Amongst the Redwoods

AMONGST THE REDWOODS

Redwoods, massive trees
largest in the world
living their lives in special ecologies
Redwoods lush, moist, raindrops glisten
about me as I make my way through the ferns
loamy and scented in richness of pine.
Muir Woods, walking Cathedral
a path winding through redwoods
and a glistening stream,
protecting trees from the damages
too easily caused by humans.
Languages of many lands surround me
leaving a stillness caused by
incomprehension. Once spread
through Northern California’s coastlines
to be deforested as humans
required wood for housing –
monuments born before Jesus’ time.
If I could choose where to live,
it would be in that house
cossetted among the trees,
protected for eternity.

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Housesitting at Diane’s

HOUSESITTING AT DIANE’S

While living in Northern California I tried a number of jobs, one of which was House/Pet sitter. The nights were Dark where Diane lived. There weren’t any street lights and house lights were shut off early in the evening around their place. One of Diane’s dogs slipped out of her collar when I took them for last call late in the evening. She went out from the yard and went awandering. So here am I trying to catch her and the yard across their dirt road had a 6 foot deep draining and being not used to the area, chasing the dog, I fell into that ditch. Both dogs were staring down at me and it took some doing to crawl out, especially as I was scraping at loose gravel. In fact, I kept falling back and was while her dogs are sitting on top laughing their asses off. I swear the dogs were laughing. And while saying “FUCK” alternately with a little prayer sent up this little, little voice –help me please god somebody help me?? It took what seemed like, and probably was, 20 minutes to get out of there. Other times I fell down their porch stairs at least twice. One night they removed the cushions from the couch and chewed thhuge holes and chunks of stirofoam! By the end of the week I could hardly walk and was rethinking this plan to be a house-sitter.

The Right To Choose Suicide

THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE SUICIDE

Suicide evokes such a rash of feelings and jumble of thoughts in me. Nothing is easy in this arena. I have always been a firm believer in a person’s right to choose the time of their death, and in the past couple of years, I have been examining those values as my personal health issues have made me increasingly aware of my mortality.

When I was in college, my parents owned a residential home for the elderly. One of the women in the home, Marjorie, was a quiet woman, someone who held her own counsel. She shared the bedroom with another woman and we rarely heard her speak. It wasn’t that she was shy necessarily; just that she had an economy of language. She had been in the home for several years when she found out she had inherited a disease from her mother. The disease caused a slow and very painful death. Marjorie refused to accept those terms. She waited until she had a full prescription of her sleeping medication. During the two days before, she quietly went to each person in the home and let them know how much they meant to her. Then, she swallowed the entire bottle. When we woke the next morning she was gone, but she looked peaceful and had the trace of a smile on her face. We all respected her decision.

I fear I may develop dementia as my father had. I have no qualms about choosing to end my life before it gets too bad or I become a burden to my family. My children have a right to their own lives and having worked in Memory Care units and private duty care of people in the early, mid, and late stages of dementia, I know I don’t want a life like that. It’s a very hard, often long, way to go. I want my family to know me in better ways even though, as my daughter said, God will not except me in Heaven. To which I replied – then I will fertilize flowers right down here.

Thoughts on Mao and Deng

THOUGHTS ON MAO AND DENG

While reading about the exploits of Mao, and then again Deng Xiaoping, my mouth kept dropping open in sheer disbelief. It is hard to believe someone could be as deranged as either of these men and not get stopped. Totalitarianism, as the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience states, happens when a “government forcibly suppresses political, religious, or social belief” other than its own. But this was not suppression against other people, as Mao did in Tibet, this was against his own people.

The figures are staggering. In the Epoch Times article of July 24, 2007, David Kilgour, reported that 70 million civilians were killed during peace times, more than any leader of the 20th century. Most of us know about Mao’s brutality toward Tibetans . . . at one time over half of all males were in forced labor camps, dying from the work and starvation.

What we may not know about are the atrocities he conducted on his own people. I know there is evil in the world – I just didn’t know it could be that bad, or that he would do this to his own, cutting his nose off to spite his face. Thirty five million Chinese died from starvation during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward initiative. The Laogai concentration camps were spread across China.

This sociopath knew what he was doing was horrible because he hid the extent of it from both the Chinese and the outside world. Then, in 1975, during a private conversation, Mao admitted that China was the poorest country. When Mao died and Deng Xiaoping took control, his nightmarish control was just as bad. Of course. there is a bit of comic relief, Newsweek, in an article by Matthew Philips, reported that China has banned the act of reincarnation except by a strict path detailed by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Its end result is to crack a wedge between Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

The mother in me wants to go there, from one person to the next, and apologize for not knowing, for not acting, for not healing. I hope I never forget that.

