Weekend Coffee Share: Hitting My Stride

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d invite you to take it outside to the little wrought-iron bench near the entrance to my apartment building. It’s a little chilly outside — it’s May in Michigan, after all — but it’s a beautiful sunrise, and there is always something so peaceful about drinking that first cup of the day outside, hands wrapped around a warm mug while the steam rises and fogs up my glasses.

I used to love sitting on the porch at my aunts’ cottage in these early hours. We couldn’t see the sunrise from there, of course, because the house faced west, overlooking Lake Michigan. Still, the reds and golds of the sun rising behind us would reflect on the water, glittering and sparkling like so many jewels spread out as far as the eye could see.

I am a morning person. I am not an optimist by nature, but I try to believe that every morning brings with it a chance for a fresh start, a new beginning. An opportunity to take a deep and soul-cleansing breath, to wipe away the grainy residue of sleep and occasional dried tears and look at the world through fresh eyes.

Years ago, I would go for a run on mornings like this. I never ran very far or very fast, but I ran. Those first few steps were always clumsy and awkward until I found my rhythm, and I’d bargain with myself. “If I don’t feel better by the time I reach the stop sign, I’ll turn around and go home,” I’d promise.  Then I’d pass the stop sign and tell myself the same thing about an oak tree or a mailbox or some other landmark.

Eventually, I’d stop bargaining. Everything would just sort of glide into place and I could go on auto-pilot. When that happened, I wasn’t running for fitness or watching the time, or even measuring the distance. I was just being. Doing. Moving. And when it was over, my whole body felt stretched-out, warmed-up, energized. It felt as though my body and my spirit fit together perfectly.

I don’t run any more. Some days, walking is almost more than I can handle. But I miss that feeling of fitting inside my own skin.

Oh, this isn’t about physical fitness (or lack thereof). It’s about feeling lost. These past few years, life has felt like those early moments of my morning jogs when I had to keep pushing myself. “If things don’t get better by the time I reach that point, I’ll give up,” I keep thinking, and then I re-set my goal for another landmark. I keep waiting for that moment when things glide into place, when my body and spirit work together perfectly again.

I am restless. I am angry and bitter at times. I am tired.

But as I sit here on this wrought-iron bench with you this morning, sipping away at lukewarm coffee, today feels like one of those long-ago mornings at my aunts’ cottage, when I would take those soul-cleansing breaths and wipe my eyes. It feels like one of my early morning runs, and I have almost hit my stride. A few more steps, just a little farther, and I’ll find my rhythm.

And I guess that makes me an optimist, because mornings like this make me believe that I will find it, that I will hit my stride, and that my body and spirit will work together again someday soon.

That’s what being a morning person is all about.

 

999

A thousand years from now, no one will know who I was or remember one single word of anything I have written. I’m okay with that, though, because they probably won’t remember E.L. James either.

A thousand months? Well, perhaps my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What about a thousand weeks? That’s more like it. I’d like to be a smashing success by then, please. Tons of bestsellers to my name, oodles of money in the bank, all that kind of stuff. It would be especially nice if I could reach that point in a thousand days, to be honest.

This week’s prompt made me sit down and do some math, which is never a good thing. I started figuring out all kinds of things multiplied and/or divided by one thousand, and I started wondering where I’ll be in a thousand days, a thousand hours, a thousand minutes. And you know what I came up with?

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter where any one of us will be in a thousand years, or a thousand months, or a thousand weeks. Not even in a thousand minutes. Because all it takes to change the world is one second.

One second for a heart to stop beating.

One second for a car to cross the yellow line.

One second for a madman to pull the trigger.

One second . . . . and a life will never be the same.

Life is short. The ones we love can slip away from us in a second, and we realize too late that there were so many things we should have taken the time to say.  Words that could have been spoken in a matter of seconds.

I love you.

I’m sorry.

I forgive you.

I was wrong.

That little gold second hand on the clock keeps on ticking away the seconds while we spend our time focusing on the hour hand. My son is learning to tell time, so around here we talk a lot about the “big hand” and the “little hand” but no one ever mentions the second hand.

Tick-tock.

It never slows down or speeds up. The seconds just keep going by, one by one, and we never notice until they are gone. And no matter how much we may want them back, they are gone forever.

It only takes a few seconds to say words that can never be unsaid. A few seconds to tear a soul to shreds with bitter words, or maybe a few seconds to get news that turns a world upside-down.  To hear the words, “I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do,” or “I’m sorry, we did all we could.”

It only takes a second to think that all is lost, to believe there is no hope. It only takes a second to think you have only one option, one choice before you.

