A Little Light Reading?

I love writers who can make me laugh. And not just the ones who make me do the whole snort-and-guffaw-until-I-pee kind of laughter, although those are certainly near the top of my list. If an author can make me laugh and cry with the same book, well, that just turns me into a happy little fangirl, gobbling up all of that author’s work as fast as I can.

Authors like David Sedaris. Jenny Lawson. Jean Shepherd. Celia Rivenbark. Erma Bombeck (obviously).

So, I want to talk about an author I discovered a few months ago. I don’t usually do book reviews in my blog, but I sort of feel obligated to do one this time around because the last book I read really hit me pretty hard.

A few months ago, a friend recommended Only In America by Dominic Holland. He is a British author and stand-up comedian, and my friend knows how much I adore British comedy. And my friend was absolutely right: this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I laughed out loud in the very first chapter and kept chuckling right up to the very end. For the record, Jonson Clarke is now one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, EVER. Right up there with Mary Lennox and Ford Prefect.

I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to look at a baptistry without snickering, thank you very much, Mr. Holland.

I read The Ripple Effect next, and it didn’t disappoint. Eclipsed was wonderful too, although it left me feeling rather embarrassed for not realizing that Holland’s son is the actor who plays Spider-Man. I mean, c’mon. Seriously, I’m a recovering comic book addict; I got my start writing for “Amazing Heroes” magazine, after all.  (I’ve also never lost a round of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, so I should have made the connection.)

Open Links was next. It’s charming, and has all the elements that make Dominic Holland’s work so enjoyable: quirky characters, fast pacing, funny dialogue, and a happy ending with all loose ends tied up in a tidy epilogue. But this one also made me cry. I’m talking about a majorly ugly cry here, folks.  The moment I realized the truth about the character Marshall, I fell apart.

It didn’t end the way I expected it to, but it ended the way it should have ended, if that makes sense. Maybe a bit too neatly, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Besides, all proceeds from sales of Open Links go to a very worthy cause.

I, Gabriel is Holland’s most recent release.  It’s not really a comedy, although it contains some funny bits. I loved the evolution of Gabriel over the course of the story, even if I really struggled through the first part of the book. It’s written in  first person, and Holland does such an excellent job of writing from the character’s point of view that I had to stop and remind myself that these were Gabriel Weber’s thoughts and attitudes, not Dominic Holland’s. I actually found myself getting angry a few times and very nearly marked it as a DNF.

I am so glad I finished it, though. The ending surprised me, and that doesn’t happen often. Again, it ends with all loose ends neatly tied up, even a few loose ends that I had forgotten about.

All of this is my way of leading up to the fact that I downloaded A Man’s Life just before I left for my trip to Texas. A little light reading, I thought. Something amusing and maybe a bit emotional. A nice little beach read, I told myself, without bothering to read the book’s description on Amazon.

As it turns out, that was a mistake on my part.

This book should have a giant warning label on the cover.

A warning label in bright red letters.

A warning label in bright red letters that specifically state: Amy, do not read this book at this point in your life. You’re not ready. Put it back. 

Good lord, I need a hug after reading this book. Either that or a very stiff drink. Or maybe some chocolate. Possibly anti-depressants.

Where do I begin with this one?

A Man’s Life is the story of Tom Harper, a man whose seemingly perfect life comes unraveled in the wake of a devastating loss. His grief is so visceral, so believable, so real that it almost hurts to read. I recognized so many emotions and actions from my own family’s recent grief that it pulled me out of the story a few times; I actually had to put the book down and stop reading once in a while because it just hit too close to home.

I had to go back to it, though, because the character does more than just wallow in his grief, and Holland allows him to grow and heal in a unique way. Bit by bit, those wonderfully quirky characters come together for that trademark Holland happy ending — or at least, an ending that isn’t blatantly unhappy.

I’m glad the book didn’t have that Amy-specific warning label, because I would hate to have missed out on reading what has easily become one of my all-time favorite books.  It’s an incredible journey through grief — from horror to numbness to denial to acceptance and finally, to facing the future once more and even finding reasons to laugh again.

