Looking for Jim — November 17, 2012

My father died when I was eight.  It was August 1, 1978 and I had long brown hair and bright blue little girl eyes.  My sister Siobhan and I woke early that morning, we’d shared my twin bed the night before, and he’d slept in her twin bed across the room, maybe he and mom had had a fight the night before.  I don’t know.  He was propped up beside the bed, as if he’d tried to sit up and had fallen backwards against the wall.  He was a funny bluish color. We laughed at the look of him, maybe we’d even tried to wake him.  He must have been unresponsive so we left to go watch cartoons with our brother James.

A short while later after mom had gotten up, I think she was going to work and tried to wake him to take care of us, but I’m not sure, I can’t remember exactly, the paramedics came along with my dad’s best friend Chris Manos.  Chris had long sad eyes when he got there.

Then all of the sudden it was mid-day and the three of us were sitting outside eating dry baloney sandwiches and sitting on a swing set.  I think.  I can’t remember.  I remember the sandwiches, and I remember that it was hot outside.  And I don’t remember anything before that.

Then all of the sudden it was days later and I was standing grave side.  I don’t remember anything in between.  A trumpet blared Pachabel’s Canon in D.  There was a huge tree.  It wasn’t especially tall but it was fat and had a million branches spread out creating a shady spot.  But I think we were standing mostly in the sun.  I remembered this tree and this big plot of green land with all of the graves and the wall up the hill when I tried this summer to go and find the gravesite.  Only now I’m 42.  And I can’t find it.  I walk around for a long time staring at the ground.  I walk in circles looking for my father.  There’s no one there to help me.  And I can’t find it.  So I lay the wildflowers that I’d cut from my garden down on the base of the big tree.  I’d wanted to show him the flowers I’d grown and to tell him about Sophie and my life and to tell him my heart was breaking and that I missed him.  But I can’t find him.  And I leave.

When he died my Aunt Patty had come for the funeral and to stay with us for a little while and she was happy and friendly and had big beautiful teeth and wonderful white hair.  She was pretty.  She knelt down and asked us if we knew who she was.  She said in a big voice “I’m your Aunt Patty.”  She made it feel better for a minute while she was there.

I don’t remember shedding a single tear when he died.  I don’t even remember being told he was dead, although I’m sure they must have told us.  I wonder why I can’t remember so much of it.  I remember being sad.  I remember feeling lost, like everything had changed and there was a hole inside of me.  I remember how hot it was and I remember that a kind of despair had settled over our lives.  I remember from before those days how much he loved me.  He made frozen pizza on Friday night and we watched scary Boris Karloff movies together.  He told me I was special and I believed him.  I loved him.  We watched the Creature from the Black Lagoon too.  Once, after my mom got cancer and wasn’t at home, maybe she had her surgery, I’m not sure except she wasn’t there, I got sick and threw up.  He sent me to school the next day and I remember smelling a little section of my hair that had vomit in it.  I wondered why he didn’t clean me, why we didn’t wash my hair after I’d thrown up in it, and why I had to go to school sick.  I wished someone was taking care of me.  And so I smelled the vomit in my hair and shrugged a little girl silent shrug.

And so when he left us, an air of hopelessness settled over our lives.  I don’t remember my mom crying, although I’m sure now that she must have shed a million tears.  She must have fallen apart completely.  We were living in poverty, she was dying of cancer, she had three small kids, she was estranged from most of her family.

And so life just went on this way for four years.  With a sadness and hopelessness that feels like an un-ending summer.

Until she finally left us too.  It was July 15, 1982.  I was 12.  She was 41.

And she was gone.