If Confucius could fast forward to see the country he was so instrumental in creating, what would he think? His craft was in creating order out of chaos, and he did it brilliantly. He provided a form and structure that could regulate society, that both individuals and governments could adhere to.

Over the past 60 years, the combined efforts of Mao Tse-tung and then Deng Xaiping have laid the country bare, destroying both the people and the land. Both were sociopaths on a grand scale.

Mao set out to conquer Tibet through the annihilation of the people, forcing
censorship and servitude. But that was another country which doesn’t make what he did right but it is somewhat understandable. What is much harder to understand were his actions against the people he ruled.

Confucius provided rituals and traditions that served as stepping stones to understanding. Mao and Deng were like Stage 5 hurricanes, destroying all in their wake. Confucius might have bowed his head in shame and disbelief.

Maintaining a Presence in the Blogosphere

 

Emptiness, an unfathomably deep hole where all creativity falls…
Sometimes participating in the bloggo sphere takes so much of my time there is
no space for writing. And because of my brain trauma, sometimes there just ain’t nothin’ ‘dere mates.

Once I received a comment saying the person used to come all the time to read my words but there just hadn’t been any for a while and he/she was disappointed. I panicked. What can I say? Do I pull something from the past? Do I have any creativity left? I don’t want to waste anyone’s time reading what doesn’t have value.

Plus, I have a life that extends beyond my writing. I mean, where does my writing come from? …..my life. Even though my family doesn’t generally read my writings, I am leery of sharing the stories which we are all in. And there are plenty… Although I can write this – what do you do with a cat who insists on climbing into my lap and head butting to show he loves me every time I get on the computer? Then putting his paws on the keyboard because he has something to say too. God forbid he learns how. The secrets he knows, I just don’t think are sharable.

I have been (hopefully) upgrading my blog; creating pages, trying to put archived writings in their appropriate pages. It takes a long time and I still don’t know if I’m doing it right. Please let me know if you see I am missing the mark.

Please be patient, friends of mine. This blog means so much to me. But connecting to your blogs and reading what your heads and hearts produce means a great deal as well. And often I am so humbled and ashamed of what I have to offer, in comparison, that I freeze. I hope to be a blogger and reader in the bloggo sphere for a long time to come.

Setting the Record Straight

Setting the record straight

My daughter recently asked for more information about the years when addiction to prescription drugs had me in its jaws. My paranoia ratcheted up – was she going to build more walls between us? Accuse me yet again? Would she use the material to push me further away? I feel the loss of her love, the loss of a child before it was destroyed by memories of dark times. What do I remember? ( Please understand I don’t remember everything because of the drugs and the TBI) Crushing depression, manipulation, arguments with my mother and theft from her accounts. At times a total incomprehension of responsibility, of providing enough support for my children and myself.

Days upon days in pain, when I could not get off the couch. Driving my daughter and her friends while pills sloshed around in my stomach, seemingly weekly Doctor visits. Going to bed one Day and waking two days later to the incessant calls from my daughter to pick her up from work. I couldn’t walk much less drive. Driving my son and daughter to activities in no shape to operate a vehicle.

Of seizures followed by hope and a teenager’s anger of betrayal. Of other people parenting her when I could not. And of other people not trusting their children at my home. And her embarrassment.

Of negating the parenting of my son because he was so hard for me to control. And letting him live 3,000 miles away, raised by members of his church because his dad spent his time at his girlfriend’s and not checking to make sure he had a safe and nurturing life. I didn’t know this at the time. Not until I was a few years sober.

Of a letter jacket showing up on our doorstep – one I should have gotten myself. My daughter was one of 3 people in the history of Gilbert School, and likely the only girl, to ever earn 12 Varsity letters with no jacket to put them on. In an over 100 year old school. I just couldn’t think of it.

Of my daughter developing anorexia due to the stress of holding herself together, working so very hard for her education, and coming home to care for me. Her stress of living with a pill head mother. Her grandmother and aunt moved to take action before I did. I was too scared of what was happening. . . maybe too oblivious. I don’t think that was it. I just didn’t know what to do. I talked to her doctor but didn’t know how to take
action. And I was scared to death for her.

Of tears, an ocean’s worth, of self-pity, abysmal self-esteem and pain. Of confusion. I just didn’t know what was happening to me, to her, to my son, and my family life. Life was too painful to live. I wanted nothing more than to die. And almost did.

Sending Tasha, my dog, back to my ex’s because he wouldn’t agree to euthanize her when she was in so much pain, when I had to carry her outside to go to the bathroom. Then so upset when she spent her last two years in the garage because she couldn’t control her bowels in the house.

