Meet Me in the Better

It has been a hard weekend, my Plum spent more days than usual with his mama, removing our buffer. The joy and lightness he brings also means there is little time for deep talk or uninterrupted arguments.  Important words go unsaid, feelings never expressed.  He wasn’t here, words were spoken, feelings were hurt, a marriage teetered.

I came into this marriage emotionally strong but poor, two children already dividing up my time and love. Always trying to atone for the time I was away, I gave more to them than him, expecting him to understand. He did and didn’t. Waiting for his turn, for my time and attention, has taken a toll. My habit of putting him last hard to break.

As the children grew older, Arrow’s addictions and my dismissals from employment from strangers complaints regarding my history created crises under which my Chef and I could unite.  With each new onslaught, we got better at leaning on each other, communicating, focusing on the goal together.  My neediness was evident.

With an addict son, an unexpected pregnancy, taking in the mama, raising the child until she was able, custody battles, Arrow’s imprisonment, and now the estrangement from our daughter after she married, the crisis meter was always ticking.  But what happens when I opt out?  When I stop seeing everything as a mess that needs my fixing and just start moving forward?  My marriage becomes the next crisis.

I want to change the pattern, to help my Chef see that I need him without being needy.  I want him to become aware of how we communicate when the goal is not finding a rehab but just celebrating the day. We need to find a new way, that doesn’t involve just hurts and sorrow.  Old habits are pushing us, I am pushing back.  He has waited a long time for my time and attention, can no longer see that he has it.  He thinks he still needs to fight for it, can’t figure out who to fight. I am here, waiting for him now.

Almost 16 years ago, I married this man.  I came into it poor with two children.  I still am poor, I have a grandson now.  The vows I took on that day have not been broken, for better or for worse, I am here.  Waiting for him to meet me in the better.

Memorable Sacrifices

Memorial Day, a national day set aside to remember veterans who have served our country during peacetime and war. Some have returned home, others lost their lives in battle.  So on this day, we thank them for their service, their sacrifice. Flags are hung from porches, visits to memorial sites are plentiful. Yet amidst this remembering and thanking, something is missing.

Pastor Chris exposed this truth yesterday in his sermon. We have become a nation feeling righteous about thanking young men in uniform when we see them in the airport, at a restaurant. We post on Facebook statements about honoring our soldiers. After decades of war, many of our children have never known our country at peace. But do they even know we are fighting?  What sacrifices are we making here at home?

In earlier wars, it was necessary for those at home to conserve, to budget, to ration, in order to support the military. It was clear to everyone the battles that were waging. Sugar, petroleum, butter, meat all were divided up by ration cards.  People on this side of the war felt the sacrifice as well, pulled together to share resources, united to share news.

We have sent young men into two wars yet given up nothing here.  We thank them for fighting for our freedom but we fail to recognize how we squander that very gift.  We have the freedom to choose to unite yet be have become divisive, angry, hateful.  What a place to come home to.  Pastor Chris reminded us that soldiers most often mention a nostalgia for their units, the brotherhood that comes from depending on the guys around you.  Guys of every color, every state represented, educations and financial resources varying. They pulled together under a common cause.  Then they return to a broken country, one unable to unite or see the brotherhood in anyone who doesn’t look just like them.

Rather than thanking them, I wonder if we shouldn’t be apologizing, for bringing them back to a country fighting over such petty issues as bathrooms.  These men and women dug holes in the ground when they had to defecate.  We are a country at war, here at home, with our better selves.  We have lost our way, our kindness, our integrity.  We feel no shame in hurling insults at someone who worships differently than us.  Is it any wonder so many come back and are lost, unable to find meaning in the battles they have fought, the friends they have lost?

On this Memorial Day, consider thanking a soldier for his or her sacrifice and pledge to them you will do better also.  You will give up your right to help divide this country, you will sacrifice you need to find see your religion as the only one,  you will ration your anger. I am certainly going to work on this  Imagine a world where returning soldiers who are thanked for their sacrifice thank you for yours as well.  That is a nation worth fighting for.