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The There’s-No-Ache Ache — September 1, 2012

I’ve had several dates now with a man who’s kind to me.  He says things to me like “how do you feel about that” and “tell me more, explain that to me, I’m learning something new here” and “this will only work if you’re comfortable, if we’re both honoring what you need.”  He asks me what I need.  He tells me what he needs.  He’s curious about my boundaries.  He respects them.  He lays out plans when the boundaries aren’t working or when they require more clarity.  He leaves room for course-correction.  He’s committed to a path.  He’s partnering with me in this, whatever we’re doing.  I don’t know what to call it, I don’t know what I want.  He stays open.  He says he’s willing to take the risk.  He’s willing to be disappointed.  When he says this, I realize I’m not.  I’m not willing to be disappointed.

He kisses me and sometimes it’s passionate, and sometimes it’s slow and soft.  He is simultaneously familiar to me — it seems we’ve done this before in a different lifetime;  and unfamiliar to me — I don’t yet know him, I haven’t learned him and he hasn’t learned me, I’m self-protected and uncertain about who he is and maybe even about who I am.

There is no ache.

It was after my second date with David when I noticed there was no ache.

And I ached for it.  I ached for the ache.  I ached for the familiarity of it.  I ached for my parents, and I ached for Greg.  I ached for the family I never had.  I ached for home.

This tips me off to the fact that the ache reminds me of home.  It reminds me of my parents and of my losses.  It reminds me of the people I’ve loved, and the people who’ve gone.  It reminds me of things never being quite right, despite hard work and the best intentions.  It reminds me of Greg and the way I felt I was coming home the very first time I visited his place.  It reminds me of the way I still miss him sometimes.  It reminds me that I want to go home and I can’t.

And the ache is the place where my addictions live. It’s the place that can’t be satisfied, the hole that never leaves me, the simultaneous wanting of more and also of less.  It’s the place I want to escape, and it’s the place where I want to go and stay.  It’s the knowledge that I will never really be home again.  It’s a place I’m learning now to carry with me and to welcome.  But it’s hard when it comes.  It brings sadness, and I feel a little lost, and a little lonely.  I cry tears that don’t make sense to me.  I try to welcome them.  I’m learning.

And so I wonder what life would be like with this man, where there is no ache.  There is the unfamiliar and the excitement that brings.  And sometime soon maybe he will be familiar to me.  I don’t know.  But I don’t think I’ll ever ache for him.  We will learn each other.  Maybe we will go our separate ways.  Maybe we won’t.  Maybe we’ll stay together, and maybe my appreciation for the things he says to me, his questions and his partnership, will feel good and right instead of foreign.

I never imagined this life for myself, the one I have today.  I’m still losing old parts of myself, shedding them quickly as I tear down and rebuild my ways of being.  And I’m not sure yet, but I’m wondering if in that process, maybe, eventually, the absence of the ache won’t be so achey after all.  And I worry because I don’t know.  I don’t know if I can stay away from the ache.

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When to Play Your Best Card – August 24, 2012

Several weeks ago, Mickey pointed out to me that in cutting off contact with my boyfriend and lover when he decided he wanted to date other people but keep me as a friend-with-benefits, I’d finally played my best card.  Me.

After a year of toiling, after a year of either unwittingly pushing him and any chance at enduring connection away with a pitchfork, or conversely, chasing after it with the thirst of a dying woman in the desert, after a year of traveling so far away from who I really am and what I’m really all about that I was practically unrecognizable to myself, I’d finally given in to some wise old voice inside of myself.  It sounded something like this.

“Greg, have you ever met me?  How in the world do you imagine that’s going to go?  What exactly do you think is going to happen?  On what planet do you think that’s going to be okay with me?”

But what came out of me was gentler and healthier, more direct.  It sounded something like this.

“That won’t work for me.  Would you like to propose a solution that will work for me?  If that’s your only solution, I can’t have contact with you while you’re doing it.”

And that was it.   Those were the last words I communicated to him.  It was his only solution.

When Mickey pointed out to me that I’d finally played my best card, I understood his words.  And some part of me even believed them.

