After The Ending

_DSC0210My husband and I sat across from each other in Chick Fil A.  Not the most clever of places for us to have a date night, but it was last minute, it was raining outside, and we desperately needed to go to the grocery store, which just happened to be across the street, before we picked up the kids.  My dad agreed to watch the kids so that we could spend a few hours together, uninterrupted, to try to process the goings on of the past week.

“Aren’t you glad that life changing events don’t happen every day?” I asked, “it’s exhausting.”

He agreed.  After much discussion, we sat in silence. I was nursing a milkshake, my drug of choice, while he ate a chicken wrap.  He leaned in and talked in a whisper. He told me that the people to my left were the parents of the medic who pronounced my mom deceased on our living room floor over a year ago.  Enough time has gone by since my mom’s passing that such alarming coincidences didn’t cause me to erupt into uncontrollable sobs.  I’m not sure if I ever really erupted into uncontrollable sobs, at least not in public, and certainly not while the sun was shining.   Those moments happened at 3 am when I couldn’t sleep, or when I awoke from a dream where I casually run into her at out favorite junk store, Goodwill, as if she were just out for the day and hadn’t ceased to exist entirely, where she tells me, amongst the forgotten and discarded housewares, that everything is going to be all right.

I briefly imagined myself going up to these strangers in Chick Fil A and introducing myself, but what would I say exactly?  Your daughter and I tag teamed CPR on my dying mother. Your daughter was there on the worst night of my life.  A total stranger, whom I could not even pick out of a lineup, except my husband says you gave birth to her and raised her.  Thank you!  Nice to meet you!  Enjoy your chicken!

The moment passed.  They were leaving.

Earlier that day, my dad told me that his best car buddy was in Hospice.  He called him his best friend.  His heart was failing, he was extubated from the machines that kept his heart beating and his lungs breathing, and now the wait for the end began.  I casually joked that his irritation at my dad taking apart the rear end of his Ford Falcon probably did him in.  My dad said, “that wasn’t nice.”

“I’m sorry dad, I was just trying to make you laugh.  I was just joking.”

“I know,” my dad said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, dad, and I am sorry.”

I ended up hurting a hurt man.  It weighed on my mind as I obnoxiously slurped the last remnants of my milkshake.  There was some magic to be found in that shake and I would be damned if I missed it by leaving any bits behind.  I would have licked the insides clean if I were alone, but I wasn’t so far gone that I lost all knowledge of common social graces.  I had had enough anyway.  Enough of this milkshake.  Enough of the drama.  Enough of the heartbreak.  Enough of the double standards.  I had reached the end of the line, it was time for an extubation of sorts from a machine that didn’t sustain me, but drained me.

For the first time in longer than I care to admit, sitting with my husband in Chick Fil A, with a belly full of milkshake, rehashing this crazier than usual week, holding the pain that my father felt for his dying friend, the pain that I felt for not fully grieving my own mother, I actually felt relief.  I actually felt peace.  I was standing in the space between endings and beginnings, desperation and resolution, fear and tranquility.  Birth and death, then death and birth and I was actually good.  Really, really good.

 

 

 

 

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Shit Makes a Garden Grow

fullsizeoutput_2678I needed to turn off the TV.  I had had enough.  Enough is enough.  I don’t need to subject myself to such vitriol, such hate.  No more.  I sat and stewed.  What was I going to do with the emotions that I was feeling?  How was I going to improve the sudden funk in which I found myself?  I was angry, hurt, disgusted.  He was condemning immigrants.  Worse than that, he was perpetuating the misconception that immigrants are worthless, their motherlands are worthless, as if we are all defined in financial terms.

I started to think about my family and where they came from.  I had been told that my father’s grandparents came from Hungary.  His grandmother had written a book about the Bible and it sat on my shelf.  It was small, tattered, and had that old musty book smell with undertones of cigarette smoke it had absorbed from living at her son’s home, my grandfather, my father’s father, for 40 years.  I tried to read it once many years ago, but in all honesty, it went right over my head.  It was well-written and wordy, but I lost interest rather quickly much in the same way I lose interest watching black and white movies.  The dialogue in old black and white movies is unrealistic.  The conversations are monotone, contrived, and lengthy.  People don’t talk like that in real life.  We mutter and sputter, pause and lose words.  We can be sloppy with our speech.  Lazy.  But the words in her book were perfect.  The words in her book were all very carefully chosen, intelligent, and lovely, likely because English was her second language, and she was trying harder to make it just right.

I got up from my chair and hunted that book again.  I read the flaps of the jacket that told about the book and about my great grandmother.  Apparently, she was a physical therapist.  I never knew that.  It never spoke of her birthplace.  That’s when I got on Ancestry.com.