Bridges and Magpies

Touring the stalls of the Round the Fountain Art Fair, I was transported to times I had made the laps with my daughter.  Silver jewelry, funky collages, exquisite paintings captured our interest.  As an artist herself, Stella took in more than me.  I watched her more, swelling with pride as she spoke with the artisans.  I saw my little girl, growing into a woman.  One stall in particular captured her interest: the picture of a magpie, key in its beak surrounded by stolen items.  It reminded her of her time in South Korea, a purchase she had to make.

Yesterday I walked back into time, back into the stall of this same artist.  I purchased my own bit from her, a block of wood painted with funky designs describing a love of travel.  I felt connected to my far away daughter.  As I was paying, I mentioned the magpie purchase many years ago.  She remembered my daughter, remembered their talk.  She asked where she was, how she was.  I pretended I knew.  Like the magpie, I only have stolen bits of information, bits I keep closely guarded lest my treasures disappear.

My grandson accompanied my friend and I on this outing, was really too tired to go yet it was too early for a nap.  He quickly became bored although he enjoyed asking the first 5 or so artists if they had made the creations in their stall and then issuing a compliment.  “I really like what you made.”  “I really like your stuff.” Soon discovering dogs to pet, ledges to climb, he found freedom from touring boring things he wasn’t allowed to touch.  We moved too slowly for him, he pulled us faster than we wanted.

My friend, K, who met us there is one of the last my daughter has allowed contact with.  K is my closest friend from college days.  A friend who heard all my old secrets, knew my mom, sees my soul.  My daughter knows K well, Stella knows she is a safe person to allow a little flow of information with.  Stella meets her on the bridge of Facebook sometimes. I didn’t realize K had taken a picture of my Plum until it was done, didn’t know her intention.  Later she sent it to Stella, poking the bear a bit.  I was on the edge the frame.  K also sent me a picture of my granddaughter, her mama on the edges as well.   Her scrunched-up face took me back to images buried in a chest upstairs, images tucked in my mind.  Another little girl I had known so long ago.  I found them, made a collage, sent them to K.  Maybe she sent them on, baby pictures Stella doesn’t have. A history she has cut off.

I sensed the tug of time at the art fair.  A bridge between generations, allowing the next child to explore art and this one to pretend for a moment we can go back.  I searched for sadness all day, came up empty.  I found a sense of peace, a letting go that comes from traveling to a new place and finding something familiar there.  Just enough to keep me grounded, not enough to bury me. I watched my Plum climb on ledges, jump off without fear.  He rolled down the grassy hills, walked barefoot and wanted carried.  He was free among the creations, crossing the bridge between buying art and living it.  I traveled to the art fair and carried home new memories.  The magpie can’t steal these, stored up in my heart.


Napping Today

A sweet stillness surrounded us, broken only by my yawns.  Loud yawns that distort my face.  Ones I would hide behind a hand if I were in public, if anyone else were awake.  Yawns are catching but he wasn’t having it.  His flashlight moved quickly, searching for nighttime treasures, the thrill of exploring spurring him ahead.  My plan was failing.

Just as I went to bed my grandson woke up, came stumbling in to my room with his flashlight, asking to snuggle.  Tousled hair, sleep-swollen eyes, arms clutching the last bits of his well-loved blanket, how could I refuse?  I shooed him back to bed, sat on the edge and awaited his swift return to slumber.  3 hours later I was still waiting.  Something went terribly wrong.  Snack, drink, books, reminders of plans for the next day, nothing worked.  He was just wide awake.  I wasn’t.  Back and forth between beds, he joined mine with the dogs, promised to go right to sleep.  He got sent back to his when his giggles and wiggles became too much. He snuck back in later with a stack books and the flashlight again, wanting to show me dinosaurs.  God help me, I just wanted to sleep.  His hugs, his sweet proclamations of love surely saved his hide last night.  So finally we went for a night time walk.