Life isn’t about where any of us will be in a thousand years, or a thousand days, or a thousand seconds. Life doesn’t have a destination; it’s not a race to get to wherever it is that we are going to be in a thousand anything.

What matters is what we do in the nine hundred and ninety-nine that come before.

This post has been part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the sentence starter “In a thousand years from now. . . ” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Lizzie at Considerings and Dana at Kiss my List.

Want to stay on top of the topics and join us? Join our Facebook group!

Whoosh!

I love deadlines. Especially the whooshing sound they make as they pass by. — Douglas Adams

Coming out of the apartment building one morning last week, my sons and I discovered a medium-sized Huggies box that had been placed upside-down in the center of the sidewalk. On the bottom of the box, someone had written a message in big black letters.

“Do not move this box,” it read.  “Poop beneath.”

I ushered the boys past the box and into the car so I could take them to school, but I couldn’t stop wondering about the person who had left that well-labeled box on my sidewalk. I kept thinking about the effort that must have gone into locating the box, finding a marker, scribbling the message, and then carefully placing the box just so.

It seemed to me that it would have taken less effort to just clean up the poop.

“Maybe it was a practical joke,” my cousin suggested when I told her about it. “Do you think there might have been a hidden camera nearby? Did you pick up the box and look at the poop?”

“Of course I didn’t look at the poop!”

“I would have, just to see what kind of poop it was.”

Oh, well thank you for that.  What kind of poop? My mind hadn’t even begun to dive down into that particular rabbit hole, but it sure went there after that conversation.

Was it perhaps toddler poop? That would explain the Huggies box. Maybe a toddler was in the process of potty-training and just didn’t quite grasp the whole concept of dropping trou and making a deposit in the proper receptacle. The embarrassed mommy could have dashed inside for the box and a marker, planning on returning to clean up the pile after cleaning up the child.

I thought back to the days when I was the parent of toddlers during the potty-training stage, and quickly dismissed the idea. When my kids were toddlers, I was never organized enough to know where to find a box, a marker, and my child all at the same time. Besides, I was so used to cleaning up piles and puddles of baby-mess that I probably would have just grabbed a handful of wipes and scooped up the offending pile.

Well, either that or I might have used the toe of my shoe to nudge it into the nearby flowerbed with the excuse that I was fertilizing the plants.

I hate to admit it, but that probably would have been my chosen path of action in that situation.

So maybe my current box o’ poop came from an animal? There is a herd of feral cats in the woods that surround the building; maybe one of them was just too lazy to do the usual feline dig-poop-bury routine and just decided to leave a gift on the sidewalk. That didn’t seem like too much of a stretch when I thought about the “gifts” my cat used to leave on the steps — dead birds, headless mice, partially-eaten moles, etc. All things considered, poop might have been the preferable present.

But no, a feral cat wouldn’t have left the carefully-worded sign on the Huggies box.

A dog, then. A dog with a conscientious owner. See, here’s the crazy thing about my no-pets building: everyone has a pet. They’ve all gotten their doctors to sign off on a form that says depressed people need pets to help them get through their days. Apparently, we are an incredibly depressed building.`

As the only person without a pet, I can only marvel at the realization that this makes me the only person in the building who is not officially depressed enough to own a cat. Technically, this means that everyone else in my building is more depressed than I am.

Good lord, that’s a depressing thought.

I have so much to do, and so little time to do it, and yet I spent nearly a half-day wondering about the box o’ poop on the sidewalk downstairs. I could have been editing those final chapters of Their Love Rekindled or working on the opening chapters of my new Love & Destiny series; I could have been washing the dishes or unpacking those last few boxes that have been sitting in the middle of my living room since I moved here just over a month a go. I could have even worked on writing a few blog posts ahead of time and getting them scheduled to go live at convenient times.

But no, I had to sit here pondering the origin of poop on the sidewalk downstairs. I’m not sure, but I think that automatically grants me a PhD in Procrastination.

And to make things worse, I decided that I needed to look up the perfect quotes about procrastination to finish off this blog post. That took up a good forty-five minutes that could have been used changing the sheets and scrubbing the bathroom. But if I hadn’t done that, I would never have found this little gem from Nora Roberts:

My top three pieces of writing advice? Stop whining and write. Stop fucking around and write. Stop making excuses and write. — Nora Roberts

Yes, ma’am.

And so the mystery of the box o’ poop shall never be solved because I am getting back to work. When the mighty Nora Roberts tells me to stop fucking around and write, what else am I to do?