And in the weeks that followed, it was those rare glimpses of the truth in what he was saying that kept me together.  Unfortunately, they really were rare glimpses.  And I wasn’t really together.  I fell apart completely.

Fear and worry engulfed me; they ate me up and swallowed me whole.  The intensity of the terror that came to stay for many weeks was something I can’t quite explain.  It wasn’t that my heart was broken.  It was my soul.  My soul felt broken.  I felt like the earth might open up at any moment, and I’d fall in.  I wasn’t good enough. He’d moved on and found love with someone else.  He’d told his friends a long string of half-truths intentionally aimed at making me look wrong and broken and preventing them from seeing who I really was and what he’d actually done.  He’d completely betrayed me, and not once stopped to imagine the impact his actions were having.  Or so I thought.

My compass had shattered.

The parts of myself I’d relied on my entire life, in far worse situations, were gone.  I was reduced to the rawest form of myself, and I was wasting away.  My intuition, my gut, anything I had resembling wisdom broke in half.  The only wisdom I could muster was something resembling the very practical.  And even that had to be helped along by a few friends giving periodic instruction or gentle reminders.  I knew I had to eat, and while I did very little of it, I did enough.  I knew I had to sleep, and while I also did very little of that, and Greg invaded my dreams in the form of nightmares that woke me night after night, I finally resorted to a handy bottle of Z-Quil for a few weeks (let me recommend it for all of your over-the-counter nighttime sleep-aid needs).  And I knew I needed to take care of my daughter, and both she herself, and her dad, helped me out with that a little.

In the meantime summer was passing.  The heat and humidity and rain were overbearing, it felt like they would overtake me.  I called it the Godforsaken summer and I wished and prayed and wished some more for it to just end.

I made countless calls when the terror set in.  It didn’t make sense. None of it made sense and so confusion wrapped up around the terror.  I found gentle friends on the receiving end who’d listen and sometimes ask the right questions or go for walks with me or check in on me.  Tears were a rare treat.  The few times I cried, I felt some strange sense of relief because it was a change of pace from the ache and the panic.

I imagined during those days and nights that it might not ever pass.  I imagined, I actually believed, that well into autumn, or even in a year, I’d still be raw and broken, unable to venture too far outside my own home because the smallest thing would remind me of him and what he’d done.

Then one day, when I was leaving for work, and I was doing what I’d come to do so often which was to review my own life and wonder about it, what the hell it was all about, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be an orphan anymore.”

That was the moment when the permanence of that state of affairs hit me.

Oh…

I remembered when they told us our mother died.  It was the moment I found out I was an orphan.  I remembered how I had missed my old life, crummy as it was, with every ounce of my being.  I wanted my own bed, in my own home at 412 8th Street.  I wanted Hellman’s mayonnaise like my mom used to buy, I wanted Christmas like my mom used to do it, I wanted to sit on her lap and let her rock me.  I wanted to go home.  I wanted my mom to come back.  But when I was 12 I was told I’d never go home again. No one came to get us.  No one helped us or talked to us.  It was a permanent state of affairs.  I was an orphan.  I was alone.

In my regular life, I sometimes remember these things and that feeling of never being able to go home to 412 8th Street.  It’s a strange thing to remember, almost like remembering a smell.

But that morning this summer, as I was leaving my home and I knew I didn’t want to be an orphan anymore, that I wanted to go home to 412 8th Street, I really remembered.  It was permanent.  I would always have to live with this feeling.

So there it was.  This was the thing I was terrified of.  I can’t tell you why Greg, of all people, was the one to remind me, but he did.  And nor do I have any idea why remembering in the deepest possible way that I don’t want to be an orphan anymore but that it’s a permanent state of affairs helped me that day.  But it did.

And I feel better now.  I ate chocolate yesterday, and I have a date on Saturday with a nice man who is kind to me.  And I can venture out of my home without being afraid that I’ll be reminded of Greg and what he did, and I can sleep without taking Z-Quil, and I can take care of my daughter, although it’s good for her to chip in there a little these days anyway.