A Man’s Life is not an easy book to read, but it’s worth it. It’s definitely one that I’ll re-read a few times. It’s painful, but also inspiring. I finished it with a sense of well-being, a feeling that hey, it is possible to move on after losing a loved one!

If you’re looking for a new favorite author, I highly recommend picking up any of Dominic Holland’s books.  It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a good laugh or a good cry or just a fantastic story from a master storyteller, you’ll find it in his work.

So It Goes

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I drive past this tree on my way to work every day. Some days, I feel like I should salute it as a respected foe, and on others I get weird memory flashes of what it looked like when it was a complete tree. On bad days, I give it a heart-felt middle finger as I go past.

No matter what my reaction on that particular day, the fact remains that I notice the tree every single day. I see it. I am aware of it. If the day should ever come when the road commission removes what’s left of it, I’ll still be aware of it as “the spot where The Tree used to be.”

On stormy days, I drive out of my way to avoid it, which is awkward because the avoidance route takes me past my ex-husband’s house, the home I shared with him for eighteen years. Basically, that means I get to choose between the route that may trigger a panic attack or the route that may make me look like an obsessed ex-wife with a serious stalking problem.

Such is life.

It’s been five years today since the top of this tree landed on my kids and me as I drove under it.

This picture was taken four years ago today, when my family and friends gathered on the side of the road for a group prayer. My daughter stuck daylillies into the bark of that poor, dead tree stump and we all marveled at the fact that there were still pieces of glass mixed in with the dirt on the side of the road.

I love this picture. It combines ugliness with beauty, old with new, loss with hope. To me, it represents a new beginning. A fresh start. A second chance.

Such is life, right?

I have a little favor to ask of everyone who reads my blog today. Imagine that tonight, at 6:18 p.m., the top of this tree is going to land on you and change your life forever. Imagine that today —this day— is the last day you will ever have to be the person that you are right now.

What will you do? How will you spend those hours?

 

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.

 

Invisibility

The hardship I am most thankful for is the accident that changed my life in 2011. I know that probably seems a little predictable for me to choose that night when discussing hardships, but I’m not thankful for the reasons you might expect.

Sure, I learned that life can change in an instant. I learned just how precious and fleeting life can really be, and I learned how very important it is to always say “I love you” because you may never get another chance. I’m so thankful for the change in perspective I got that night. I mean, it should have been a ten-minute drive to the church and back. I’d done it every Tuesday night for years, and there was no reason to expect that this particular Tuesday night was going to be any different.

I’m not thankful for the four and a half-years of constant pain, or the downward spiral of job loss, divorce, depression, eviction, betrayal, and . . . where was I going with this?

Right. Being thankful for hardship.

I learned that life is too short to keep pushing my dreams to the back burner with the excuse that there will be time later. No, there may not be time later. Time is finite, and life can end with something as simple as driving past a maple tree in a thunderstorm.

If I hadn’t broken my neck that night, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten around to writing anything. My little romance novels may never sell well or make any kind of bestseller list, but they mean the world to me because they represent my lifelong dream of writing. I did it. I made it come true, something I may never have accomplished if not for life hitting me upside the head with a tree.

I wish life had been a bit more subtle, but it is what it is.

Still, none of this is what makes me so very thankful for everything that happened that night. That part is a little harder to explain.

Sometimes in life, I feel invisible. I’ve always been sort of average. I’m the kind of person who tends to blend in with the wallpaper if I’m not careful. In high school, I once missed two weeks of school and discovered that not one of my teachers had even marked me absent. No one noticed that I wasn’t there.

I’ve never felt important. Never been elected into office, never been anyone’s boss, never been much of a leader. Someone’s mom, someone’s wife, someone’s sister, but never the Someone  that is anyone else’s point of reference.

The night of my accident, I saw the look on the fire chief’s face when he recognized me. I watched the color drain out of his face and I heard the emotion in his voice when he kept saying, “Oh, no. Oh, no, no.” I saw the way no one else would look me in the eye.

