Memory Day

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It’s Memorial Day. A day to remember service men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty. As the daughter and granddaughter of servicemen, this day has a lot of meaning. I get it.  It’s a day of counting blessings, saying a special prayer for loved ones, and remembering that we live in this society because of those sacrifices.

But today, this day, is something else. It is my brother Matt’s 43rd birthday. I don’t know if he’s alive. He’s a heroin addict. I know that a few months ago he missed a court date in Portland, because they called my ex-husband’s house and left a message looking for him. My ex wasn’t going to tell me. One of my sons heard the message and let me know. Unfortunately they didn’t catch if it was state, county or city court. I was unable to figure it out (easily–I confess to not doing more than making a couple of phone calls). So he must have been alive at least recently enough to have committed some infraction.

I still remember him as the impulsive little kid he was before puberty hit his brain chemistry and everything went to hell. Before his ADD and Reactive Attachment Disorder and general “follower” style personality got him in trouble with the law, before his first prison stint at 18, and before he took his first hit of heroin.

I used to be the link between Matt and the rest of the family. He had my phone number. And address. I would get letters from him when he was in prison, and therefore clean. I visited him if he was within a few hour drive. If you have never visited someone in prison, you have no idea how awful it is. But then, when I was at  a really low and vulnerable place, right after I had left my marital home of 20 years, I let him detox with me. Twice. It did not go well. That’s an understatement. It was hellish. After I put him on a train, I ducked his calls. For a week or so, he was angry and called my phone every 15 minutes for several days straight. I knew he was using again. I turned off my phone.  I still do not feel strong enough to see him. Even when he isn’t actively using, the life he has had to live because of his choices have made him manipulative and I cannot be around that.

But today, I remember the happy little boy. I hope and pray that sweet soul still lives. And I wish him happy birthday.

 

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My Clan; Scattered

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Tribe. Clan. Words people use to describe those with whom they are sympatico… the group of people who share an interest, and an easy getting along. All my life I have stood on the outskirts of these groups, never quite belonging. Don’t misunderstand; I have friends in all kinds of different tribes. But I myself am not in the core of any group. This always kind of bothered me. I mean, where did I fit? I often became flippant about it, I didn’t fit, that was cool–I was far too unique to be in a clique. But it really wasn’t ok. I wanted to know where I belonged. In my darkest moments I figured I belonged nowhere. (thanks depression brain chemistry).

Jock. Nerd. Popular. Techie. Rocker. Artsy. Fashionista. Writer. Pundit. Intellectual. None of these labels fit. I can flirt with the edges, dabble and play, hold my own. But the fabric stretches, the seams awkward. These aren’t my clothes.

And then….I was explaining this to my therapist (yes, I have one, she’s awesome) and she casually says “that’s because your tribe isn’t colocated–you are all scattered, experiencing life.”  What a revelation. I’ve been pondering the rightness of this for a couple of weeks now. During that time, I went on a spur-of-the-moment road trip and sent a picture of myself to my best friends. One of them said “I love this picture of you in your element.” And I realized it was my element. Not the location, but being somewhere new and different and stopping in a weird place and the day not being the same. This. This is my tribe. My clan. The Wanderers. The Explorers. In another day and time I might have been a wandering minstrel (assuming I had different vocal chords–ahem).  I recognize those in my clan–we connect instantly. I just hadn’t realized how we were related. Now that I do, I am likely to recognize more. We’re out there, mingling and instilling awesomeness wherever we might be.

Some of you who know me best will probably shake your heads and say “no kidding, how did you not realize this about yourself?” But I didn’t. For far too long I let doubt and other negative demons hold sway in my head. They are now mostly banished. Or at least I can see them when they are coming so I can head them off. For me, though, figuring out I do belong when for all of my years I couldn’t find that place is almost a relief. I couldn’t find a place because there isn’t a physical place–it’s a state of being.  It isn’t a job or a function, it’s a freed spirit, an insatiable appetite to see all the things and all the places.  So excuse me. I need to renew my passport. I need to get out there and represent my clan.