Not having a proper bed or room for my son when he came to visit. I could have gotten him a futon. I should have given him a home.

Understanding after the fact the guilt Alex felt for leaving my daughter with me when my son was no better off with him.

Of stripping my daughter of her summer vacation plans when my summer was spent in recovery. Being told I was an addict and my agreeing “Yep, that’s me” . And through it all, trying to get help but not being able to because the medical conditions that got me on pills where too severe for rehabs and hospitals to want to risk their reputations on.

I was in intense physical pain all the time and all over my body – inside and out. I wanted to commit suicide many times but was tethered to my kids. I wouldn’t do that to them. My ancestors were rife with all manner of abuse – I didn’t want it to continue.

I wanted so much to be there for my children but I was exhausted and there were days working as a library cataloger, teacher’s aide or caregiver. I wanted so much to be well. I even went to a meeting but felt judged by my friends. It was I judging myself. I felt like a worm and when I was outside I would pick up worms on the pavement and put them on the grass – I must have saved the same worm 100 times.

You have to understand – I was on oxygen, grossly overweight. I hated myself and knew you were embarrassed by me.

I went to my daughter’s soccer games. It had been her life since pre-school. It was her soul. But I always felt shunned by the women although Lynn took pity on me and let me sit by her. I went to my son’s as well, but
his coach belittled him and he gave up soccer for good.

Basketball had never appealed to me, so I didn’t go to the games. I knew no one there. The women sat there clipping coupons – I didn’t feel welcome.
Track I did enjoy but it hurt to stand on my feet for so long.

But I wanted her to never forget how much I loved her and was proud of her. I loved watching at games.

I loved watching her dive. Often it felt like poetry, dancing. I left after diving even though I knew she would be in races strictly because it was hard for me to breathe in so much humidity.

I knew she was ashamed of me. I tried to get help but this was one that had me in its snares. I remember stumbling in the doctor’s office, partly to show how sick I was, partly for real.

One time I was staying at mom’s while sick. She opened the door while I was taking my pills. She saw all the pills and freaked out. It was then when I got away from my doctor and went to another’s practice, which started the road to recovery.

When I was at Doctors’ offices I’d look in the cabinets for drugs. I found pills in my first doctor, ones he shouldn’t have had. I found anesthetics at one or two doctors’ and injected them in my shoulders or thighs. Stupid, insane, but I was insane and didn’t care.

But NOT ONCE did I have a drink! I knew I could – I’d already blown my sobriety, but not that. It was the only way I could save myself.
Mom tried in her way but mostly she was enabling me. I wanted to be on par with my sisters but that wasn’t going to happen.

One time I had to go to the hospital by ambulance. The EMTs needed to know what medicines I was taking. I just showed them the half-filled laundry basket full of them. They couldn’t believe it. People still are when they find how many I still have to take. I can’t. The pills hold me together and treat the symptoms of other drugs. It scares me. I wanted help, I just couldn’t get the help I need to do it. Believe that.

I was addicted so fast and tolerance level rose so rapidly. I was angry at my first doctor, at Mom, at the facilities that wouldn’t take me, at the futility of my existence, at the poor excuse I was as a mother. There was no connection with God except anger.

I am so very sorry for all my son and daughter went through. They deserved so much more. Being in CT was a bad choice in me ways but in others I needed it. I sometimes worked, had a roof over our heads, gave my daughter the school she needed. Tried very hard to get the academic support my son needed while he was with me. I don’t know how I would have made it in CA. I got on SSDI and other sources. I had people to guide me through the process.

It took a lot to get me straight again. After my daughter found me in the midst of a grand mal seizure, and sat with me at the hospital through 4 more, my doctor admitted me for a ten day withdrawal. I then went to a rehab for three weeks followed by 5 weeks of out-patient classes. Then it was back to AA.

I have been sober now for 11 years and though my life is often a hard one, I have not used. But pills are different than alcohol. For me, the draw to it comes back at times even though I choose not to follow it. It feels good to have a life again.

Poverty

LINES; LIFE IN THE TROUGHS

Being poor is hard work. I remember seeing pictures of the long lines of men in the first Depression waiting for a hand out at soup kitchens. Every time I eat now, I think of the many places in the world where begging for food, eating what is given without pride but rather humility, is an everyday occurrence. As I am coming to know, there is no shame among those who see each other in one line or the other.

Hardship has interrupted my life. Friends and acquaintances, social connections have decidedly changed. The things I do to pass the time have changed. How I speak to others is different. I have always been pretty free with the details of my life . . . I am a bit more circumspect these days.