He was ecstatic. It was supposed to wear him out, let those little legs move, let the chill of the night air calm him.  We noted how every other house was dark, everyone was sleeping.  Everyone but us.  He refused to get the message, instead reveled in the adventure.  As we returned to our porch, he headed for the swing, plopped down and asked,”So, gran, what do ya wanna do?”

For a really smart kid, he just doesn’t get it sometimes.

Looking Back, Driving Forward

My older brother raced motor cross, those motorcycles that jump the mounds, fly through the muddy trails, splaying the fans.  It was just one of many activities my parents sunk money into, trying to keep him on the right path.  After buying the special full-body suit, helmet, dirt bike and traveling to all the sites, I can only imagine their anger, disappointment when he was quickly ready to move on.  He kept the bike though and rode the trails around our home, around our town.  We always had bikes and go-carts, things that go faster than children can handle.  Once on a mini-bike I remember crashing into the house because I didn’t know how to make it stop.  I can’t be sure if my father told me where the brake was or I didn’t remember in my panic.  Either way, ouch.

My brother, 29 at this point, rode his Harley with a long time friend on the back after a night at the bars.  He crashed, caught on fire, as did his friend.  God sent an angel to save these fools on a back road in a little town in the wee hours of the night.  Both spent months in hospital burn units, the damage to bone and skin was extensive.

My younger brother had a motorcycle growing up as well, he was a more cautious rider.  Yet he still suffered a crash when a driver failed to see him.  His broken leg did little to curb his riding, the Harley he has now is huge. It is one of those comfort riders, made for long distance trips.  He takes many.

So all this is to say, I am either a real adventurer or completely out of mind, maybe both.   August will find me on the back of my brother’s bike, riding through Colorado. I don’t like mountains, I love the views.  My sister-in-law can’t make the trip this year, I am the runner up.  The invitation came after my brother spent an evening dealing with my son, texting, arguing, beseeching him to get sober.  My brother who’s soul is so sweet and hurts for me. He has lived through not only the accidents on bikes but the crashes of our family from addiction.  He has suffered the abuse of a father who spewed anger and disapproval like that dirt on the crowds.  He knows too well showering doesn’t wash those hurtful words away, the stain remains, taints future generations.  He sees my soul too, like only a sibling can.  He wishes to protect me, even from my children.  Unable to do so, he has offered something else, a chance to escape.

I clearly know the risks.  I haven’t sold anyone on the thrill of riding, only highlighting the consequences of crashes.  The lure of spending two weeks hanging out with my baby brother, a chance to really talk, is just too enticing.  I am going to take this adventure.  I am going to take pictures from the back of a bike.  I am going to feel wind on my skin.  I am going to eat food from little diners, explore part of the country I haven’t seen.   I am going on an adventure with my brother.  Looking back, healing some stuff. Driving forward, beginning anew.  Pray for God’s angels watching over this fool on back roads and big roads.

Still Learning from Second Grade

My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Martin, gave gifts to each student at the end of the year.  I remember that I was one of the few who received a book, a treasure for me.  I loved school, a wonderful escape from home, a place I could succeed.  I knew what was expected and focused on preforming perfectly, to avoid notice for doing something wrong.  Teachers today have training to spot indicators of an abusive home, back then they gave more hugs.  Mrs. Martin was an elderly teacher, probably retiring soon after I had her, a grandma-like person I spent my days with who nurtured me.  At the end of the year, I was bereft.  My father worked nights, mom worked days.  He would be home with me all day, for months.  I wanted to stay with Mrs. Martin.

She gave me a book titled, “A Smile is To Give.”  She told me I had a beautiful smile, I just needed to share it more.  Maybe she knew, maybe not, that I was a terrified child who couldn’t smile.  Forty-four years have passed since I received that book.  I think about it often.  How would life have been different had she asked why I don’t, rather than encourage me to do so.  Would I have told?

