and the slick tufts of hair that crowned her head. I remember how I cradled her close and silently vowed to always love and protect her. I remember how I promised myself to learn how to be a good mother—the best there was—one she’d someday be proud of.

I take my last drag, take one last glance at the moon, and silence the song. Inside, she’s waiting for me. She knows what I’m doing, voiced her disproval, but said she understood why.
She told me my quitting would be the best gift I could give her.
That’s all parents want to do, right? Make their children happy, sacrifice what we can and provide stability in an unjust and sometimes insane world.
Deep down, I’m not sure I want to quit. I grapple daily with pros and cons—yes, cons outweigh the good, but without smoking I’m here, away from family and my besties. Away from Paris or New York or gritty places with better, more eloquent writers.
Lebowitz and Bukowski smoked.
Tomorrow, I won’t.
I think about my daughter’s first breath, so pure and un-tarnished by nicotine or tragedy or longing.
Will my lungs return to their original state?
Will my running speed increase?
Will my clothes and hair, once again, smell floral, not foul?
Will the cravings subside before I give in?
Before you comment or judge, ask yourself if you struggle with something. Ask yourself if you hide things from the ones you love. Decide if we are different. I eat well, exercise daily, drink the occasional glass of wine, laugh often.
Are we really so different?
As I type these last sentences, I think of my beautiful girl. I think about how happy she’s been this week as I reported the decrease in my nicotine diet. I think of her first pure breaths and the promises made.
For her, I will try.
No expectations, just effort.
The trick is to keep breathing.
One day at a time.

 

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Why Rejection is Awesome. Seriously.

Why Rejection is Awesome. Seriously.

I was preparing my lecture for an upcoming workshop when a writing friend emailed me and shared his angst over a rejection to a magazine submission in his genre.
It came as a surprise, because the guy has mad talent, so I wrote back and assured him we’d look at his piece together and see what could be improved.

This made me think.
Rejection seemed to be this month’s theme.

One friend has been agonizing about being rejected for a job he’d applied for.

My daughter didn’t win a competition.

I, myself, had been dealing with issues of loss.

Rejection gives you clarity. It makes you reflect about what needs to change and what can be pruned.

Rejection is not about failure, it’s realizing what matters most.

For example, last Saturday was one of the best days of my life.

My daughter and I took a road trip to Tampa so she could perform in a national poetry recitation competition. She slayed the first round, and her teacher confided to me she thought she had a good chance at winning.

During an intermission, before we received word of her results, I took my little girl’s hand and told her what I felt in my heart.
“No matter what happens today, I am so incredibly proud of you,” I said. “You have immense bravery and confidence and it takes courage to do what you just did.”
She had tears in her eyes, and her hand shook with nerves.
Parents have to be loving and supportive, but I meant what I said. Win or lose, I was proud of her for taking a risk. Speaking in public is a top fear for many, and my once shy daughter has blossomed into an outspoken young lady.

After round two, she came back to her seat in tears.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered. “You were fantastic.”
“I bombed,” she whispered back.
The second poem she’d shared was the longest one in the competition. To me, it sounded flawless, but then she told me she’d forgotten an entire stanza.
My eyebrows shot up in surprise.
When other contestants had forgotten a portion, they’d stumbled and some had asked to start over. My daughter had made it through the entire piece without skipping a beat.
Since I’d never heard the poem before, I wasn’t aware something was missing.
“It’s okay,” I whispered. “You did your best, and that’s all that matters.”

She was physically and emotionally drained during the ride home. The first hour she didn’t talk a lot, but eventually her smile returned and the familiar sparkle in her eyes came back.

We played her favorite songs and shared personal stories. We talked about friendships and goals, broken hearts, and her future.

I recanted stories about when she was small, and when the time seemed right, I shared my thoughts on rejection.

“Rejection makes you hungry for the win,” I said. “The losses of my past made me stronger. Ask yourself, ‘what can I learn from this, how can I do better?’ Whether you win or lose, be proud you took a risk. So many people fear rejection and stay stagnant. You are braver than you know.”

She listened to me ramble then asked to play her music.

Soon we were dancing in our seats, giggling, being our usual silly selves.

“One more thing,” I said, while she was shuffling through her playlist. “Put this moment in your awesome bank.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“My awesome bank is a place that holds memories of failures and wins. I think about the hardest things I’ve done in life, things I survived like childhood, winning a weight lifting contest, natural childbirth, and presenting my thesis during my last residency. In my bank, I also remember the failures: rejection letters from my first novel, the first time I applied for grad school, my marriage, unrequited love. I remember the pain I initially felt, how the world seemed to have slapped me in the face, how I brooded a while then eventually picked myself up, put my big girl pants on, and forged ahead. Had I given up after those failures, I wouldn’t be where I stand today: graduating with my M.F.A. in three months, working on a better novel, being single and finally at peace with who I am.”

She nodded and turned to face the window.

I let her alone with her thoughts then keyed up the “Grease” soundtrack.
A minute later, we were singing and hand-jiving, laughing at drivers that passed who gave us quizzical looks.

Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean failure.
To me it means “opportunity.”
To improve.
To try harder.
To see what’s worth investing in, and what to release.

I hope my daughter will find inspiration from her failures.
I wish the same for my friend.
For my fellow writers.
And hopefully, for myself.