For the next several hours, with my children happily distracted with iPads in hand watching YouTube videos, I dug around on the website.  Unfortunately, I can not seem to find anything about my great grandmother, the author from Hungary, but I was able to go back at least 5 generations on my mother’s side.  I learned that my family is from England, Germany, Hungary, and France.  My family served in World War I, II, Vietnam, and Korea.  They were mechanics, farmers, factory workers, electricians, and my great great grandfather from Germany was a musician and made a living tuning pianos in Manhattan.  I learned that my great grandmother, the piano tuner’s daughter, had a sister I never knew about, Dorothy.  The last piece of information I have on her is that she is 21 on a ship with her mother sailing from Cuba to New York.  I can’t seem to find out what happened to her after that.

I am eager to get back on the site and find out more about my family and their stories.  I am eager to learn about where I come from, because we all come from somewhere.  We have ALL escaped a shithole.  One of the interesting things I noticed is that most of the time, my family was helping other people escape, too.  In so many of the census roles that I read, my family had others living in their homes with them.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, parents from their motherlands.  In other cases, their were boarders and tenants from places far and wide.  You see, when one climbs out of the shithole, the right thing to do is turn around, reach down, and pull someone else out.  You don’t leave them there to suffer and die.  You don’t leave another person behind, not when you know you can help.  Not when you know you have enough and there is more than enough to go around.

I feel inspired by these new Americans from so long ago.  They found their way.  They crawled out.  They helped others do the same.  I have a new found love for a country that has given my family such opportunity.  How could I take that away from someone else?  Because they aren’t the “right” skin color?  Because they are from the “wrong” place?  It is for the farmer and the piano tuner and the author that I say enough is enough.  No more.  No more hate.  I won’t let the hate speech that I hear make me hate.  I’m angry, but I’m channeling it.  I’m starting with the beginning, at my roots.  Funny thing is, if any of you garden, you know that when roots take hold in a pile of shit, they make the most fruitful plants….

 

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The Christmas Crescendo

FRG-01-RK0076-01PThe crescendo of the day is complete.  The joyous ruckus of children whipped into a frenzy over the satisfaction of wholly met desires.  It’s what I always wanted!!  Thank you!! You’re the best mom, ever!  Oh yes.  I am.  For now.  And that’s OK.  I felt the same way about my own mother.  Absolutely head over heals indebted and in love one minute, then plotting my escape for all eternity the next.  It’s the way it works.  Family.  Love them.  Hate them.  Never really escape them.

There is a delightful calm that hovers over my home right now.  The children are busily playing with their toys, my husband is at work, and I sit pecking at some keys trying to capture the feelings of the past few weeks.  For so many of us, the holidays are endured.  They are hectic and tough.  They are relentless and cruel.  People have a sense of desperation, rushing about, worried they are going to miss out, worried that they aren’t going to have enough, or be enough.

From where I sit, I can see our nativity scene.  My son took my favorite Sheldon ornament (from Big Bang Theory) and added him to the scene.  Perhaps Jesus can appreciate the humor of another “wise man” crashing the party, a man that doesn’t seem to believe, but still being present to witness the miracle of miracles.  God willing, Sheldon, the man of science and fact will be converted, too, just like I was so many years ago.

The sweet little scene sits amongst all the red balls, Christmas carols, white twinkling lights, smells of ham in the oven, shiny Christmas garland, and colorful presents piled high.  It’s as if the manger were plopped down in the middle of Las Vegas.  Bright lights, pageantry, glitz, and glamour.  What a contradiction!

Could there be anything farther than the experience that Mary and Joseph had on that night so long ago?  To be without a home, food, comfort.  To be a new mother on that cold wintry night in a manger.  To be surrounded by the smells of the animals.  To be without light.  My little manger, captured for eternity in that moment, but yet so far away from this moment, this Christmas.

Imagine the cold, the fear, the doubts, the darkness.  And then He was born and it all changed.  Nothing was ever the same again.

There are moments like that so often in our lives.  Mostly we can look back and see them in hindsight.  One moment the world is a certain way and then the next, an accident, a death, a cancer diagnosis, and then it all changes.  It’s never the same.  I had a moment like that as I sat in the ER awaiting the results of the CT scan.  Doctors get sick, too, you know.  It feels like some kind of betrayal, though.  I’m supposed to have superior knowledge to avoid such things, but alas, my body functions just like yours and mine decided to become unbearably swollen right around my neck.  Painful and tight.  Swallowing was getting harder.  Plus I looked like a bull frog.

