My Clan; Scattered

Standard

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.

Advertisements

Lola

Standard

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’).

 

Mirror

Standard

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.

Standard

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.

Smudge

Standard

Imprinted in my brain is an image. An image I have tried to recreate with crayons and pencils to no avail. I’ve seen this image in my head for years. But only recently have I actively tried to unlock it. It’s no secret–no hidden meaning. It’s me.

A red smudge is at the bottom, like a gash, with one side sharply edged, almost harshly defined. the other side fades, ungathered, uncollected.

The smudge is at the bottom of a series of containers of some sort. They are all textured and off-angle, overlapping and cattywampus with no discernible pattern. They get progressively but not exponentially larger the higher up they go. I can’t tell if there’s a lid, or a lock, or a key or any way out. I can’t move the edges of the ones I can reach. But I know I can figure out how to make this work, how to get out. There’s a trick. I know there’s a trick. If I could just focus and if I’m smart enough I can solve this puzzle.

I can imbue the smudge with my essence and make it work on getting out. Sometimes it doesn’t want to get out. Sometimes the smudge is perfectly content to lay at the bottom of this shaft and hide. Sometimes the smudge craves escape so deeply it feels like crawling out of itself. Sometimes it’s helpless. Sometimes it’s strong. But always, always, it knows there is a trick that it hasn’t yet figured out.

The textures of the containers vary. Some are smooth. Some are woven like a basket and will snag at the edges. One is bumpy, feels like braille. Several are thorny, but it is possible to grip without being impaled on the thorns if you are mindful about placement. There are sandpaper rough textures and spongey moss-like textures. Temperatures vary from chilled, to warmish but a visual inspection will not reveal temperatures.

The smudge will coalesce. It will learn. It will reason and suss out the trick. It will get out. And then I will be free.

 

Dissection of a Beautiful Lie

Standard

Confused in my heart and in my head

if it’s you I miss or what I thought we had

Becoming myself without you

Backward looks are mixed

You never really loved me

I was always your charade

For years you fucking lied to me

Too closeted, too afraid

How can I miss what never was?

Was I  so fucking blind?

I should have known you weren’t mine

When you didn’t know my heart

I should have known you weren’t mine

I was muted from the start

You slyly mocked my soul

Said my work was pointless

Dismissive through control

For 20 years I loved you

Thought I wasn’t good enough

I never had a chance

I never had a clue

That I was always innocent

The fault lay all with you

You kept me far away

Built walls I couldn’t see

Ignored me every day

I laid blame at my own feet

Maybe I never loved you

Just the myth you deftly wove

Or maybe you really fooled me

Thought the joke was well-played

Mistaken your assumption

That I could not go on

I will rise above

Darkness has not won

My soul no longer stagnant

My spirit stretches wings

Light shines through my hell

I feel it strengthen me

I am

Rising stronger

Rising healed

Rising

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music Saves my Mortal Soul

Standard

Last night, I went to a concert. Not just any concert, not to me. This was a concert that I had to attend. And I had to be front row. Because this was a concert with two bands whose music has literally saved me. Sixx A.M. and Shinedown.

If you are not the kind of person for whom music is vital, you will not understand this. You will think I am ‘silly’ or possibly ‘crazy’. We have a fundamental, possibly insurmountable, difference. I am a person for whom the lyrics to a song are chronicles of life. If I cannot connect lyrically to a song, it will not speak to me. I may enjoy the music–the chords, the bass line, the rhythm–but the song will not become a part of me.

I got turned on to Sixx AM about four years ago. I had purchased Nikki Sixx’s book “The Heroin Diaries” a few years before that, but it had taken me that much time to work up the nerve to read it. I knew it would knock me back emotionally and I didn’t read it until I felt emotionally capable of handling it. When I did read it, I read it straight through without stopping, sobbing and screaming the whole way through. I’m sure my neighbors at the time thought I was crazy. I have a brother who is a heroin addict, and who has been for over 20 years. I detoxed him twice. There really are no words to express this horror. Nikki does a good job of exposing the depths of living as an addict. It has helped me come to terms with my brother–to understanding that he will literally do anything when he’s in an active addiction. I can’t help him. He’s got to do it alone. Plus, I have my own demons to fight.