Nora

Perspective

I was thinking the other day about some of the projects I made in seventh grade art class. One was a clay bunny that I painted brown, only to realize that I had created something that looked exactly like a giant turd with ears.

The other was a perspective drawing of a city street, which turned out surprisingly well considering just how badly I draw. I really had fun with that assignment, probably because it involved very little actual skill beyond an ability to draw straight lines with a ruler. It was amazing to me to see how something that appeared to be so complicated was actually quite simple to create.

It was all about breaking it down and looking at it differently.

Perspective.

The teacher didn’t seem to be bothered by my utter lack of any artistic skill whatsoever, but she became annoyed when I wouldn’t give her an answer about whether or not my family would be there for the annual Open House. I hemmed and hawed and stammered and finally mumbled something about my mom being sick. The teacher stared at me for a long, quiet moment before hauling me out in the hall and demanding the truth.

I don’t know what possessed me that day. I opened my mouth and told her details I hadn’t even told my closest friends. Words I barely understood: modified radical mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, prognosis. I told her the truth — that my mom was scheduled to begin chemotherapy on the day of the Open House, and we didn’t know if she would be sick that evening or not. I couldn’t give the teacher a definite “yes” or “no” because I didn’t know what to expect.

“I had breast cancer two years ago,” the teacher told me, after another long, quiet stare. “And chemo. You show up if you can, stay home with your mom if she needs you.”

In that moment, I wasn’t alone anymore. My mom was no longer the only person I knew with breast cancer. With those few words, my teacher changed the way I saw my mother’s cancer, and I could breathe again. She made my world that much bigger.

She gave me dose of perspective. A way of looking at things from a different angle.

It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with a lot of issues in recent months. I don’t like to say that I “suffer” from depression, because that sounds too passive. I “struggle” with it, “deal” with it, “fight” it, but I don’t just sit here and suffer. I hate it with a passion.

I am not, however, ashamed of it.

I’m never sure how much to say about my depression. I don’t want to be seen as a whiner, or as someone trolling for sympathy. I don’t want sympathy, and I don’t want people to walk on eggshells around me. Seriously, just because I’m going through a bad time, it doesn’t mean I need people to check up on me all the time. I’m not going to lie; there are days when my greatest accomplishment is simply staying alive until sunset. But I’m not that fragile. I’m just . . . . depressed, and doing my damndest to climb out of a very deep, dark hole.

I want to keep it secret because I don’t want to be treated differently. But I also want to talk about it because I want people to understand why I sometimes withdraw from them and want to spend time alone. Why I cry for no apparent reason. Why I can come unglued so easily. Why my temper sometimes flares up in ways that are not proportionate to the situation.  I’m asking for some patience, but not pity.

It’s all in how you look at it. Perspective.

It’s been a rough summer for me. I worked too many part-time jobs and pushed myself to the point of exhaustion, and it still wasn’t enough. I lost my dream house anyway. I ended up in the subsidized apartment building here in town, where I am surrounded by boxes and bags and piles of everything I own, and I am too overwhelmed to make the next move of actually putting anything away.

I organized my silverware drawer and I move boxes of books from place to place. I’ve unwrapped my Lladros and Dresdens and even managed to cook a real supper for my boys the other night. And I discovered that I own far too much tea, which has worked out pretty well since I haven’t been able to find the filter basket for my coffeemaker. I haven’t had coffee in a week, but I’ve worked my way through some delicious Earl Grey and other treasures for my morning caffeine.

I turned to my pastor for help. She told me this is all God’s way of telling me to go back to my husband. I told her that God must be sending mixed messages, since my ex is currently engaged to someone new and my return at this point might make for an awkward honeymoon.

I don’t care for my pastor’s perspective. She sees my situation as a punishment for my sins. I see her as a total asshole, and I won’t be returning to her church.

That’s my perspective.

Look, I am an author and a blogger. Most of the time, I manage to make people laugh. I have been so fortunate to be able to find my voice and follow my dream and all that. My kids are healthy, I have the support of a lot good people, etc. Lots of good stuff, right? On my good days, I’m able to appreciate how blessed I really am. And on my bad days, I cling to the good stuff like a lifeline, and that lifeline keeps me from going completely under.

Depression sucks. There are those who believe it’s a weakness, or a choice. Who perceive it as wallowing in self-pity or looking for attention. Who are going to read this and shake their heads in disgust.

All I am asking is that you take a second to see the world from a different perspective, and understand that depression is not a choice. It’s an illness. In the United States alone, 16 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. That’s 6.9% of the population, guys. It’s real and it hurts.