I wasn’t afraid.  The results really didn’t matter.  I was alone. I was getting hungry.  It was dark and cold, but I wasn’t scared.  My comfort comes from somewhere beyond.  It comes from knowing that even in the worst scenario, like being homeless, hated, hungry, lost, afraid, lonely, or sick, even in the deepest darkest moments of our existence, hope endures.  Light shines through.  Love remains.

I almost wish all the Christmas decorations in all the world would disappear.  The ugly Christmas sweaters, the elves on the shelves, the Santas and his reindeers, the tinsel, garland, bright lights, ornaments, stockings, gingerbread men and women -can all just disappear!  The only thing that will remain is the nativity scene.  The one bright shining light of the season.  Hope.  Quiet relentless hope in the face of despair.  May we all know the peace that comes from our hopes realized even when they are not.  May we still know peace in the turmoils of our lives.  Peace like in a manger on a night so long ago.

It turns out the cold that I had been nursing for the past several weeks decided to lodge in the glands in my neck and have their own kind of Christmas party.  I was sick, but I would survive.  Two days of antibiotics later and I still look like a bullfrog, but one that has since gone on a diet.  I’m getting better and life got a little simpler.  In the midst of trying to help others, I needed to seek help.  God finds us in those moments, quiet and alone.  He speaks to us.  His voice is small.  Sometimes, you just got to turn down the noise of Christmas to hear it.

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I take a trip to see the dick doctor

I didn’t see the dick doctor, but my friend, Glenn did.  Check out his hilarious and poignant take on a cancer scare that not many talk about.  His blog is called Roamin’ Gnomials and when he is isn’t correcting our grammar and poor sentence structure at The Shinbone Star, he’s giving us the chuckles and feels over there.

After almost six months without a post here on Roamin’ Gnomials, I knew I’d need some momentous occasion if I was going to come back with a splash. My trip to the dick doctor just might have provided it. I kept it a secret from almost everyone, but for some weeks I’d been having a […]

via I take a trip to see the dick doctor — ROAMIN’ GNOMIALS

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Fact or Fashion? It’s Time to Choose

When I get dressed for work I have a certain uniform. Shirt, pants, cardigan, ballerina slippers. Simple and effective, but obviously not a lot of thought put into my look. My weekend and evening wear consists of some kind of throwback to the 90s. Jeans. T-shirt. Cons. Flannel. I don’t know how I got stuck in […]

via Fact or fashion? It’s time to choose — THE SHINBONE STAR

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Addiction and Redemption

Stone-Cold-Steve-Austin-Finger-wwestalkerI once went through a very unfortunate and embarrassing phase.  I’m not exactly proud to admit it.  In fact, it might be one of my more shameful secrets.  I can’t explain why I did it.  I guess I’ve always blamed it on being young, naive, and having raging hormones.  I do have my excuses.  It was the time.  Everyone was doing it.  It was entertaining.

It started innocently enough, hell, I even got my mom involved.  I did it once on a fluke, boredom mostly.  I instantly found myself hooked and I kept doing it over and over again.  The story never changes, the players are always the same, but you can’t find your way out.  You are in too deep.  In the end, I just had to walk away.  Cold turkey.  Quit.  I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I was done.

I remember the night I quit, too.  It was during the Wrestle-mania Pay Per View Special in 1999.

This addiction was all consuming.  The Rock.  Stone Cold Steve Austin.  Mankind.   Triple H.  The Undertaker.  The Hardy Boys, with their rocker acrobatic stylings!  I could really smell what The Rock was cooking and it was like turkey roasting all day on Thanksgiving.  Juicy and savory.  Mouthwatering.   Wrestle-mania was like the Super Bowl for us.  We had been anticipating this day for months.  The matches were set, who would win?  Who would lose?  What crazy shit is going to happen?

Every week, my mom and I would gather around the set to watch wrestling.  We would jump up and down, yell at the screen, roll around on the floor in misery or glee depending on the turn of the match.  The Rock was her favorite.  Stone Cold Steve Austin was mine.  They would spar inside and outside the ring, hurling insults, Stone Cold hurling his beer.  What a contradiction he was!  Biblical quote on his clothing line and a beer in each hand, all awhile calling people assholes!  Oh yes!  He was my spirit animal and dare I say, soulmate?

One night, while watching wrestling, a new wrestler was announced, her name was Lita.  As she walked out in the spotlight, all machismo and strength, I squinted at the screen, ran up to it, turned to my mom, and said, “Isn’t that Amy???”  I hadn’t seen her in years, so it was really hard to tell.  Of course, we debated back and forth, neither one of us entirely sure.  A short time later, my mom bought a wrestling magazine with an article about Lita and sure enough, Lita was Amy, my childhood friend that lived around the block while growing up.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and WTF.