Surprisingly, I have a sort of pride that I am surviving this period in my life. I fear I am a hypocrite for the life I live is still head and shoulders beyond that of most of the line people. I have a nice apartment, not the Ritz, but so very much more than those who live in the shelters or have “camps” in unpopulated stretches of woods. My furniture is nice because I inherited and collected those pieces for many years and it makes no sense to get rid of things I won’t be able to duplicate. I may need to wash clothes by hand but I am safe, my needs are attended to. My medical needs are addressed and I receive Social Security due to my disabilities. Interestingly, what precipitated the reversals I live with is what is providing the way out. I am feeling my way through this labyrinth of needs, expectations and adjustment.

In storm, rain, and blistering heat the lines are long indeed. You show up early. . . at least 60 minutes… and quietly move to the back of the line. In hot months folding chairs and collapsible chairs are tucked in among the feet. Some come with blankets. Eyes dart between the pants and skirts, floppy sneakers, shoes decrepit and worn. No shoe strings here, shoe tongues are ripped and falling to the side; it is suspect whether the shoes even fit. From amongst a line there is consideration and kindness, confusion and stress, fatalism and resignation. There is shame and gratitude. I’ve seen a few chest bumps between the young men. As they are waiting, some catch up on each other’s lives and the news of the street. This is a community, maybe on the fringe, but they have each other, they know the system and use it well. Thankfully, they want to help each other if they can.

One day a mother, daughter and friend were in a discussion. The mother was continually droning on and on, exposing their lives to everyone there. The poor daughter kept begging the mother to be quiet but the mother was on a roll, only getting louder while she is admonished. The mother had a little Chihuahua in a cloth jacket with a handle so she could be lifted or moved easily. Sometimes she was talking to the dog. It didn’t matter what she said, she seemed unaware of the picture she was portraying of her family. She couldn’t control her mouth or the secrets she disclosed. Most of the others were embarrassed for the daughter’s sake, eyes glancing away with the illusion of privacy. There are a lot of trough dwellers with mental imbalances but for the most part, such things are simply accepted. Mental illness often got them to the lines in the first place. For the most part, trough dwellers have a respect for each other. They don’t cross the arbitrary line.

Mostly, the trough dwellers are resigned. Even if they could get jobs, a good percentage, for any number of reasons, would not be able to hold on to them. Of course you can tell those who are crack heads and meth addicts as soon as they open their mouths and they lack teeth. Men wear ponytails and long, flowing beards. Women pony tails. Some wear flip flops in winter. Then again, when looking at the way the general public dresses, there are few that are completely off the mark. They are labeled, bedraggled and despairing but among the lines there are companionships and understanding. There is laughter and acceptance.

Before this situation developed I would see men, or a mother and her children standing on the corner of the street holding onto placards. My eyes would dart away from those who stand out for one reason or another, trying to appear non-pulsed, All those years when I looked down at those in the lines, when I didn’t understand, I never knew I would one day be in their ranks. What pithy message would be written on the board? Does this mean that I will one day be standing on the side of a road with a little cardboard sign asking for help? Won’t my family be proud of me. I speak of these things because I am normalizing them. Should I hide my reality away? It is a deep, dark, painful hurt I am harboring. Am I ashamed? You bet. Do I need to get beyond it? Absolutely.

My son and daughter believe I may become more of a trial than I am already. They are afraid I will be a disgrace or a disappointment, not understanding I am treading water, nose at the line defining water and air. They mean well but you can’t compare oranges to a refrigerator. They are wonderful people but they work from the outside in, I on the other hand, have come to work from the inside out.

Today I visited a Food Bank I had not been to before. I arrived 2 hours early. On a four block street, I passed the first 30 minutes driving up and back that space. I stopped a couple people for directions. They had no idea where it was. It wasn’t in their frame of reference. Finally, I realized I missed one last block behind a discount supermarket. Woohoo! I found it finally, with the barest of lines in rain and 30 degree bitter cold. Where was the balmy weather I had come to California for? A month before we were trying to get away from the heat. A gentleman encouraged me to sit in his folding chair. Embarrassed or no, I welcomed it when he took my hands and put his gloves on me. I was by turns grateful and embarrassed. He and his wife have 13 children under their care and they had been married around 20 years. They were so comfortable with each other, calm, at peace, noble. There is so much good in the world. Angels I meet in places unseemly. They fixed my place in the line as I went home to get a warmer jacket.

My car has become a rare gift for me. My driving abilities do no favors to it. It has gone over curbs, been in three accidents and has survived those times when I found my way driving the wrong way in a one-way street. I worry constantly what it will be like without one. Actually, I know this. The homeless are ever walking whether the thermometer reads 40 or 120. I’ve stopped saying something will never happen to me because, it ends up being what I feared.

