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.

Two

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This is what’s left of the tree that fell on me in my van two years ago today.

The flowers are the daylilies my daughter used to decorate the trunk for the little prayer service we held at the spot one year ago today.

It was once a beautiful old maple, more than four feet in diameter at the point that landed on me.   The tree that stood beside it also fell in the big storm last week, and although that one had the decency to fall away from traffic, it still shook me up to see it lying there.  As my friend put it, “Your sister-tree fell last night!”

It’s been a long two years.  I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I thought, that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of good people, and that I can survive just about anything as long as I keep my sense of humor intact.

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I wanted to write something moving and deeply meaningful today.  I found a bunch of gory, shocking pictures that I was going to include with my post, and I tried to think of the right spin to put on the story.  I planned on using real names and really digging into every tiny detail of that night.

And then I saw my daughter’s Facebook post today:

On this day 2 years ago, my entire family’s life changed. June 21, 2011 is a date that will always be sketched into our memories, but now is a time to let go. Now is a time to reflect on the positive, rather than dwell on the negative of this day. For everything that happens, there is a reason and God would never give us anything that we couldn’t handle. If anything, we are stronger now in both life and our faith and I am thankful for that. I love my family, and although sometimes we fight and have disagreements, I couldn’t imagine my life any different.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

So let me close here with a couple of pictures and a word of thanks to all of the people who saved my life that night, and to the people who have saved my sanity in the two years since.  They brought food and Diet Coke, cleaned my kitchen, drove my sorry butt to appointments and just listened to me piss and moan on the bad days.  Most of all, they reminded me of the strength in friendship and laughter.

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The New “Normal”

Sometimes it seems like I’ve spent most of my life walking that fine line between wanting to be “normal” and wanting to be “unique”.

As a kid, I wanted to be normal and fit in with the other girls.  I wanted to be slim and wear the right clothes.  I wanted to have two parents and a home in a neighborhood that didn’t inspire contempt.  I wanted the cute “normal” boys to like me.   I wanted to have more than one page number after my name in the yearbook index.

At the same time, I was a theater student who loved being different.  I reveled in “borrowing” clothes from the costume department, or junk-shopping at the local Goodwill for outrageous accessories and one-of-a-kind fashion buys.  I made no secret of my involvement with the Repertory Theater, and was known to spout lines of Shakespearean dialogue at odd moments.

For the record, moaning “Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt” during gym class is grounds for detention.  Apparently Ms. Longjohn was not a fan of Hamlet.

Later in life, “normal” came to have a lot of different meanings, and I’m still not sure if “normal” is a good thing or a bad thing.

For my gay friend who lost his family because he couldn’t be “normal” for them, it was a bad thing.  They turned their backs on a funny, smart, loving guy because their version of “normal” meant “straight”.

Their loss.

For my niece, with her tattoos and piercings, “normal” means “boring”.  She is the single most creative human being I have ever met; she is quietly fearless about trying new things, and for her to be “normal” would be a tragic loss for the world.

But sometimes, normal is a good thing.  I have spent the past two years struggling to look and feel “normal” again.  I’d give anything to be able to stand with my head straight up instead of stuck in mid-nod; I would love to have just one day of looking “normal” enough to walk into a room without people giving me odd looks or asking, “do you have a stiff neck?”

“Normal” for me would be waking up in the morning after a full night of painless sleep, followed by a day of working at the job I loved.  On a “normal” day, I would come home with tired, aching feet and an occasional scissor-nip between the first two fingers on my left hand.  I might have a curling iron burn here or there, and sometimes my hands might be stiff from manipulating the marcelle iron.  I’d be tasting hairspray and my skin would reek of perm solution and peroxide, but I’d be content.

I had a purpose.  I’d accomplished something during the day.

The pocket full of tips wasn’t bad, either.

My “normal” day would have continued with supper with my family, griping because the kids didn’t help with the dishes, and probably panicking because somebody had forgotten to mention needing four dozen cookies for school tomorrow.  There would have been homework arguments, a bedtime battle with the five year-old, and quite possibly a little bit of closed-door time in the bedroom with the Big Guy if we both had the energy for it.