Not only were we watching our favorite manly men, but now we had Amy/Lita, who once played Richie Sambora to my David Bryan in the middle school talent show.  Our version of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” won first place that year mostly because we used lots of Aqua Net and lip-synced while using real instruments.  She had moved away to Atlanta just before high school.  I visited her there once.  I flew all by myself.  I was probably in the 9th grade,  When I walked off the plane, a strange look of disappointment flashed across her face.  You see, she had gotten really cool and I hadn’t and it was obvious.  I always knew she’d be a rock star, looks like she got damn close.

A couple of things happened that really started to undermine my love of wrestling and turn the tide of my addiction.

My mom had a check up one morning following a particularly exciting evening of wrestling.  The doctor, looking at her in shock, asked, “What have you been doing?  Your blood pressure is through the roof!”  She even threatened to put her in the hospital.  My mom admitted that she had been watching wrestling the night before.  The doctor told her to stop.  It was starting to affect her health.

I was affected by the controversies regarding owners refusing drug-testing of the wrestlers for steroids, rumors of rampant narcotic abuse, indentured slave-like contracts for the talent, wrestlers being placed in serious harm and even dying from their dangerous stunts, but even being aware of all of these issues didn’t make me hit my rock bottom.

It was a bathing suit contest during Wrestle-mania circa 1999 featuring 80 year old Mae Young that pushed me over the edge.  From my aging memory, I recall Mae Young going all out to win the contest by removing her bathing suit top and revealing her naked 80 year old breasts.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with naked 80 year olds, but from my recollection, my 20 something boobs felt like they were visited by the ghost of Christmas future.  No where in my brain did I conceive that my boobs could eventually morph into what appeared before me.  Pendulous.  Elongated.  Stretched before her like childhood silly putty.  It was like my wrestling high instantaneously dissolved, I was left with tremors, a twitch, and the need to hurl.  This was the brush with reality that I needed.  It was as if her breasts swung out from the screen and knocked me across the face.

It was a bad trip and now I was woke.  There was no turning back.  I walked away from wrestling that night.  And I’ve never looked back.

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In the Shadows

fullsizeoutput_2596I’m not ready for October to end.  I am one of those annoying people who happen to love Halloween.  I love the decorations, the costumes, the candy, the darkness.  Some may think that to love Halloween is morbid, but I like scary things.  For me, they really aren’t that scary at all.  Demons, devils, skeletons, witches, zombies, spiders, and clowns -those things that make up our nightmares -those things that lurk in the darkness, at the edges, in the shadows.

Now that Halloween is over, the overly joyful, cheerful types start to take over.  They joke about playing Christmas music and putting up their Christmas trees.  They string lights, as if being in the light is just not bright enough.  They start their holiday shopping, make their lists, cook their turkeys, and bake their pies.  I don’t like those people.  It’s like they live in some kind of alternate reality.  They bask in the light of day as if nothing lingers in the shadows.

The whitest white can still hide the blackest heart.  Those are the ones to fear.  The ones that never show their true nature.  They live in the light, but beneath their skin seethes something darker.  The ones that can defend a predator president, grope someone without consent, to take what does not belong to them, to feel like they are owed something, to turn away from someone in need.  The ones that turn their backs on the truth.

I prefer the things that reveal themselves in the darkness.  They do not hide or pretend they are something they are not.  How much more trustworthy are they!

The darkness gives the light its meaning.  The light shines more brightly when it is enshrouded in darkness.  A tiny ember adrift on the wind would all but disappear before the sun, but that same ember at night, would dance and weave a miniature light show before your eyes.  The darkness is nothing without the light and the light is nothing without the darkness.  Plants need light to survive, but they grow most in the dark.  We are the same.  During our darkest times in life, that is when we grow the most.  The storms that we weather make us become more of what we are meant to be.  We can only do that in the darkness.

Am I morbid?  Maybe.  I choose to embrace the darkness.  It is not my enemy, but neither is the light.  In the end, when all of the good and bad are tallied up, I am sure there will be a perfect balance.  Good and bad.  Light and dark.  Neither one more important than the other.  God never protecting us fully from the bad, nor overindulging us in the good.  He knows that both are necessary.  He made it that way.

I know that in life, there will be bad times.  I know that in those times, I am becoming more resilient, more honorable, more knowledgeable, more wise.  There will be pain.  There will be tears.  There will be fear.  I will persevere.  It will make me appreciate the times in the light even more, but also understand that it is all so fleeting.

This season is a reminder to me and a way to celebrate the ways in which the darkness has made me who I am today.  The deepest, saddest parts of me are not to be shunned and left in the darkness, but embraced.  They make up the sum total of who I am.  Good and bad.  Light and dark.

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