Lola

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The first time I met Lola my dog Barney had just died. I was angry, angry with my parents for not saving Barney and angry with Barney for getting old. I loved Barney. Barney slept on my bed even though it wasn’t allowed. And now what? No dog on my bed. I had been as horrible as my 7 year old self knew how to be. I had shouted at my mom and called her stupid. I had stomped all the way to the front door and slammed it behind me. And then, I ran. As fast as my feet could take me, I ran for blocks and then veered off to the park. I was absolutely not allowed to go as far as the park all by myself. I was literally on forbidden ground and I should have been exhilarated with my daring, but instead I could not stop the tears from falling. It was the worst. A seven (and a half!) year old boy was not supposed to cry.

I climbed up the slide and sat, legs dangling over the side. I threw my head back and looked at the upside-down tree tops against the sky. It didn’t help. I was still really sad about Barney. I kept my head back until I felt kind of dizzy, then I sat up and slid down the slide. At the bottom I looked around to choose what to play on next. I couldn’t teeter-totter by myself. Merry-go-rounds were boring with one person. I ran to the swings and took the best one–right in the middle. I was pumping my legs as hard as I could when a girl came into view. I ignored her even though she was walking right at me.

“Hi, my name is Lola” she said and plopped herself on the swing next to me. “What’s your name?”

Couldn’t she see I didn’t want to talk? “Jordy.” Rudely. More pumping.

“I love to swing. Do you Jordy?”

I didn’t answer.

“It looks like you are sad.”

“I’M NOT!” If I yelled it, I would sound tough, not like a crybaby. I looked sideways at Lola. She didn’t look mad. She was just kind of looking at me. It was kind of weird. I drew my eyebrows together and looked forward. Not at Lola.

“Oh. I know what it’s like to be sad. It’s ok to be sad you know. ‘Specially if something really sad happened.”

Lola was right. It was really sad. Anyone would be sad.

“My dog Barney died.” The words barely came out.I wasn’t even sure I had said them out loud. But Lola heard them.

“That’s really REALLY sad. Dogs are the best. I bet your dog was your best friend.” Lola was swinging and not really looking at me anymore. That made me feel better. If I had to look at her, I might get more upset.

“Barney was my best friend and I’m really sad and mad that he died. And I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.”

“Oh” Lola said. “OK.”

For a little bit we both pumped our legs and were quiet. I was thinking about Barney and about how empty it was going to feel in my room. I started pumping my legs as hard as I could, making the swing go as far and as fast as I could make it go.

“Wanna see who can jump the farthest Jordy?” I looked over at Lola; she was pumping her legs hard too, her head flung back eyes wide open, dark hair streaming behind her. She had a hole in the left knee of her Toughskins jeans. She grinned at me, eyes bright and full of mischief.

“Come on Jordy–it’ll be so fun! It’ll be like flying. Let’s just jump. I bet I can go as far as that bush there” Lola nodded at a plant almost to the merry-go-round.

“No way.” Interest was creeping into my voice, even though I didn’t want it to.

“No way you won’t jump or no way I can go that far?” Lola’s expression taunted me.

I snorted. “No way you can jump that far.”

“Watch this!” Lola shouted as she flung herself out of the swing as it reached it’s apex. Her arms stretched as wide as she could make them, legs gyrating wildly as if she could pedal the air. She landed in a heap. Not quite to the bush, but she went really far. Triumphant, she turned, hands on her hips, chin raised and smile enormous.

“Now you go Jordy!”

I was still pumping my  legs hard, but the anger had gone from my muscles. Still, I wanted to fly. And, I wanted to fly farther than Lola had. I dug deep in my swinging and counted backwards “3!!….. 2!… 1!” and on the one I let go, expecting to launch myself into space, and fly, ever so briefly.

But it didn’t happen. I had forgotten that I had wrapped my other arm in the chain and instead of flying, I crashed. Hard. Did I scream? I don’t know. I remember mom being there looking scared. I remember dad driving really fast to the hospital. And I remember hearing mom telling the doctors I was really sad about Barney which I didn’t think was any of their business.