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At the emergency room, it took a while for the x-rays and CT scan to show that I was beyond anything they could do for me at our little hospital. As they were wheeling me back out to the ambulance, I remember someone saying that there were some people in the hallway who wanted to see me.

I couldn’t see much because I was immobilized by the C-collar and backboard, but I remember faces. Lots of faces, leaning over to speak to me. Some were crying; one of my husband’s friends leaned over to kiss my cheek and I was surprised to feel his tears against my skin.

I thought at first that one of the firefighters had been injured as well. I figured the crowd in the hallway was there for him, and I panicked until my husband assured me that no, there were all there for me.

It’s been four and a half years, and I’ve never forgotten the way I felt at that moment when I realized they were there for me.

Me. Not someone’s wife, someone’s mom, someone’s sister. Me.

In the days and weeks that followed, I was amazed by the flood of cards and phone calls, of people stopping by to bring food and Diet Coke, or just to visit. People who came to clean my refrigerator or drive my silly butt to the Sav-A-Lot because I was going stir-crazy at home with nothing but my neck brace and a whole  lot of self-pity.

It’s been four and a half years now. I have a lot of bad days, especially since I seem to be going through a pretty rocky stretch of bad luck with things like cars, housing, and money. But at the end of the day, no matter how bad it’s been, I can look back on that moment and draw strength from it.

You see, that was the moment I understood that I matter. Sort of my own personal “George Bailey” moment, like in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, when George realizes that he’s really had an impact on the people around him.

I’m thankful for the accident because it showed me that I  am loved. That I matter.  That I’m not invisible.

 

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “The hardship I’m most thankful for…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, Reta of  Calculated Chaos and Vidya of Collecting Smiles

 

 

Feelin’ Groovy

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d probably have to toss you a to-go mug and tell you to try to keep up. My boys are coming home today, and I’ve got to be to work by 2:45, so my morning is going to be a whirlwhind.

Taking the time to write a blog post is probably not the best use of my time, to be perfectly honest. But that’s sort of what I want to talk about today.

We’re all busy. That’s just the way it is. It’s part of being a grownup. I work my two jobs plus some freelance writing and of course, I work on my books. I try to squeeze in a little bit of housework here and laundry there, and once in a while I have an extra ten minutes to unpack yet another box of stuff I probably don’t need but brought to the new apartment anyway. Last week, I also made cookies for the tailgate party at the school, and I managed to hem a pair of pants for one of the kids in the marching band. I even found a few minutes to throw some stitches into a baby quilt I’ve been working on for almost four years.

The baby I was making it for started kindergarten this year. At this rate, the quilt may be finished in time for her first child.

At any rate, I have been trying to settle into a routine. I’ve always been a morning person, so I’ve been setting my alarm a little bit earlier every day. I drag myself out of bed and try to check a few items off my to-do list before my day really starts. I’m usually up and functioning from 5 a.m. until I get home just before midnight.

Last night’s shift at the hotel was even busier than my personal life. I was alone at the desk on a Saturday night with a stack full of check-ins, a family reunion in the meeting room, and a mountain of laundry in the back. I was on the run the entire shift, delivering rollaways and cribs and extra blankets to rooms on the third floor, riding the elevator up and down in search of missing luggage carts, and answering phone calls from people who couldn’t understand why every hotel in town was booked up. I was busy folding sheets, making coffee, delivering pitchers of ice water, answering questions about the internet password, and resisting the urge to throat-punch the ridiculously loud inflatable ghost in the lobby that is going to drive me to insanity long before Halloween ever actually gets here.

It was around ten o’clock when the ladies from the family reunion gathered in the lobby and asked me to take their picture. They were laughing and handing me phones and cameras, and all of them kept shouting “wait!” or “hold on!” until finally one of the older women shushed them all and reminded them that I still had work to do, so would they please just quiet down so I could take their picture and go? Then she turned to me and said, “You really seem to have so much fun with your job.”