Anyways, after I read ‘Heroin Diaries’ I bought the album. And fell in love with the intelligent, thoughtful, hopeful lyrics accompanied by a driving bass line (crucial to me) and solid hard rock. Then I bought “This is Gonna Hurt” which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of all time. I can, and do, listen to this album on repeat.  I bought ‘Modern Vintage’ and ‘Prayers for the Damned’ the days they came out. ‘Modern Vintage’ is musically diverse and compositionally complex, but not my favorite. ‘Prayers for the Damned’ is flat-out excellent.

The lyrics on all of Sixx AM’s and all of Shinedown’s albums hit me in the gut. They speak to me viscerally. I have wrestled with major depression for over 15 years. I have been nonmedicated, undermedicated, incorrectly medicated, and (with any luck) properly medicated. I have suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall off of a roof, landing on my head. Lyrics such as “I’m on the front line, don’t worry I’ll be fine, my story is just beginning…. I say goodbye to my weakness, so long to the regrets, and now I know that I’m alive” (Shinedown, “Diamond Eyes”) enter my brain and wriggle down to my heart, bolstering the spark of desire to keep going. When Shinedown sang “Fly From the Inside” last night, I cried. This song is one I played on repeat one night, one really bad night when I wished I could just go to sleep and never wake up again. This song, these lyrics, focusing on what’s next, the next open chapter, and learning to fly found inside me what I needed most at that moment. An ember, nearly out, an ember that warmed instead of cooled. Because of this band, this song, these words. brentsmith

Sixx AM has had the same effect on me. Songs that understand the dark, secret places nobody wants to acknowledge while simultaneously focusing on the hope of another day, the joy of finding a way out, the beauty of an act of kindness, or a smile, or a thank you. The first song of theirs that brought tears to my eyes was “Permission” off of ‘The Heroin Diaries’. ‘All of my devils are free at last, and all of my secrets revealed. And your permission is all I need to heal’. Gut-wrenching. Truth. In my case, the permission needed was from myself, and from my children.

And then I heard ‘Are you With Me?’ and everything changed for me. ‘Are you with me now, come back from the dead, you’ve been inside your head for too long. Are you with me now? Find the places that scare you, come on I dare you!’ This vocalized my reality. I was stuck inside my own head. I wasn’t living. How long had I been dead? How long? At least a decade. This song, these lyrics, opened a window in my soul allowing in more light, more air. Would I still struggle? Of course. Every. Damn. Day. But I was taking positive action. Gaining determination. Losing doubt. Losing fear.

On the same album, ‘Oh My God’ reminded me that the best way to feel better about yourself is to help others. ‘Oh my God, this is insane, how did it get like this, or has it always been this way?’ are words I have literally said over the years delving into seemingly unsolvable problems. I began sorting out what matters to me, what do I care about, what makes my blood boil that i want to tackle? Can I make a difference? Can I make a small dent in a huge problem? Can I help even one person–because helping one person may not change the world, but it is the world to that one person. I can. I can!

The latest Sixx AM album has several amazing, fighting songs that I have taken on as personal anthems. ‘Rise’ reminds me to keep going. ‘The Last Time’ strengthens my resolve to move forward, unguarded, walls down, open and aware. And that no matter what negative voices in my head tell me, I Was The Innocent. ‘Everything Went to Hell’ cuts me open, as one of the lines says, and is an unflinching reminder of the brutal way my marriage ended. (See my post on what would have been my 26th anniversary for more detail).

For all of these reasons, I had to be at the show last night. I needed to be there. I needed to look in the eyes of the men who created these songs, these words, these poems of my life without knowing they were doing so. And I did. I was on the front row, the rail. James Michael looked me in the eyes as I sang along with him, singing and dancing and releasing the pain, the past. Never before at a big concert like this have I felt so compelled to be there, to be at the rail. When I bought the ticket, I gave up coffee for several weeks in order to afford it (those who know me will understand this sacrifice–perhaps James Michael will as well, he seems to be a fellow coffee addict!!). My friend Megan and I arrived at the Tacoma Dome at 6:30 am to ensure that we were first. People said we were crazy. No. For both of us, this was a concert of vital importance on a personal level. Sixx AM and Shinedown delivered. With strength, beauty, and a powerful positive energy I value beyond measure.

Long live the day that I decided to fly.I am with me now. I am Rising. Because rock music reminded me of my inner strength.

 

**cover photo by M. Counts. Photo of Brent Smith by the author.