And I’m choosing to own it. I am not ashamed of it anymore. I’m looking from a new angle, seeing it as something that is not a weakness, not a fault. It’s treatable, and I can do something about it. There is hope.

I am Amy, and I am being treated for depression.

Crybaby of The Year

When I was in elementary school, I was given the dubious award of “Crybaby of the Year.”  The boy who gave me that name was a little thug who would get his friends to line up and take turns trying to make me cry.

I wasn’t smart enough to catch on and start crying at the first shove or slap. Oh, no, I would bite my lip and fight back the tears and really drag out the punishment before I’d give in and start bawling.

Back then, nobody talked about bullying.  I got a lot of instructions to “toughen up” and “let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.”  I was told to go into the bathroom until I could get myself under control; come out when I was ready to act my age. The boys who tormented me on a daily basis were not seen as the ones with the problem.  I was the one with the problem, because I was the one who cried every day.

I never really thought about the long-term effect that had on me until much later.  Sure, I dealt with other bullies over the years.  I was, after all, an overweight bookworm from a poor neighborhood, and I had a habit of quoting Shakespeare and Albee at random moments.  I was pretty much a bully’s dream come true, practically delivered with a bright red bow on my nerdy little head.

But I had friends.  Most of them were basically as weird as I was, and we learned to glory in it.  I got to be pretty good at ignoring any detractors.  I rarely cried anymore.  I didn’t realize how far I had gone to the opposite extreme until the night of my car accident, when I lay sobbing, strapped to a backboard with my broken neck and every part of my body restrained in some way, with my family repeating, “But . . . you never cry!”

I’ve cried more in the past three years than I cried in all the years that came before it.  I’ve cried tears of pain and frustration.  Fear and anger.  Hurt and loss.  It’s been hell, but I finally stopped crying again in these past few months.  I’ve been a phoenix rising from the ashes of my former life.  I feel like a newborn at times, like an impossibly old woman at others.

A few weeks ago, I shared some pictures of myself here.  They weren’t flattering pictures, but there was something so freeing about putting them out there.  So empowering.  After baring so much of my soul during the course of my recovery, my divorce, and my fresh start, I was shocked to discover that posting those pictures felt like the most intimate, most personal thing I have ever shared.  I felt naked. But I felt good about it.

At first, the comments were great.  So supportive.  Then came the others, all from the same person.

I don’t blame you for being afraid to show these.  Your disgusting and you should be ashamed of yourself.

You shouldn’t show these pictures to anyone.  In fact, you shouldn’t show your fat, disgusting face at all.

I’m not surprised your divorced. Why would anyone stay with an obnoxious pig like you?

I had always vowed that I would approve any comments left on my blog, that I wouldn’t be the kind of blogger who only allows the positive ones to be seen.  But I just couldn’t do it this time.

She kept at it.

I don’t know why you post stuff like this.  Nobody wants to see your pictures.  Nobody cares what you have to say.  God you are such a loser.  Why don’t you just delete your pictures so we don’t have to look at your ugly face any more?  While you’re at it, you should delete your whole blog and your stupid books too because nobody wants to read those.  Just delete yourself you fat fucking sow.  Nobody will miss your sorry ass.

Today, that same person attacked me and another person in the writing forums.  I’ve edited out all references to the other person to protect her identity.

Stop being a smartass all the time and thinking you are better than everyone else. Go away and strive to be an acceptable human being before you post again.

—NEWS FLASH—
Lots of people think . . . you behave repulsively and wish you would go away. . . you are the one’s trolling this site so why don’t you go and take a good look at your behavior and be as disgusted as the rest of us. . . .  facts are facts and you behave horribly.

Big AL – Please shut up. I said please, that must count for something. You started this . . . by being supercilious, obnoxious and high-handed, so don’t try to blame anyone else.

“Big Al.”  Because I go by my initials in the forums: A.L.  Big Al.  Another  “joke” about my being fat?

I shouldn’t let the vicious, childish words of one person bother me.

I am forty-eight years old.  I have three wonderful children.  I have an ex-husband who is still one of my best friends.  In the past year, I have published three books that all have decent reviews.

I survived injuries in an accident that would have killed most people, and I have fought my way back against challenges that I never could have imagined, including a battle with depression that has pushed me to the brink of suicide on more than one occasion.  I have hit rock bottom more times than I can count, and I have the gravel in my ass to prove it.

I am a survivor.

I have gone through Hell and back, and it’s a round trip I never could have made without the support and friendship of the incredible people in my life.  My friends, my family, the followers of my blog who take the time to leave encouraging words in the comments.  I may not always be good about answering, but I always draw strength from you.