It knocked the wind right out of me.

She was right; I was having a blast.

I love what I do. I am good at customer service. I’ve been so caught up in the cycle of working and feeling sorry for myself that it never dawned on me that I’m actually having fun again.

I still miss doing hair. I miss the regular customers who came to me as kids, and for their proms, and for their weddings, and then with their own children. I miss my little old ladies who came to me for their roller sets every Friday for eighteen years. I miss the smell of perm solution and the tingle of bleach on my fingertips because I always hated wearing gloves during color services. I miss having that little nick between my first two fingers that I consistently gave myself at least once a week. I even miss coming home at night and finding those tiny pieces of hair in my pockets and sometimes inside my bra.

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Okay, too far– I do not miss the ones inside my bra. Especially not the ones that worked their way into my skin from time to time and became infected.

The point is I know I’m never going back. I’ve known it since six months after my accident. When the judge denied my Disability claim — and my appeals — I accepted the fact that the rest of my life will be spent doing something other than the job I loved. Just like I’ve accepted the fact that I’m always going to hurt, I’m always going to tire easily, and half of my left hand is always going to be numb. It is what it is, right?

Last night, those wonderful ladies made me realize that I’m having fun at work again. I’m not just punching the clock and earning a paycheck; I’m enjoying myself. My inner snob wants me to strive for something better than minimum-wage, second shift, entry-level stuff.  But my inner snob is kind of a jerk, to be perfectly honest.

I’ve been struggling all along to accept. Accept that my life is different now. Accept that my body has changed. Accept that I’m divorced and my kids are growing up and the world is changing faster than I can keep up; accept that life is flying by and I’m just along for the ride, hanging on for dear life.

I’m done accepting. I want to have fun again. I want to enjoy my time here on Earth, enjoy my friends and family and yes, enjoy the work that I do. So what if I can’t check off everything on my to-do list every day?

You know what? Give me back that to-go cup and let me give you my favorite mug with the seagulls on it. I’ll throw a batch of Jiffy blueberry muffins in the oven, and we’ll sit down at my grandmother’s old table and really talk.

It’s Sunday morning, the sun is shining, and I don’t have to be to work for a few more hours. Let’s enjoy today for what it is.

Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share.  Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!

The Best Medicine

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” – Kurt Vonnegut

The world needs more laughter. Even on the worst of days, even when the future is bleak and the present is worse, even when all hope seems lost . . . we have to look for reasons to laugh.  I know that laughter has never, ever solved a single major problem, but neither have tears. Especially not in my family.

We were devastated when Aunt Ida died. She was the first one of The Amoeba Squad to go, the first of the four sisters to go somewhere without her siblings. She’d been sick for ages; Aunt Marian often said that that Ida had “one foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel.” But still, her death rocked us.

Aunt Vernabelle took it especially hard, although I never really knew if that was because Verna was the most sensitive of the four or because she just really never liked Ida very much and felt guilty about that.  Either way, Verna’s grief was overwhelming. She cried non-stop for days; she cried herself sick and then cried some more after being sick. She couldn’t function.

It was during the visitation that Aunt Marian, the Head Aunt, decided that enough was enough. She turned on her sister and issued an ultimatum: Verna had twenty-four hours to get herself under control, or else. Now, no one was ever really clear on what “or else” meant, but the threat was sufficient to get through to Verna. She sniffled and sobbed and wept for the next twenty-four hours, but she also kept a running countdown: “I’ve got eighteen hours left to cry!” she’d wail. “Marian says I can cry for sixteen more hours!”

“The next time someone dies,” Marian grumbled after a while, “she only gets twelve hours.”

And we laughed. God help us, we all laughed, even Verna. That’s just how my family has always dealt with things beyond our control. We try to find the humor in humorless situations.

I’ve heard it said that humor is a defense mechanism, that a human smile is similar to the way a wild animal bares its teeth as a warning. Well, of course it is! I make the worst jokes and laugh the loudest when life is at its worst.