And maybe — after I remembered about being an orphan and that it’s a permanent state of affairs even though I really don’t like it — I also remembered a few other things about myself.  My compass is still broken, but it won’t be forever.  When it comes back and it’s mended, it may be ready to do business in a different way.  I also remembered how special I am.  Greg had helped me to forget that.  I can’t tell you why, but he did.  I remembered that there’s no one else in the world quite like me.  I remembered how hard I try.  I remembered that I’m a really good woman.  I remembered that I’m rare and my love is true and special.  I remembered that it’s time to start paying attention again to the people around me.  I remembered that I’m grown up now and that I’m working on making that okay.

When I turned down Greg’s bizarre invitation, I had, in fact played my best card.  Me.  And after weeks and a trip to hell and back, I would finally return to myself as a result of playing that one card.  I’d forgotten what a great card it was, and I kind of wished I’d played it sooner.

And for some reason, I finally stopped worrying that the Godforsaken summer would go on forever.

Because it’s already a little cooler outside.

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Shamans and Psychics and Coaches Oh My — August 20, 2012

My rolodex, once filled with the names and contact information for CEOs, executives, very wealthy individuals and philanthropists, movers and shakers, influencers, and other supposedly very important people, is now painted carefully and colorfully with the names and contact information for intuitives, energy healers, Reiki practitioners, acupuncturists, psychic channels, life coaches, and the like.  I meditate at a Buddhist Monastery, I attended service at the Spiritual Living Center, I go to talks at the Self-Realization Fellowship and Unity Church.  I talk about things like Energy Medicine and Karma and animal totems.   And I put on nice clothes and conservative earrings everyday and I go to work after I drive my daughter to a private school.  Funny the way my life has turned out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this fact as I prepared to see a Shaman, which I did last night.

I made my sister go with me because like me, she’s a seeker and embraces these non-traditional forms of spiritual guidance.  And because unlike me, she’s not even a little afraid of them.

I am.  I’m a little afraid of them because I don’t want just anyone going and messing with my energy.

But off we went, to see a Shaman.  In Stone Mountain, Georgia.  He has a strong southern drawl, heavily trained in Peruvian Shamanistic traditions and influences.  He’s probably in his late 60s and sports a long white ponytail, jeans and a t-shirt.  His home is hidden behind an overgrowth of bushes and weeds. There’s old furniture cast aside on the front porch, which is also covered in cobwebs.

I’m a little freaked out, but too exhausted by my own life and my own mind to argue with myself anymore about being afraid.  The truth is I’m not afraid in that moment.  All that’s left in me is some instinctive level of self-protection, and that’s okay.  I’ll keep that.

He greets us both with a big hug, he remembers the story I told him over the phone when we talked, the story of how we were orphaned, the story of what’s happened since then, that life seems never to give us a break, the kind of breaks we really need by now, the kind that mean just a long moment of comfort or peace, of knowing that you can handle most, if not all, of what comes your way, that life might include health and prosperity instead of constant suffering and sickness and loss and reminders of loss.

He calls me by my name and pronounces it correctly.  And he calls my sister by hers. This amazes me because so few people, especially ones that we’ve just met, can do this.

He takes us to his healing room, the smell of burning incense or something I can’t quite place is strong and the room is filled with animal skins, spears and swords, a carefully arranged Mesa, or altar, filled with rocks and statues and crystals and animal skulls and more spears.  I’m wondering what he’s going to do with those spears.

He invites us to look around and ask if we have any questions.  What I want to ask is what do you do with all those spears and swords and where the hell did all these skulls come from.  Instead I politely ask about the objects on the Mesa, about what the healing session I’m there to experience will entail, imagining that he will come at me like a crazy man with one of those damn spears, but then I remember that’s part of the reason I have my sister there.  She will either stop him or at least bear witness to my untimely demise.