Think positive, think only happy thoughts – it is a mantra that has become more of a prayer. With the fluctuation of great heat and biting cold, I simply could not survive. My medical issues necessitate a normalized range. Standing out in bad weather negatively impacts my health. I hope to have a drivable and attractive car at all times. Without one, especially because of my health concerns, waiting on bus stops, doing all the changing from bus to bus would be undoable.

Most people expect to be able to replace those things which break. It is expected that things break down and then you find others. Their taste in furniture and clothes changes and they find ones to fit those changes. I have come to expect that will not hold true for me. Clothes living extended lives, shirts stained become PJs. What I have may be all I get. I don’t have much, nor do I have the space to have much. I have streamlined my life, taking and keeping only what matters. Coming from Connecticut and driving by myself to Redding was a reminder that I am a living, viable human. I am a survivor, stronger then I think. I am adaptable. Should I have much more of an ego, I wouldn’t be able to take this. Most of the time I can push beyond embarrassment, reaching a numb part of my psyche, and sometimes of pride.

I have always been a spend rift. This sojourn into poverty is, to a certain degree, one of choice. Well, maybe not choice, but most assuredly, the direct consequence of poor, selfish decisions. My mother and I had this dance – if I got into a financial jam, she would help me out. She helped out a lot. I stayed a needy child, she the beleaguered parent. I worked, but I over spent.

The trouble is, I let the fear of economic necessity override my decisions. I simply didn’t know how to straighten out myself. I borrowed money to get here, Once I arrived, I was living out of a suitcase for approximately 6 weeks until I found an apartment. But the coffers echoed in their emptiness.

Here is the good part, I ran out of money. I couldn’t pay my bills. Utilities were sky high in an area that heats up to the 90s and above most of the days. During the summer my electricity was turned off for 6 days. My son came over with a head light for me “It’s great! You are going camping!” I did not respond. I didn’t know how to change my circumstances. A support person at my doctor’s offices did all the paperwork, even to the point of coming to my apartment with the papers to sign. To say I was grateful is a huge understatement. I made my way to a payee service. They pay my bills and I get an allowance. Many months I have $40-50 a week for gas, food, laundry, entertainment, clothes. The expenses add up quickly. About time it happened.

I am being fired in life’s furnace, On a fundamental level, I am grateful. Now I have a shot to improve my life by improving me. I cry a great deal more. Not having any money is hard, undeniably hard, but I am not carrying those deep, fearful burdens. There may be a way out. I will be better for all this. I will be able to respect myself. Going to the Food Banks is a necessity; there is absolutely no way my budget allows food. Every Monday I go the payee service for my check. By the next day I may only have $10 until the following Monday. Other people mingle outside until the place opens. I look at them, almost always men, and compare my life situations to theirs. There are some badly damaged people – often alcoholics and/or mentally and physically challenged. This is where I took my life. I tell myself I am different, better, than they. But I know while the choice to use a payee service is mine, we are in the same boat.

Maybe that’s what I need to focus on . . . unless I learn to stay in the present; the dark cloud heading to the future will come that much quicker. Amidst the stark beauty of Redding, I am reminded to treasure the moments. God’s mercy is flawless; I have only to lift my eyes to the mountain peaks and watch clouds writhe and dance as they spin gossamer wraps in and around trees and rock to know the power of God. God gives me the humility to accept help where I can get it. God makes sure I can live with the constant pain and respiratory diseases and has provided a way for me to live within my means.

I think each of us, the trough dwellers, is spared from judging themselves, and their neighbors, as protection against more sorrow they can bear. As I say this, I need to be honest. The Alano Building, where AA meetings run day and night, is directly across the street. People I know are there constantly. It is a Trader Joe’s day . . . the good stuff . . . so I go early, giving me a gap to return home to unload and go back in time to attend the AA meeting, none the wiser.

Handicapped people are everywhere. They can go anywhere here, the streets and buildings accommodate disabilities more than in other states and towns. Coming from the North East, where the facilities and infrastructure were set long before and budgets are too tight to do more than the most rudimentary changes, it is more user friendly. They guide their motorized wheelchairs up and down curbs, in and out of cars. I’ve seen disabled people intrepidly steering their wheelchairs more than 5 miles away from a Food Bank they frequent. The other day I saw a man and woman in their own little line, swerving around obstacles as they crossed streets, the man with a little flag quivering from above the handlebars of the wheelchair. The physically handicapped are fearsome here. I suppose it has to do with the weather. Most of the time it is bearable, but on those days when it sucks, I feel like stopping to pick them up but my car isn’t big enough to accommodate wheelchairs. And, to tell the truth, some are too independent to accept the offer of help. Last week I saw a disabled woman ,in a wheelchair, walking her dog on leash. Another day I saw a handicapped teen riding his wheelchair down the walk, his friends, on blades and a skate board, swinging in circles around him. Modern California – everyone has to have wheels.