The night of my car accident, I had a wonderful nurse named Nadine. As I lay there in the Emergency Room, strapped to a backboard and immobilized by a C-collar, Nadine came in with a Shop-Vac to vacuum the glass shards off before cutting off my clothes. As I remember, she was quite enthusiastic about the job, very thorough about getting that glass out of every possible nook and cranny. And I do mean every possible nook and cranny. When she aimed the nozzle between my legs, seemingly in search of glass in the lining of my uterus, I let out a whoop and told her I didn’t usually allow such liberties without dinner and a movie first.

Poor Nadine didn’t know what to do. She burst out laughing, apologized, and kept vacuuming, although I’m pretty sure I heard her mutter something about not ordering the lobster.

Later that night, when they had realized the extent of my injuries and started preparing me for the ride to a bigger hospital, Nadine came back to put in a catheter. Let’s just be honest here: having a catheter inserted is not exactly a relaxing experience. It’s a major invasion of one’s private areas, and Nadine was definitely going for frequent flyer miles in my pelvic region that night. She had to keep telling me to relax, but by that point I was well on my way to a complete meltdown. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t cooperating.

“Honey,” Nadine teased, “would you spread your legs for me if I got the Shop-Vac again?”

For the record, no Shop-Vacs were harmed in the course of my recovery. But laughing at that moment gave me the strength I needed to get through the next few hours. It also made the ER doctor pause and peek into the room to make sure I hadn’t completely lost my mind. “I don’t think I want to know what’s going on in here,” he told us.

Here’s a simple truth about life: Sometimes, it really sucks, and there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can ever do to change that.  People die, people get hurt, and the world just keeps on turning. Our hearts may get broken, but they keep on beating. Sun comes up, sun goes down, life goes on.

We can laugh or we can cry. Or we can build a blanket fort under the kitchen table and curl up in a fetal position and do both, but eventually we’re going to have to come back out into the real world.

Might as well find something to laugh about while we’re at it.

And when I die, you all only get two hours to cry.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “The world could use more . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee,  Shelley Ozand Anna Fitfunner.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Ice, Ice Baby

One of the most challenging aspects of adapting to life with my new physical limitations has been learning to deal with fear.  Of course, I’ve got the kinds of fear that are to be expected after the type of accident I went through; nobody can blame me for freaking out during thunderstorms or losing control in confined spaces.  People understand when I tell them about the big fears.  It’s the little fears that make folks think I’ve lost my mind.

When the doctor took off that brace, he warned me about all of the activities I would have to avoid for the rest of my life. Horseback riding? Well, the horses of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief on that one. Speedboats? Not a problem, except when the Big Guy got carried away with the fishing boat.  Sledding, bumper cars, carnival rides?  Slight tremor there; I always liked that sort of thing.  Diving? Okay, I’m going to miss that one.

Then came the kicker.  “You’re going to have to be really careful about falling,” he told me.

Oh, Lord.  My then-husband dropped his face in his hands and groaned.

Here’s the problem:  I’m a klutz.  Always have been, always will be.  I have not ounce of physical grace or coordination.  You’ve heard the saying about people having “two left feet”?  Well, I’ve got three of them.  I’m forever stepping into holes or rolling an ankle, stumbling over nonexistent things, tumbling down hills.

I’ve lost count of the times I would fall into holes or down hills while walking with my husband, only to catch up to him as he stood there with a mystified look on his face, muttering “ . . . the hell did she go?”

So my heart sank when the doctor told me to be careful about falling.  Because of the location and sheer amount of damage done to my neck, I have to avoid anything that might have any kind of impact on my spine.  A simple slip on the ice or on stairs, for example, with a hard landing on my derriere, could do irreparable harm.

My first big fall happened about six months later.  I was rushing out the back door for something or other, tripped over the dog, and launched myself face-first into a snowbank.  I lay there on my belly for the longest time doing a mental inventory.

Can I move? Check.

Does my neck hurt? Nope.

Am I dead? Don’t think so.