My arm broke in three places. I had ripped most of the skin off of my knees, nose and chin. I had a really bad headache. I don’t remember much about the next few days, but the scars on my hands, knees and face remain. After a few weeks at home, I remembered Lola and asked if she had been there. My mom and dad didn’t remember seeing her. I guess she had run off.

_____________

When I was twelve, my lack of athletic ability made me a target for the jocks. My lack of trying academically kept me out of the limited protection of the nerds. I was the invisible boy, unless a jock needed to make his entourage laugh. Then I wore a neon target. Apparently. It had been a neon target kind of day. My shirt was torn and my head bruised from a ‘noogy’ gone awry. When Mr. Jansen, a history teacher, had come out to see what the noise was in the hallway, all the jocks had vanished. I replied with a sullen “Nothing.” when Mr. Jansen asked me what was going on. It wasn’t worth the effort to try to explain. Nobody would take on the popular kids, and it would just get worse for me if I did.

Somehow I made it through the day. I wouldn’t go back to my locker because the dumb guys might be waiting for me. So instead I got zeroes in three classes for not bringing my books to class. It was  worth it. I didn’t really care about zeroes. Or class.

Walking home that day, I kept my head down. There was no gaze I needed to meet. That’s how I collided with Lola at the corner of Third and Young.

“Oh!” she exclaimed as her bag fell amidst my books.

“I’m sorry” I stammered, failing miserably in my attempt to neatly gather everything up. She knelt beside me stuffing her belongings into her bag and then paused, looking at me. “Hey. Do I know you?” She was studying me far too closely for my comfort.
“Doubt it.” I stole a glance at her. She was familiar too. Unbidden, my brain racked through female faces and landed on “Lola?”

She tilted her head, questioning, and then recognition lit her eyes. “Jordy! From the playground!” She stood, her bag reassembled. I stood also, my books in an untidy pile. Lola laughed and smiled, insisted on walking with me–she grabbed my hand and pulled me along, chattering nonstop about her friends, her classes and how she still liked to jump off swings. I listened, not wanting to like her, but I did. She was easy to listen to, and even cared what I had to say. We got to my house and Lola wanted to come in. I wasn’t sure how my parents would take to me suddenly bringing over a smart, pretty girl. In all honesty, I didn’t want to have to explain Lola. So I said no. Lola shrugged and waved merrily as she half-skipped down the street.

The next day, though, Lola knocked on my door after I was home from school. I was alone, and I let her in. I even let her come up to my bedroom and we talked and listened to the radio. She looked at my books and had even read a lot of them. She snuck out when I was called to dinner, understanding that I didn’t want to explain her presence.

Lola came over every day after school for several months. It was like having a best friend. She went through my clothes, picking out the ones she thought were good colors for me. I showed her my collection of knives, terrified she would think I was a freak for liking them. But she didn’t! She thought they were cool–even came outside to throw them at the tree like I did. I also showed her the scar on my arm from the playground jump. She wasn’t really concerned about that; called it a ‘battle scar’ and said it was a sign of being a man. She made me feel good about myself and like I actually mattered in the world. She was always there. But then one day, she didn’t knock on my door. Not the next day either. Nor the one after that. I thought I should be more sad about not talking to her, but weirdly I just wasn’t. And soon, I exiled her to memory.

_____________

I didn’t see Lola again until my last year of college. Walking across campus, late as usual, I noticed a woman–a pretty woman–watching me from a bench. She had no books or backpack, a quizzical look on her face as she tracked me across the quad. I recognized her, but couldn’t place where I knew her from–I figured it was one of my classes.

I was mistaken.

Several days later, after midterms, I went to a local cheesy dive bar to mull over how I thought I had done on my exams and papers–not well. The pretty woman was there. I noticed her right away, but women like that don’t pay attention to guys like me. Still, she seemed kind of familiar, and this tugged at my brain as I pulled up a bar stool and ordered a drink.

I thought I was being subtle, watching her in the mirror behind the bar. She knew it though,  she knew I was watching every move she made, from the casual flip of her sleek, black hair, down the length of the lustrous onyx dress that hugged her curves in a most dangerous manner along her stockingless, muscular leg, to her shapely foot, upon which dangled a black stiletto pump. She knew. The slight upward curve of her lips let me know she was aware of my gaze and it amused her.