In the past few years, I have come to believe that there is far more good in this world than bad.  Somehow, walking through fire has made me an optimist.

So why does this hurt so much?

Right now, I am the six year-old little girl biting my lip and doing my damnedest not to cry.    I can’t seem to “toughen up” or “let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.”  Tonight, I am tired and hurt and alone. That’s right, I’m defeated by a bunch of fat jokes.

Childish, but there it is.

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and limp to the kitchen for my pain meds and my coffee.  I’ll stretch and try to get all the parts in working order before my kids wake up, because I can’t bear for them to see how much pain I face on a daily basis.  Then I’ll face them with a smile, and I’ll thank God for their beautiful faces, and for the strength He gave me to survive to see those faces every day.

Tomorrow, I’ll be able to snap back into never-let-them-see-me-cry mode.  I’ll put this all into perspective, and I’ll look at my tormentor with fresh eyes. I’ll see her for the childish little twat she is, and I’ll be able to understand that she is the one with the problem, not me.  I’ll be able to shrug it all off.

Tomorrow, I’ll be able to see the humor in the fact that my tormenter has a blog about fighting bullies and cyber-crimes.  I’ll laugh about the anti-bullying book she is writing even as she drowns in her own hypocrisy, and I’ll be able to remember that I am the adult here – the adult with a very full life with so many wonderful people, so much to be thankful for.

Tonight . . . tonight, I’m going to have a good cry.

Tonight, I’m crying for all of it:  the car accident, the lost career, the pain, the humiliation, the divorce, the struggle to pay my bills . . . most of all, I’m crying for all of us who once learned not to cry.

UPDATE:  Just wanted to share a new comment from the barrage of messages still coming in from the same person:

You think your all the shit but your book bombed! Hahaha I cracked up so hard!  After you hyped yourself up, your dumbass book bombed!  Do us all a favor and STOP WRITING.  Don’t you get it?  YOU HAVE NO TALENT.

Wow.

Cheese, Bees, and Bologna

At the end of each summer, I always feel antsy.  Ready to go on an adventure.  I feel like something big is coming, and I have to get ready for it.

I live in Michigan, so the “something big”” is usually winter, but my sense of restlessness is more than that.  I need to travel, to jump in my car and just go somewhere.  Anywhere.  I want to grab a giant, icy bottle of Diet Coke and a couple of old favorite CDs and bellow, “Road Trip!” with no specific destination in mind.

Maybe it’s because of the old Color Tours my aunts used to take us on when my sisters and I were little.  We’d pile into the family car and just drive and drive and drive all day, looking at all of the beautiful fall colors.  We’d end up lost, of course.  There’s never been a person in my family with any sense of direction, so we always got lost.

Eventually we’d stop for a picnic lunch of crackers, Colby cheese, and huge chunks of ring bologna.  We might stop at a quiet spot on the side of the road, or a pretty picnic area at a public park.  Sometimes, we just rolled the windows down and ate in the car.

One year, we stopped at a scenic little spot beside an inland lake.  I seem to remember an old stone wishing well, but I could be wrong.  By the time we got our food out and ready to eat, we discovered that the place was infested with bees, and that picnic was forever after referred to as the year we ate “cheese, bees, and bologna” for lunch.

We usually ended up in the Allegan State Park at the end of the day, crunching along over the crisp leaves while Aunt Marian tried to teach us to whistle through acorn caps.  My sisters both mastered it, but I never quite got the knack.  That’s all right though, because I can still out-whistle both of them the usual way.

I havent gone on a Color Tour in years.  Fall has become such a busy time for me.  My daughter is a cheerleader, my son is in the marching band, and high school football games are practically mandatory for all citizens in a town this small.  There are back-to-school activities and routines, and getting ready for winter.  Busy, busy, busy.  No time for random drives through the countryside.  Besides, the cost of gas is ridiculous.  We lived on forty wooded acres, for crying out loud.  We could see the fall colors just fine from the living room window, thank you very much.

I told myself that the “antsy” feeling was all about being nervous about winter.  I didn’t need to travel aimlessly around on foolish road trips to nowhere.

This year, though . . . this whole year has been a lot like waking up from a long, restless sleep.  I crawled into a pretty dark cave for a lot of years; depression, an unhappy marriage, and grief will do that to a person.  Coming so close to death in a car accident three years ago should have been my wake-up call, but I don’t think I was ready to open my eyes just yet.  I wasn’t ready to face the world until the day I looked deeply into my husband’s eyes and realized that we both knew it was time to stop pretending.