Then why the hell am I laying in the snow? Umm. . . Dunno.

I got up rather sheepishly and headed back inside, feeling a thousand pounds lighter at the realization that a fall wasn’t going to kill me.  I lost a lot of my fear that day, but I still catch myself walking like I’m constantly on ice.  I stare at the ground and take tiny steps, avoid uneven ground, clutch at handrails as though my life depends upon it.

I move like an old lady.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made a vow to myself that at least once a week, I am going to do something that scares me.  Something that may seem small to others but represents a huge step for me, like posting a selfie online, or asking a very handsome man to meet me for a drink.  The selfie went well, Mr. Handsome said no, and I survived both.  (For the record, Mr. Handsome was very kind about it, so my feelings weren’t hurt at all.)

So last week, I faced my fear of walking on dangerous surfaces.  I walked to and from work every day.  Granted, it’s only about two blocks, and I should be embarrassed about all the times I was lazy enough to drive that far, but we’re not going to talk about that.  Not right now, anyway.  No, I walked on the slippery ice and uneven ground, through deep snow and bumpy driveways, and it didn’t hurt.  I skidded and stumbled a few times, but no biggie.

I made it over the big hurdle.  It’s the little ones that always seem to get me.

I got up early Saturday morning to make my trademark peanut butter no-bakes for a fundraiser that afternoon.  Of course, I was out of milk, so I bustled outside to shovel out my car, which I hadn’t had to bother with since I’d been walking to and from work.

I had a flat tire.

A quick text message to the ex and an even quicker prayer of thanks that I can still call on him for help, but there was still the matter of the milk for the cookies.  Well, I thought, I’d walked back and forth from the school for five days; why not a quick jaunt to the store?   Temps had climbed from sub-zero to mid-40’s, so it would be safer than it had been all week.

Or so one would assume.

I hit that patch of ice on the way home while stepping around a nasty-looking, slushy drain.  It must have been the only piece of ice that was still fully frozen.  I didn’t even have time to holler; feet went up and butt came down and I hit hard, right on the tailbone.  I felt that impact all the way up into my skull.  Exactly the kind of fall the doctor had warned me about.

Let me tell you, I sat in the middle of that road for a long time.   It hurt, but I was so surprised that I really couldn’t tell how much it hurt.  I just sat there doing the same mental inventory I had done before.

Can I move? Check.

Does my neck hurt? Well, yeah.

Am I dead? Don’t think so.

Hot damn.

I finally crawled over to the curb and hauled my slushy self upright so I could walk home.  I made my cookies, called in a few apologies to the people who were expecting me to work the fundraiser, and sat down to wait for the pain to kick in.  Which it did.

So today has been a slow day involving lots of ibuprofen and hot tea.  I ache in ways I can’t even describe; everything from the waist up is on fire.  But . . .

I fell.

I fell in the worst way possible.

And I’m still here.

Those little fears?  Getting smaller every day.

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Obviously I’ve never been afraid to accessorize.

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.

Everything Has Changed

maltese_iron_cross_009

 

“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.” – Goldie Hawn

 

I always wanted to be a writer. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first hero. I felt that God had given me something special; I was sure I had a gift that was going to make me a great writer someday.

I thought it was Fate.

Meant to be.

Then I grew up and realized that Fate wasn’t going to pay my bills. I took a detour that became a bigger detour, and then an even bigger detour. I got married, started a career, had a family, and decided that writing was a pipe dream. A cute little hobby. Something I might do again someday when I retired.

I barely missed it.

But Fate can be a real Bitch sometimes.

In my blog, I refer to my husband as The Big Guy because he is a tall, broad-shouldered man with a big heart and a capacity for greatness. When he became a volunteer firefighter in our small community, we very quickly became a part of the fire department family. He rose up through the ranks by doing the job well, not by campaigning or maneuvering for promotions.

So he was blindsided when small-town politics forced him to step down. He was hurt, as he should have been; those men and women were his brothers and sisters, and he felt betrayed. And while he is good at many things, forgiveness is not something he has ever mastered.