In the food lines, most kids are absent, I guess at school or home. It is the younger child tucked in the nooks of mother’s arms. It’s hard to figure out who looks tired more. Of all the people in the lines, these are the worst to see. Their parents are ground down, full of premature wrinkles. Children wait quietly until their mothers have collected food. Even when the child has to wait for 2 hours, he does nothing to stand out.

“I became homeless 10 years ago . . . but I never thought it would be for good.” Ron said, “I have lived in my car for most of the time.” rubbing his hand through his beard. “I lived in my car in New Jersey, really liked Pittsburgh but I stay in California now.” The three of us were talking with our breakfasts before us at the Living Hope mission. I don’t do meals on the mission circuit but I have come to realize that when I say “Never, not to Me”, ,it preludes another financial reversal.

Every word spoken by Marga, every inch the visage of the serene Natalie Woods, no emotions flowing to the surface, Mona Lisa smile steadfastly affixed to her face. Listening, I realized I might be in her place and soon if I don’t find work that I can still do. She was painting an ancient child’s fishing rod she was incorporating into a sculpture. An art history major, she wants to go back to school for another degree in art history, but there are few openings to be had. Every cent she had went toward a class she was taking at Shasta College.

We all have to make concessions as trough dwellers. Our lives are constrained by the operating hours of the Missions. The Good News mission, where I am going in the morning, closes the Mission’s shelter’s dorm down at 6:00 am. Before 6:30 am the doors open in the kitchens/dining area. Row after row of tired, care worn individuals head to the closest row near the front row. While we spoke, a scurvy woman was sitting on a man’s lap, rolling back and forth in the long accepted motions of a dry hump sex play. At one point one of the Mission’s volunteers, Joe, called over telling them to get a hotel room. The man quickly became irate until the woman calmed him, explaining to her partner that Joe and she went way back and he had an understanding. There was no apology, no shame, just an acceptance that this was her life.

At the Good News mission come Friday at the crack of dawn, Jeb heads up to the little stage, straps on his guitar and gives us a serving of religious and folk music for the next 30-45 minutes. Most of us tune him out. It is calming nonetheless, soothing. Once prayers are done we line up, row by row. Marge, another volunteer, is the arbiter of structure and discipline. No one gets to the food unless they pass her. We are each allowed to fill 1 bag . . . if it looks to be more Marge will have something to say. We take our places, vulture carrion birds ready to swoop down and grab whatever looks most promising and is most accessible. On Monday afternoons, chiropractors give free adjustments for those who want them. A few days a month a dentist the line you are, the less you have to choose from. comes for extractions. For those needing to protect their medicines, medicines are saved until they are needed. Free clothing is available from certain shelters and at one, free bicycles are given to the homeless.

A couple of weeks ago, a bearded, disheveled older man I was lucky to sit next to, regaled me with stories of being a friend to the wild animals by the camp he has down by the river. Some of the food is feed for them. The squirrels and voles are comforts to him. The birds walk up to him to eat from his hand. He loves his little clearing next to the Sacramento River. He looks like an old, rung out and tattered, homeless Cinderella. He talks about maintaining the camp, smoothing the earth . . . it is his treasured home. He doesn’t want for more. That camp is his squatter property.

Every day, an elderly man reminiscent of looking like Gandalf, from The Hobbit, sits on a particular bench, his long, flowing hair and beard surrounding him, walking stick to the side. He always has company, from all walks of life. Sometimes I believe he is imparting the wisdom of the ages because his visitors are always rapt at his words. Someday I will bite the bullet, stop the car, make my way to him, and hear what he has to say.

Yes, there are some slackers but certainly not all. Most of them are. I now have a deep respect for the homeless, disabled souls with extremely poor finances. They are survivors. These are not the disreputable beings people many think of. No one wants to be homeless, poor, with very limited, or no, resources. They do not run each other down. When they can, they protect their own. They survive. There is a nobility in some. They are resourceful, can be infinitely kind, and though there can be anguish, laughter is also here, and compassion. They, with me, at least for the foreseeable future, have full lives, albeit very hard ones. Once you have reached the point of needing the Food Banks, your life is compromised in such a way that you may not be able to move beyond. So I am grateful I have not met with dire circumstances, I am still walking and may even have options. But, for most of us, life is far different then what was taught as we were growing up. The people who work at the missions are good people worthy of respect. By their help, in many differing ways, they keep wide swaths of disadvantaged people’s lives safe, fed, and understood. God is good.