I’m never going to be the person I once was.  I’m older, wiser, and sadder.  Life didn’t turn out the way I expected it to; the little girl who tried to whistle through acorn caps is long gone, but her restlessness is back with a vengeance.

It’s almost fall in Michigan.  It’s ridiculously hot for September, but I know fall is coming.  It’s bringing cool night air and blustery mornings, crispy orange leaves and the smell of bonfires.  It’s coming, and it’s telling me to go.  Somewhere, anywhere.  Just go.  Grab the keys, cheese and bologna and hit the road for points unknown.

I’m ready for adventure.

 

This post was written as part of Finish the Sentence Friday.

Mirror, Mirror

IMAG0047

Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize the woman who looks back at me.

In my mind, I still look like someone in her late twenties/early thirties.   I never looked my age until recently.  People were always so surprised to find out my real age because I appeared to be so much younger than I really was.

I had good skin, ready access to hair color, and no need to lie when asked my age.   I knew I wasn’t a beautiful woman, but I also knew I had a good smile and a certain well-scrubbed, girl-next-door quality.  That’s the kind of corn-fed-maiden I still expect to see when I look in the mirror.

The woman who looks back at me instead is tired.  She’s got deep, dark circles under her eyes, which are red-rimmed as though she has cried recently.  She’s got my mom’s drooping right eyelid, which only lends to the overall look of exhaustion.  Her face is puffy; she has the appearance of someone who has gained a great deal of weight recently.  Rosacea gives her a constant flushed look, sort of like the red face that we used to call “Beer Cheeks” in college.

Her skin seems dry, especially around the eyes, where small wrinkles have begun to form.  She has acne scars on her chin that are dark enough to show through foundation and powder.    Her eyes are still her best feature.  They are somewhere between blue and green, almost aqua, and once in a while they still have the old sparkle.  It’s hard to see, but it’s there.

I feel sorry for the woman in the mirror.  I want to reach through and wrap my arms around her and give her the hug she so desperately needs.  I want to tell her it’s okay to cry until she’s done, until all of the sadness and regrets are totally exorcised.  I want to tell her I love her because she really looks like she needs to hear that from someone.

Then I want to give her a stern talking-to.  “Snap out of it,” I want to tell her.  “Get a haircut, touch up your roots, and put on some make-up and jewelry.  Take a little pride in your appearance.  And for God’s sake, smile once in a while. People used to tell you that your smile was beautiful, remember?  So smile, damn it!”

Appearances shouldn’t matter.  I should be able to look in the mirror and take pride in each wrinkle and scar and gray hair.  I have earned every one of them, after all.  Considering some of what I have survived, I am lucky that I don’t look worse.  I remember looking up at my sister in the ER after my car accident and whispering, “Is my face . . . okay?”  And then feeling a really twisted sense of relief when she assured me that all of that blood was from my head rather than any part of my face.

So, yeah, appearance matters to me.   I wish it didn’t.  I wish the woman in the mirror looked more like the woman I see in my mind.  But the one in the mirror has been through a lot.  She’s a survivor, and she looks like one.

Luckily, the one in my mind learned how to apply make-up in beauty school.  With some mascara, mineral powder, and a helluva lot of eyeliner — along with a healthy dose of anti-depressants — these two ladies may someday merge into a woman who doesn’t scare me when she smiles back at me.

 

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/daily-prompt-mirrored/

Mighty Fine

When I was a little kid, I thought my mom was the world’s best cook.  She always seemed to just know how to put things together.  Oh, she had cookbooks, but I never saw her use them.  She would stand at the stove and throw in a pinch of this and a scoop of that;  she’d take a dainty little taste off the edge of the spoon, make a face, and toss in something else.

When I married my husband and met his family, I realized that my mom wasn’t quite the cook I had always believed her to be.  Compared to the food prepared by my in-laws, my mother’s cooking was rather bland.  She made a lot of baked chicken and boiled potatoes, very few sauces or gravies.  It was plain, but it kept our bellies full.

Holidays were the only time she really ventured into fancier dishes.  Thanksgiving was her particular favorite, and she would wake up at some ungodly pre-dawn hour to start cooking while she sipped away at bottomless glasses of cheap wine. By the time my sisters and I woke up, the house smelled divine and the kitchen table was at near-collapse under the weight of all of the food.