That will never be my “normal” again.

My new “normal” involves fighting off pain and self-pity at every turn.  A “normal” day for me now might be spent on the couch, popping Norco and applying heat to whatever part of me is hurting the most on that particular day.    Or it might be a day when the physical pain is a little less but the depression keeps me on the couch with a whole different kind of pain.

Sometimes, I have a day when I bake cookies and build a pan of lasagna and write two chapters of my novel, and I tell myself that the new “normal” isn’t all that bad.  Those are the days that make the other ones tolerable.

I want my kids to have a “normal” life, with a “normal’ mom.  One who can run around in the back yard with them and ride roller coasters at the fair.  One who doesn’t hold them back when we go places.  I hate the fact that people ask them “How is your Mom doing since the accident?”

But the one thing that is finally getting back to “normal” around here is my determination.    I have never been a quitter, and I have no intention of being one now.  That tree broke my spine; it didn’t break my spirit.  Bruised it, hurt it, knocked it out of commission for a while, but nothing permanent.

Last week, my daughter asked me if I want to have a gathering at The Tree to mark the anniversary of our accident, like we did last year.   “I don’t think so,” I told her.  “I’m ready to put it behind me.”

I’m ready to start getting back to normal.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/daily-prompt-normal/

Jump Out or Garden, Craven Fool

Daily PromptTurn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.

Since I am home alone most of the day, I had to ask for input for the Daily Prompt from my friends on Facebook, and I realized just how eclectic, smart and delightfully twisted my friends are.  Not only did I get words like “craven”, I also got what is perhaps the greatest Facebook comment ever made.  Ever:

I asked my staff to help. I said give me an adjective to describe yourself.  From them I got “Jittery” (Obviously too much coffee) “Bloated” (Didn’t ask) and “Flatulent”. I have since decided to leave early for court . . .

Bless your heart.  I had no idea lawyers were so funny.

Back to business.  The word craven immediately made me think of Lord Archibald Craven in “The Secret Garden”. But since it’s used here as an adjective and not a great character in literature, I had to look it up.

It means “cowardly”.

Good word.

It really does describe Lord Craven.  He is a coward, trapped by his own fears in a cold and lonely world of his own creation.  He is so afraid of having a crippled son that his fear turns the boy into an invalid; he is so afraid of losing another loved one that he won’t allow himself to love anyone at all.   He is distant and terribly alone, all because of his fears.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s the story of Mary, a young orphaned girl who is forced to move from her luxurious home in India to her uncle’s lonely manor in England.  Like her uncle, Lord Craven, she is withdrawn and cold, starved for any kind of affection.  She “adopts” an old, abandoned garden and as the plants grow and blossom, so does Mary—and so does everyone around her.

It’s a story of growth and healing, of the strength of the human spirit if only it is properly tended.

Every year, when I planted my garden, I thought of Mary asking, “Please, sir, may I have a bit of Earth?” And I’d smile and tell myself that I read too much, and to shut up and water the damn plants.

Two years ago, I didn’t get my garden planted because of my car accident.  I was in the hospital when I should have been turning the soil, in a brace when I should have been weeding, feeling sorry for myself when I should have been harvesting.    I didn’t get it done last year, either;  the physical work was just too hard.  Too overwhelming.

Too scary.

I’ve been a craven fool, a coward, so afraid of pain that I’ve given up.  I stopped gardening, swimming, walking the KalHaven Trail, playing outside with my kids.  I let my fear of getting hurt again stop  my healing.  I’ve let my spirit die alongside my garden.

My little garden sits there, untended, overgrown, abandoned.  Just like Mary’s garden when she first discovered it.

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The Big Guy says we don’t need  to plant the garden this year.  We can buy our tomatoes and cucumbers and green beans without all of the back-breaking work.  He knows I’m scared, and he knows the work will be hard, and he wants to keep me safe.

But he never read “The Secret Garden.”

He doesn’t understand that gardening isn’t about the harvest.  It’s about the growth.