My life is so different from it was when I first arrived here. I look differently at the world. Values and ethics are being crafted. I am living on less and am grateful for what I have. Had my Mother not died, it isn’t likely I would be here now. She would have been the enabler to my poor choices and reckless abandon. Funny, I kind of think she would be proud of me as long as I stayed in California. I recently received some moneys from my mother’s estate which I promptly ear-marked for several necessary expenses and gave it to my son for protection. Left to my own devices, that money would be gone way too soon and my poor financial decisions would again give rise to fear. There will be a day when I don’t need the Food Banks to have food to eat. However, it won’t happen until my bad habits and poor choices change. God has done a wonderful job at caring and guiding me. I will continue to hold the steering wheel while he directs the car. As long as I stay out of my way, I have a chance to improve myself and my life.

Nightmare on in-law street

The pickax rained down its rage on the clay below. The frustrated fury behind its power sent lumps of earth flying in all directions, and still the oleander wouldn’t budge. It had been a thorn in my side since we had moved in seven years before. Now, with the pent up anger of a thousand empty arguments, I was going to remove its blight once and for all. Sweat poured from my brow and ran in rivulets between my shoulders; the heat of the California summer beat onto my head, further fueling my pain and anger. Four bushes had already met their demise beneath my ministrations on other days; this was the last and toughest by far. I had even tied the bush with a cable and connected it to the bumper of my Bronco, trying to release the earth’s hold on it by sheer force. The cable broke but the bush held firm. On this day, with its hurt and raw emotion, the oleander cried its siren’s call, answering a need deep inside me, to release some of that anger before it spilled over onto precious innocents. As I swiped the sweat away, I saw Josh, George and Mariana huddled together on the patio, fearfully watching this mad woman they had never seen before. It angered and shamed me at the same time.

It was more than one person should have to take, the endless questioning and accusations from Josh in juxtaposition against the constant badmouthing of him by my mother, Annabelle who though 3,000 miles away, made her words slam into my face and sear my soul. To get up every day to the constant melodrama, on top of the demands of my children and job was more than could be born some times. Maybe I wouldn’t need those antidepressants if I didn’t have to face these stressors day in and day out. I had tried going without and thought I was loosing my mind as I shook my way through the days until I finally went back on them again.

Not that I questioned for a minute the love I had for my children and they for me. They were just young, of an age when a mother’s care was a constant and immediate fact of life. They were so fearfully impressionable, and here I was, terrorizing them as they witnessed the release of months and years of pain. They would never have the same view of me. Forever, they would hold back just a little, not sure what their actions or words would trigger. And they had nothing to do with the immediacy of the moment.

It had started as any Saturday, the children dragging me out of bed at the crack of dawn, full of energy and curiosity. I had them dressed, fed, and outside playing before I could get Josh to rise. I understood how hard he worked during long week days, and often, weekends, too. But that only meant I had to shoulder the full weight of home responsibilities, even to the point of working within the home so I .could be with the children more. So when the weekends rolled in, I needed relief, and he wasn’t ready to give it.

Later, my mother called – an event I tried to curtail when Josh was at home. It only led to more dissention, more beratement, and more accusations. On this day circumstances were opportunistic for drama. .Annabelle called while Josh stood directly in front of me, “Why are you talking to her? I told you not to talk to her! She is only trouble”. He was demanding I hang up the phone, over and over again. Within my ear, Annabelle was yelling about Josh, “Don’t let him tell you what to do! Don’t hang up! I’ll call the police and report him for abuse if you hang up! He is a bully, he is nothing! Don’t be weak, stand up for yourself, for the kids!” The craziness of the situation stirred and swirled within me, rising like a vortex, consuming rational thought. I could take no more. Placing the phone on the counter, walking away from Josh, I went outside, crossed the patio, picked up the pickax, and started swinging. The plant’s entrenchment in the soil gave me a kind of relief I would not have gained doing anything else.

Josh took the children inside, fearing they would be scared watching their mother, and hung up the phone. As I worked my way through the layers of clay and rock, the fury began to ebb, becoming by degrees more manageable and less resistant to cessation. Once rational thought began again I began to imagine a face at the focus of each thrust, attacking them in the only way I found accessible. It had never been my way to use anger outwardly to address my needs. A million years of restraint were released as I bested by Josh and my mother; I was damned if I would be by some crappy plant. When the hardpan of the ground had given way to a hole three and a half feet deep by three feet wide, and my asthmatic chest burned as it heaved deep breathes, I began to once again feel ready to walk back through the doors and become at once mother, wife, and daughter.