Mom was usually fairly well bombed by that point, but we pretended not to notice.  That early in the day, she was still a jovial drunk.  Later, my sisters and I would start placing our bets on which family member would be the lucky one chosen for the annual Thanksgiving Day Fight.  By the time we sat down to eat dessert, it was a given that someone would be crying, someone would be shouting, and I would be shoveling in mouthfuls of pie in a frantic attempt at tasting them all before Mom declared the holiday over.

Her specialty was lemon merengue pie.  Tart and sweet, with creamy merenge that had nice crispy peaks, it was the perfect finish to any holiday dinner.  When anyone asked for her recipe, she shook her head and told us it was a “family secret”.

I never understood why she didn’t consider her own daughters “family” enough to share the recipe with us.

Before she died, I asked her for the recipe one last time.  She agreed that her lemon merengue pie was mighty fine and took the recipe with her to the grave.

I missed mom when I got married and she wasn’t at my wedding.  I missed her when each of my children was born, and I missed her at odd times of the day or night when I thought of all the things I wanted to ask her.  But I never missed her as much as I did on Thanksgiving, when I craved a slice of her lemon merengue pie.  I tried countless recipes, and my in-laws tried their own recipes, but nothing was quite right.

I had almost forgotten about Mom’s pie nearly twenty years later, when a small box on the grocery store shelf caught my eye.  My*T* Fine lemon pudding and pie filling.

My*T*Fine.

Mighty Fine?

No way.

No freaking way.

0007239233012_300X300I made a lemon merengue pie that night.  Mom’s lemon merengue pie.  My mother’s “secret” recipe was a box mix.  A cheap box mix. 

When I now make that pie at Thanksgiving every year, I tell my kids that it’s an old family secret.  And then I show them them the empty box of My*T*Fine and we all laugh.

And I keep the real family secret from them.  The one that made my mom get drunk and pick fights on her favorite holiday year after year. The same one that keeps me in my pajamas some days, and sometimes makes me cry for no reason.

Because Depression tastes a lot like lemon merengue pie.

Why I Filed for Disability

My Aunt Marian walked around on a broken leg for twelve years.

Unbelievable, isn’t it?  Before that happened to her, I had never heard of a non-union fracture.  I had no idea that something like that could happen.

Marian dealt with it.  Just like she dealt with RA, MS, GERD, COPD and colon cancer.  Oh, she complained about it; don’t get me wrong.  She was no hero who suffered bravely in silence.  We heard every day just how much she hurt and how angry and bitter she was toward the world in general, her nieces in particular.  She wasn’t a nice person before her body started falling apart, and years of constant pain did nothing to improve her disposition.

I was asked to speak at her retirement party, and I repeated a story that we had heard all of our lives.  Supposedly, Marian got fired from her first job, when she worked in the fields in her small town.  It wasn’t her fault that she lost the job; she was unable to work because the state mandated that she must stop working so she could start Kindergarten.

I assume the story was a bit of an exaggeration, but I also got the point of the story:  Go to work.

Marian was the youngest of seven siblings, children of an illiterate woman and a drunken jack-of-all-trades.  They were one of the first families in Allegan County to go on Welfare, and the youngest kids helped earn money by working in the fields and coming up with crazy schemes, like selling celery door-to-door from a battered little wagon lined with wet newspapers.

Dad drank like his father.  Lawrence and Don drowned together when they were 21 and 31.  The Girls –as everyone called the remaining four sisters—moved in together to pool their money and combine expenses.  Noni owned a beauty salon, Verna and Ida worked as secretaries, and Marian climbed the ranks of the Upjohn Company.   They scrimped and they saved and they taught my sisters and me the value of hard work.

If you don’t work, they seemed to believe, you have no worth.

I earned my first money in fourth grade, when I cleaned the neighbor’s house on Saturdays.  I was babysitting by the time I was eleven; at age fifteen I got my first waitressing job.  Later, I worked in fast food to support myself in college.  I often worked two jobs at a time, and even tried three jobs for a while during my twenties.  I have been an ice cream parlor hostess, waitress, babysitter, tutor, cashier, jewelry sales clerk, lingerie salesperson, secretary, hairdresser . . .sometimes, it seems as though I’ve tried it all.

I didn’t want to file for Disability.

When people see me, they see bad posture.  They see laziness, perhaps.  They see a woman who spends a lot of time sitting on her ever-increasing butt, a woman who is too lazy to hold her head up straight like the rest of the world.

What they don’t see is how hard I have to work just to keep my head upright.

Do me a favor.  Stop what you are doing for a moment and think about your head.  Is it staying up there on its own?  Or does it wobble to the sides and occasionally flop forward?  Are you able to hold it straight up and look people in the eye, or is it canted forever to the right?   Can you get through as much as a single minute of your day without having to focus on where your head is?