She pointed her toes and snapped the shoe back into place, slid off her stool and walked over. No. Walking is not the right word. She…sashayed. Her eyes were fixed on mine as if I were her prey. And I was. Willingly. I stared. Her lips were moving. I frowned slightly. I couldn’t hear what she said.

“Jordy?” Her voice rang clearly now. How did she know my name? My befuddlement must have been plain on my face. “It’s me, Lola!”

As recognition dawned on my face, a smile lit up hers. She laughed, a warm, musical sound that echoed across the years, bringing back memories of afternoons in my room, and that one afternoon on the playground. She sat on the stool next to me. I asked if she wanted a drink, but she only wanted ice water. We sat there for about an hour, just catching up. Mostly me talking, answering her questions. She was still a really great listener. And I still really loved having her listen.

When we left the bar, Lola walked next to me, as naturally as if she had done so for years. She tucked her hand into the crook of my elbow. It was like we were a real couple! I wanted to walk her home, but when we got to my apartment she asked if she could come up. I shuffled my feet and tried to think of what to say. I did not have guests and I certainly did not have beautiful women over. I tried to view my place through the eyes of a stranger. I couldn’t figure out how to tell her no without sounding like a hateful troll. Lola squeezed my arm and said “I swear, I don’t care what your place is like. I’m just glad we found each other again.”

I relaxed. Well, as much as I relax. I had to admit it was amazing having Lola around again. She made me feel as if all my crazy thoughts were normal. She didn’t judge. We sat up for hours talking, and when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, we crawled into bed together as if it were perfectly normal. She wrapped her arms around me and I succumbed to her hug. The tears began-I was ashamed for a moment, but Lola just gently stroked my forehead and whispered “It’s okay” over and over. Then I gave myself over to her, I allowed her to see my deepest self, the person I hid from the world, embarrassed by my own existence. She was not repulsed. She was not shocked. She simply held me closer. When I let Lola have control, I no longer felt awkward and stupid. I felt as if all were right in my world. My self-contained and secret world.

Staying in Lola’s embrace, I reached over to my nightstand and slid the drawer open. I reached in and pulled out my protection. Lola gasped and smiled, she knew I would do whatever she asked. She took my hand and together, we prepared. Her touch was firm, yet gentle. I was fully loaded.

“Give yourself to me” she whispered and pressed her lips to my temple.

“Lola” I breathed as I put my 9 mm under my jaw, angled back towards my brain. I pulled the trigger.

******************

 

The chapel was empty save a woman in her forties sobbing. Despite her grief, she remained in control. The priest approached her from behind, hesitating slightly before placing a hand on her shoulder in comfort. The woman half-turned her head.

“Thank you Father” the woman spoke, vestiges of tears in her voice. “Jordy was always so troubled, you know? When he was just a boy, remember when our dog died? He threw himself off the swingset–I saw him. It was a miracle he didn’t break his neck. And then later, when he stayed in his room and refused to leave for two months? I thought when he made it through high school his depression was behind him. I was wrong.”

The priest nodded as the woman spoke. “Depression is a terrible thing. I don’t think any of us who loved Jordy knew he had a gun. Or that he was fretting so much over his grades.  Did you ever find this Lola he wrote about?”

The woman shook her head. “No. Perhaps we never will.” She collapsed into tears, the priest held her, whispering prayers.

__________________

Author’s note: Depression affects some 15 million adult Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If you or a loved one suspects you have depression, please contact a doctor or mental health provider for help.

This is a story inspired by the songs “The Wolf is At Your Door” and “The Girl With Golden Eyes” by Sixx A.M. “Wolf” can be found on “Prayers For The Blessed” and “Girl” on “The Heroin Diaries”. I was taken with the line “I met my assassin, I even held her hand” in ‘Wolf’ and merged that idea with the anthropomorphization of heroin in ‘Girl’. I did the same thing here, anthropomorphizing depression as the character Lola. (Lola means ‘lady of sorrow’).