Too many times I have been told to just smile, at jobs, with my husband even.  Smiles are invitations to get closer, to breach the walls.  I don’t smile much, certainly not at strangers or just in passing.  Close trusting relationships are the safe places my smile resides.  I laugh the most with my daughter, or did.  I miss that, I don’t laugh, that completely unself-conscious bubbling laughter that knows no limits. I only do that with her.  I am not a natural smiler.  I see women who are, I watch them closely.  Their smiles reach their eyes, their faces glow. I imagine freedom in their souls, trusting that the world is kind.  I imagine their 2nd grade teachers gave them books about exploring or art. When I do smile, I wonder if it ever reaches my eyes, if anyone has ever seen into my soul.  Ever.

A smile is to give, I learned in 2nd grade.  I have been receiving others’ for a very long time, withholding mine, greedily taking.  Mrs. Martin might be disappointed that the 8 year girl she knew still looked at the world with caution, watching, waiting. But maybe what she really meant is that I was to seek out those with one to share, rather than pushing me to give mine.  Maybe she did know it was too hard for me, but I could find sanctuary among those women whose souls were open enough that even their eyes smiled.   Rather than seeing the deficit in me, she kindly gave me the code for safety after all.  Thanks, Mrs. Martin, for knowing some eyes smile, some seek safe havens.  Maybe I finally figured out the message from 2nd grade, after all these years.

Straight Lines

I finally got my push mower.  Every year I ask my husband for one as a gift, mother’s day, Christmas, my birthday.  I could buy it myself but needed not only the machine but the acknowledgment that I would step into his space.  He mows on his rider with a headset on, listening to music, getting lost in making beautiful golf course designs, as much as possible in our dog destroyed yard.  I, on the other hand, wanted my mower in order to be walking those lines, to create order from chaos,  to be in charge.

As an adolescent, I often got to mow even though I had two brothers who were supposed to handle this chore.  They avoided it, I jumped at the chance.  I realize now the anxiety was stilled as I pushed the mower and followed the lines, knowing exactly where to go, progress evident.  My need for safety screamed out as I diligently pushed on, daring not miss a blade.  Tires in the track of the last row, perfect.  Controlling my world, for the moment.

I experienced horrific sexual abuse as a child. My earliest memory, a 3 year old, laying on the bed, while my father molested my body.  I was watching from above.  The abuse would these days make national headlines if detected, a ring of men who shared their little girls.  It was the 60’s though and no one talked.  My mother either didn’t know or couldn’t see.  She married an alcoholic, like her father, her troubles were great.  She worked constantly in order to keep us clothed and fed.  Finally, after catching him in affair, She had enough.  It was okay to cheat with your child, other peoples children, just not another adult.  Something broke through her denial.

After my parents divorced, my abuse stopped and I was safe, for about a year.  Mom moved us into a smaller house, I loved it.  My little brother and I got roller skates and new hooded jackets, sliding down the driveway carefree.  The greatest year of my childhood.

Then they remarried.  He joined us in our tiny home.  As the only girl, I had my own bedroom while the boys shared.  I remember vividly my father coming into my room to store his stuff in my closet.  My room was no longer safe.  My new home was now a place of fear.  He always had an excuse to be in there, should anyone bother to ask. I don’t think they did.  I remember thinking that I had everything exactly as I wanted it in my closet, there was no room for him.  I was a child who kept her room spotless, no messes ever.  I couldn’t handle the clutter, everything always had to be perfect.  One of my father’s favorite things to do was hide somewhere in the house and jump out at me as I passed by, scaring me.  He thought it was hilarious.  I was terrified. He destroyed my sanctuary, my sense of control.  I remember little else from that home, after he intruded.  We moved to a bigger home at some point, he died when I was 14.

I wasn’t free from him for many years, still carry the scars of his abuse.  I continue to avoid clutter, I search for perfection.  I seek to control my environment to avoid surprises.  I mow the yard in straight lines, pushing forward, creating beauty, stilling the inner voice that asks, “what is right around the corner?”  I can see where I have been, where I need to go.  For the moment, it is enough.