My neck, my shoulders, my arms, my upper back, my abs, my lower back . . . every part of my upper body must be tense, tight, on-duty 100% of the time.  Alert, working, exhausted.  All the time.  Every waking moment of every single day for the rest of my life.  Until the day I die.

And that’s just to keep my head up.  That doesn’t include the bolts of pain that shoot across my back and shoulders when I raise my arms for very simple tasks like washing dishes.  Lifting a pot of pasta to the sink to drain it.  Carrying a laundry basket up the stairs.  Walking to the mailbox.  Trying to sit on the bleachers long enough to watch my son’s football game.  Wishing I could tilt my head back far enough to see stars in the night sky instead of forever staring at the ground.

It’s not laziness.

I’m not asking the government to support me while I party.

I don’t spend my days sitting on the couch, eating bon-bons and watching soap operas.

I filed for Disability because I want to contribute to my family’s income like I always have.  To do so, I had to swallow my pride and devalue my worth as a human being.  Filing for Disability went against everything I was raised to believe, everything I was taught, every example that was set for me by the adults in my life.

None of that matters anymore, because I was denied.

When you see me in public, you don’t see me cry.  You don’t see the exhaustion caused by never-ending pain.  You see me talking and laughing and smiling, and you assume that I am just fine, that I filed for Disability because I am “milking the system”.  You can’t see my depression, my feelings of being a worthless human being because I am not working,  You can’t see what it takes just to get through a day, because some days my greatest accomplishment is just being alive by bed time. Because some days, all I can think about is that I wish that damn tree had been just a little bit bigger, fallen just a little bit harder.

Before you rant and rave about people “milking the system” and being on Disability when they don’t deserve it, stop and think for a minute.  Sure, you may see people out there who are “worse off” in your opinion.  Maybe you think you are “worse off”.

You have no idea what that person is going through until you are living it.

You know what hurts even more than my neck?  The comments that you all think I can’t hear.

I have pain, too.  I chose to work and live with it.

Why should we have to support you?

You could go back to work if you really wanted to.

Get over it.  You think you’re the only person who ever broke a bone?

Must be nice to be able to stay home all day and sponge off the government.

Oh, just cheer up.  You have no reason to be depressed.

 

Maybe I don’t deserve Disability.   But I do deserve understanding as to why I filed for it, and what I go through every day.  And maybe, just maybe, I deserve an ounce or two of respect for being stronger than you think I am.

Because some days, being strong is all I’ve got.

State of the Year

Today’s Daily Prompt was to write up a mid-year “State of My Year” post, and I have to say that I really liked this one.  I’m not very good at patting myelf on the back for my accomlishments, and I absolutely stink at setting realistic, concrete goals.  So it was nice to have a chance to do both today.

The first part of my year has definitely been productive, both in my personal life and with my writing.  I have accomplished the following:

  • Finished first rough draft of “Her House Divided”
  • Had my blog chosen for Freshly Pressed
  • Faced some fears (swimming, driving the Expedition)
  • Entered Writer’s Digest Contest
  • Joined Twitter
  • Joined RWA
  • Completed three RWA classes
  • Started writing poetry again
  • Lost 16 pounds
  • Acknowledged Depression and sought treatment

Goals for the second half of the year

  • Finish revisions on “Her House Divided”
  • Lose another 20 pounds
  • Complete three or  more RWA classes
  • Blog on a schedule
  • Reach 400 followers on  my blog
  • Get Freshly Pressed again
  • Sell a short story or poem
  • Have more fun

 

http://alienorajt.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/beasties-bcks-and-bullshit-detectors/

http://suzie81.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/now/

http://geekergosum.com/2013/07/29/state-of-geek-ergo-sum-address/

http://likereadingontrains.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/the-tri-state-area-daily-prompt-state-of-your-year/

http://alanaab.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/daily-prompt-state-of-your-year/

http://skillcode.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/2013-state-of-my-year-so-far/

http://huntressayin10.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/this-is-my-year-daily-prompt-state-of-your-year/

http://jruthjones.com/2013/07/29/chaos-panic-and-disorder/

http://georgeandnigel.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/daily-prompt-state-of-your-year/

http://whatisonsecond.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/aprons-and-kerchiefs-and-brooms-oh-my/

http://booksmusicandmovies.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/dp-now/

http://jitterygt.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/the-state-of-me-is-better-than-the-state-of-you-know-what/

http://indacampo.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/daily-prompt-state-of-your-year-now-in-the-campo/