It was a bad time for everyone. We lost our friends, our extended family. He lost his sense of purpose, and I didn’t know what to do or how to help him. And in a town this small, there are always going to be rumors and ugliness when something like that happens.

Which is why I believe it was Fate that my car accident happened when and where it happened. One more mile, and I would have been in the next township. One more mile, and my life would have been in the hands of strangers, not his former “brothers.”

From underneath the maple tree, I recognized the chief’s voice right away, despite my head injury and pain. Of course I knew his voice. He’d gone through training with my husband, and they had served together for over a decade. He sounded calm, efficient, professional. The perfect chief.

When I called him by name, he got a funny look on his face.   He didn’t recognize me.

That was my first clue that it was bad.

“It’s Amy,” I told him. “Ken’s wife.”

His face changed then. He closed his eyes and lowered his head and said a few choice words that I don’t think I was supposed to hear. The calm, efficient professional fire chief was gone for a split second, and our friend –our family member – fought for control.

That was my first clue that it was really bad.

I learned later that when he turned away from me after that, he gathered his men and told them, “Everything has changed. It’s family.”

Everything has changed.

They would have saved anyone as efficiently as they saved me that night. They did their job, and they did it well. But I was their family. I was one of them, and I could see it on their faces.

One of the other guys, a Paramedic, told me later that he had been on a leave from the department while he debated quitting, but something told him to respond that night. When he saw my van with the tree on it, his first thought was, “Nobody survived that.” Then he noticed my skin tone and thought, “She’s nearly gone.” Then he looked at my face and thought, “Okay, God, I get it. I won’t quit.”

Everything has changed.

In the months following the accident, I tried to hug and thank every one of the men that responded that night. It was harder than you might think; it was nearly impossible for me to find a balance between thanking them for saving me and remembering that they hurt my husband. I didn’t want to betray him by letting them off the hook when he still hadn’t. Couldn’t.

While I healed, I started writing again. I wanted to write about what I had gone through, exorcise some of the fear and pain and sadness by using my God-given writing skills, but I just couldn’t.  Everything sounded melodramatic and overwrought. I tried to go back to my original dream of writing a Young Adult mystery series. I ended up writing fanfictions in which I put my favorite TV characters in cars and dropped trees on them.   I wrote poetry. I joined an online critic’s group and tried to feel like a writer.

Everything has changed.

I began to write a romance novel. The first thing I did was drop a tree on my heroine’s head and break her neck.

I started blogging. At first, I told funny, superficial stories about living in the country. Then I shared some more personal bits about myself. I talked about my accident, and my kids, and about losing my parents; I shared advice I had gotten from my Aunt Marian, and I even found a way to work in the phrase “whippoorwill’s ass.” I made people laugh and cry, and somewhere along the line, I started having fun again.

In an ironic twist of Fate, the Big Guy and I were falling out of love while the characters in my book were falling into love. He asked me for a divorce exactly three days after I typed “the end.”

Everything has changed.

“Her House Divided” is a dream come true for me. It is the culmination of my life’s dream of becoming a writer.  I did it; I wrote a book. I am proud of everything I put into it.

I can say that I am a writer.

And until yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to write next.   So of course, Fate just had to step in again.

Yesterday, at a time and place when I least expected it, I ended up face-to-face with the one firefighter I had not yet thanked. I hugged him, and he hugged me, and he told me about the chief’s words to his men that night: Everything has changed.

You know what?

He’s right.

Everything has changed.

I’m still a single mother and scared to death that I’m going to screw it up. I am still sad that my marriage failed, and I miss my husband. I’m scared of maple trees and thunderstorms, and I sometimes wake up screaming because I’ve seen the tree falling again in a dream.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But there are a few things I do know: I am a survivor. I am loved. I am stronger than I ever realized.

I know what to write next.

I have a story to tell, and I know how to tell it.