I tell him I have some anxiety, that I’m feeling very protective of my energy right now, that I’m feeling especially vulnerable what with being an orphan and my recent gut wrenching break-up and abandonment issues and all.  I think about Greg and wish so much that I could tell him about all of this.  He would like it here.  He would have a million questions.  He’d want to rearrange his altar at home to include some of these influences.  I wonder if I will ever have the opportunity to tell him about Sam, the Shaman in Stone Mountain.  For the first time in many weeks, maybe months, I feel a sense of peace and love when I’m thinking about Greg, and my desire to tell him about all of this.

Sam suggests that we break the healing session up into a few different visits so that I can gauge my own comfort level.  This sounds pretty good to me.  I only like a half dose of any kind of medicine I’m taking, including the energetic kind.

I sit in a chair in front of the Mesa and he asks me to notice a few items that call out to me.  I do this without knowing, of course, what my selections will mean, and then we review them together.  The items I’ve selected:

a beautiful ornate conch shell that’s had intricate designs carved into it

a statue of a woman, looks like a Peruvian Goddess, I noticed her when we first walked in

a beautiful crystal with a pointed tip that reminds me of something from my childhood

a pendant that I think has a seahorse on it, but turns out it’s a mermaid

another statue of a woman with a full belly and breasts, she’s painted in blues and greens

and another statue, that has its back to me, but for some reason is calling to me so I include it

And so here’s what they all mean.  Here’s my diagnosis.  I am in a time where I will reach my full potential.  The women, all of them represent the manifestation of one’s full potential. The crystal represents a bright star (opposite the crystal I chose was a selection of dark stars, but I liked the shiny beautiful crystal bright star.  Yay.)  The mermaid, a Goddess of the water, she communes with dolphins and whales, and the evolution of mankind.  One of the feminine statues says she will take great care of you but don’t go messing with her.  The shell with the ornate carvings represents full balance in all things. I am coming into a time of great balance.  True dat.

I feel a great sense of relief about this diagnosis, both because I’d actually gotten essentially the same diagnosis from an intuitive I’d met with just the day before and also because it’s opposite from the diagnosis I might have given myself which would sound something more like I’m all fucked up and sad and lost.  But that’s a different story I will tell at a different time.

He had me stand while he held a huge condor feather, he took three bottles of liquid, blew into each one, sipped out of them, and then spit the liquid all over me.

No for real.  That’s what he did.

I really wished he had warned me he was going to do this before he did it.  But hell by this point I didn’t much care, except I did wonder for a minute if it was poison liquid or if it was going to make me hallucinate or something.  It didn’t and it smelled interesting. Then he took the feather and swatted away the negative energy, even stopping for a moment to suck out some remaining dark stuff from my 3rd chakra.  My eyes were closed and it was a good thing because I’m not sure how I would have reacted if I’d seen him leaning into my solar plexus and inhaling so hard to suck out the bad stuff.  He’d in part been casting off any witchcraft or evil spirits that might have been put on us, considering all that we’ve been through and infusing me with more contact with the spirit world.  I’m good with that.  Thank you, Sam.

Then my sister went through the same process.  He gave us each a small carved amulet to take with us so we could carry the good spirits with us and so that he could continue to send healing to us.

He called us by name.  He hugged us goodbye.  We would return soon for the next part of the healing session.

We both feel very relaxed and peaceful.

We’re not sure which roads to take on the drive home so my sister turns on the GPS which is directing us in a way that doesn’t seem right to me.  My sense of direction wants to take us in the opposite direction than the GPS is pointing us but I decide to go with the GPS and see what happens.  My internal compass is broken right now and I know it.  I’m having to rely on other kinds of machinery to lead me where I need to go.  I’m having to rely on messages I’m getting from other places, not from my own mind, to remind me where I’m heading.  And so the GPS leads us straight to the road home.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly the opposite of the place I’d been heading.

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