 

Western State Cemetery

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I am not afraid of the dead. I love cemeteries, the older the better. I find them peaceful and if there are restless spirits, they likely belong to the living. A visit to an old cemetery is my idea of time well-spent.

Near where I attended high school is Ft. Steilacoom park and within that park is the cemetery for Western State, a hospital for the mentally ill. Buried in the cemetery are over 3000 patients, their graves originally marked with numbers to spare the families the ‘humiliation’ of mental illness. In high school there were dares to go to the cemetery at night–visions of deranged ghosts in teenage minds. I was never afraid. I thought the falling down, grown-over stones in the moonlight were beautiful.  I didn’t know that in the early 2000s a group called Grave Concerns Association had begun the work to match up names to the numbers and mark the graves more fully.

We have come a long way from the days that Western State was named Insane Asylum of Washington Territory (for the care of insanity and idiocy). But still, there is stigma attached to mental illness. This cemetery was utilized from 1876-1953. I was struck, as I wandered around, how many woman were buried there. That even with the matching project, many of the deceased had incomplete records, such as a date or even year of birth. I saw a couple marked with “Indian.” I wonder how many of the ‘insane’ were depressed, or anxious. Or if their insanity was being not white. First homesteader of Des Moines, WA John Moore is buried here. He had Alzheimers. There is a Civil War Veteran. I wonder if he had PTSD.

The entire time I was aware that had I been alive during that time, I would likely have been a patient there. That one of these gravestones could be mine. It renewed my commitment to be open about my struggles with depression and to continue to belligerently insist that mental illness be openly discussed. It is not shameful. It is not something to be embarrassed about or to hide. It simply is.

Please peruse the gravestones I photographed.

Mirror

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Dozens of tiny white scars surround my nose and mouth
Invisible to all but me
A larger zigzag scar
Lightning boltish
In the middle of my face
When gravity won

Deeper slashes
Thicker white lines
Mark my belly
Surgical remnants
Of life

Quarter inch white gash
Tear repair
Permanent reminder
Of balance lost
And life divider

The mirror shows me all of these
But cannot show me the
damage
of
neglect
Being ignored
Voiceless
Scars on my body tell a story

Scars on my soul mark
Where my story didn’t end.

Violated. Betrayed. Pfft. Rising.

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2017 is off to a less than stellar start. After spending several wonderful days with my sister and her extended family on the Oregon coast, I returned to work today to find that a coworker has complained that I get preferential treatment because I have a flex schedule to accommodate weekly doctors’ appointments for my chronic depression, traumatic brain injury and (latest addition) ADHD. A doctors’ note will put this to rights yet I am annoyed that a colleague would first of all have an issue and secondly then tell our HR that I “don’t really have any disability.” It’s a problem many with ‘invisible’ disabilities face, but this is the first time I’ve had it smack me in the face like this.

And then mid-morning my housemate called, upset. She did not have work today, ran out to do a couple of errands and came back to find the front door kicked in and cash and gift cards stolen. The police were called. Evidence collected. The door frame repaired thanks to a handy brother. The house was not ransacked–hinting that the burglar knew where the cash was hidden. It doesn’t really matter. The fact is, somebody felt that they had the right to break in.

It’s only the second day of the year.

And so while I could wallow in betrayal and violation–because these instances are serious occurrences– I will not. I will not allow a petty, bitter person to steal my joy. I will not allow someone bent on vengeance take my peace.  As a dear friend says “They throw rocks at things that shine.” I will not allow my shine to dull. I lift my head and I continue on my journey, more determined than ever to Rise. To Create. To Love. To Live Ferociously.

Breathe

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Rhythmic. Nearly monotonous.

Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Rise and fall.

Simple. Unthinking.

But you can not; you are not.

I want to give you my breath. I have plenty. Take it. Breathe my breath. Fill your lungs. I will do it for you, forever for you.

Breathe me in so I can breathe for you.

Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Rise and fall.

If you will not take my air, my breath

Then I want it not

If I cannot breathe for you, I don’t want to breathe for me

Cursed lungs that never cease

The breath never stops

Rise and fall. Rise and fall.

Except yours did.