I’m ready to start the next chapter.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/prompt-que-sera-sera/

Facebook “Friends” and True Colors

I just spent two hours writing a blog post that I will never publish.  It was an angry post that ranged in tone from red-hot fury to frost-blue sarcasm.

It was called “Open Letter to An Idiot” and it was not nice.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  I used twenty-seven different synonyms for “idiot” and I droped the f-bomb thirteen times.

You see, I have just learned that some of my “friends” are annoyed by my behavior in recent years.   I put the quotation marks around the word friend because there are people involved who obviously have no idea what the word means.

I have talked too much about my car accident and about my lingering issues with pain.  I understand that now, and I wish I had been more stoic about it.  I am, after all, not the only person to undergo a traumatic event.  And let’s face it, there are a lot of people dealing with worse pain.  I’m embarrassed when I look back at some of my whining and I wonder that I haven’t lost more friends because of my constant complaining.

The night of my accident, I wasn’t thinking about getting sympathy or attention.  I was thinking that the sky had that funny green-yellow color that sometimes comes with tornado weather.  I was thinking that my children and I were going to die.  Later, when the storm was over and they were wheeling me around from ambulance to ambulance, I stared up at the violets, oranges and indigoes of the sunset sky and wondered if I would ever walk again.

Afterward, I guess I should have moved on better than I did.

My bad.

My angry and unpublishable blog post was prompted by a conversation that took place on Facebook yesterday between people that I had thought of as my friends.  They discussed my accident and my recovery at great lengths, and made quite a few jokes at my expense.  Apparently, these chums of mine decided to advance the theory that my accident never really took place.

I am lazy, they decided.  They called me an attention whore and speculated that I made up the whole thing as a way of getting sympathy and finding a way to get out of working for the rest of my life.  They voiced the opinion that I need to STFU.

Look, people are going to gossip.  I can accept that.  Hell, I’ve been caught gossiping a few times.  More than a few, if I’m going to be perfectly honest.  But I can’t even comprehend saying the kind of spiteful, vicious things these people said.  And right out there on Facebook, in a public forum for all the world to see!

In a conversation that showed up in my newsfeed.  On my page, where I could read every poisonous word they said.

I attacked them in my blog.  I lashed out at them . . . and I did the same thing I was accusing them of doing:  I mocked them in a public forum for all the world to see.

But I won’t publish that post because I want to be a better person than they are.

I know I’ve talked about my accident too much and I’m trying to stop.  Really, I am.  I realize that I can never heal as long as I keep dwelling on it.   It’s a hard lesson that I am constantly re-learning; for example, I recently shared a few details about it with a new friend, and regretted it almost immediately.  It’s part of my past, and it should have stayed there.  I dumped far too much on him when I should have kept it to myself, and I am afraid that I have done irreparable damage to a budding friendship.

I’ve whined a lot lately about pain because it’s aggravated by cold weather – and since Michigan is in the grip of something called a “polar vortex”, it’s really cold here.  I have had to go out into that frigid weather to shovel snow off the steps, and the combination of cold and overuse of shoulder/neck muscles has left me with a level of pain that is nearly blinding in its intensity.

Still, I should have been more considerate of others who are worse off.  I know that nobody wants to see a long string of negative, whiny, aww-poor-me status updates; I should have just put on the big girl panties and kept it to myself.

But to mock me?  To claim that I was never really hurt, to say that my accident never happened, to say that I am “milking” a disability claim because I am too lazy to go back to work?   That takes a special kind of person.  The kind of person I hope to never be.  The kind of person who cannot be my friend.  Not now, not ever.

Because this happened.

Whew!  Luckily, it's a figment of my imagination.
Whew! Luckily, it’s a figment of my imagination.

That’s Todd, holding my head.  Rey taking the picture.  Dave in the yellow coat.  Not a clue who the arm or butt belong to –Mitch, Brian, JC? — but the fact remains that it happened, and they were there.  And so was I.

The “friends” who are mocking me and suggesting that it never happened?  They weren’t there.  Not at the scene, not in the aftermath, and certainly not now.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/daily-prompt-colors/