Josh had threatened me for a few years that if I did not be who he wanted me to be, if I ever tried to leave him, he would take the children to Romania and disappear forever. It was a threat I had no doubt he would keep. He would hold me restrained until I said words he wanted to hear. He would carry me to the bedroom and barrage me with his feelings sometimes for hours.

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

My in-laws came for extended visits . . . it was always too long. As an only child of immigrant parents, Josh believed his parents should be able to visit as often as they desired and as long as they wished. To say this created tension is a gross understatement. From the moment I knew they were coming, I would grow increasingly stressed, like an overly tightened violin wire. Within a few short hours of their arrival, my home reverted from New World to Old World. Maia would arrive and immediately take over the kitchen, arranging it to her satisfaction, exerting control throughout the house. Alexandru was more amenable to reason – he was the one I could try to talk with, though it often didn’t do much good. Visits lasted between two and ten weeks and I had no say in whether they came or how long they could. As Josh so succinctly said, if I didn’t like it I could leave, but the kids were staying and the parents were coming – period.

From the time his parents entered the house, Josh would turn on me, withdrawing into a harsh, cruel silence, leaving me to deal with his parents by myself and I would often find myself as emissary between he and them, bridging the generational and cultural gaps for them. .It was a twisted role I played – at once both intermediary and unwanted eyesore.

Josh would literally not speak to me for upwards of two months after his parents arrived unless it had to do with the children or outside life. Maia and Alexandru would fill his head with my failings as mother and wife, speaking in Romanian but leaving it clear I was their subject. The three of them were steadfast in their belief that I should disavow my parents and family, not speaking and visiting them anymore.

My family lived in Connecticut, 3,000 miles away, and to visit them was always a production. Every 1 ½ years or so I would convince Josh to let the children and I, and he if he wanted, visit my parents and sisters – it would take about six months to convince him to let us go. To do so meant I could spend 3 or 4 days with them but then had to spend 2 weeks at his parents. As they would tell me, my parents had other children to fill their lives, they didn’t need me. My mother had come to hate them and they her.

One dark night, clouds covering the sky, but the lights of the valley’s town spread before our eyes. It was a never failing salve for my soul, the view from our home. It made much bearable. Maia’s mother, an untreated schizophrenic, was berating me yet again, causing Josh to stiffen his resolve against me further. Maia went out on the patio. Crouched at her feet, aping the posture of the supplicant, I sought to reason with this woman who held such power over my life yet was so badly damaged herself. Her words rained down on me, sharp swords of infinite agony cast without thought of damage done. “There is a cancer inside you and it is my duty to cut it out. A wife is a servant to her husband; do what he says and wants. Forget about you. I know much better than you how to raise your children. It is my right to raise them and you are damaging them”.

I was again told what a good mother and wife was supposed to be – this said by the woman who turned her son over to relatives to raise for years when he was young and figuratively abandoned him during the two years she had a psychotic break from reality while he was a child in Denmark and Italy. I remember that night so well – how I felt something imperative to who I was being stripped away, was slipping into nothingness. . . how there was no recourse for me in this marriage but to renounce who I was and mold myself into whatever form Josh desired.

The problem was that as I was giving up parts of me, sacrificing myself for the “greater good”. My anger at myself, at Josh and his parents, and at my mother simmered in some dark place inside. It would rise up and spill out at the most inopportune times, often at the wrong people, at times at George and Marianna over ridiculous things. And most of all, my rage tore at me, reducing my identity. I thought of suicide that night, as I did on many a dark time. It was a hidden escape valve – I knew if my life became more than I could bear, I had an option to end it. Sometimes it seemed the only solution that made sense. It made for a great retirement plan.

*******

Huddled in the closet, tears flowed down my cheeks while I rocked back and forth amid the comforting, earthy smells of well worn shoes. I couldn’t leave the house without incurring more wrath and I couldn’t let the children see me in this state . . . this was the only place I could think of that they might not look. Unfortunately, I forgot this closet in my bedroom was a place my son often slipped into at night so he could slip unawares into our room and sleep near to us. All too soon, the door softly slid open on its track and George slipped in. Quietly he sat next to me and reached over to take my hand. Together we sat, side by side, drawing comfort from each other, the mother whose heart was breaking and the seven year old son who didn’t know how to help but desperately wanted to.

My mind flashed to another, happier time when Josh and I and fallen into bed together. We made love passionately, fully, deeply, experiencing the profound love that was undeniably there between us. Spent, we collapsed on the bed and were quietly talking when we heard a little cough coming from that same closet. There was our son, who had had a front row seat to all that had gone on.

*********

There were three bedrooms in the house and five needed. Josh’s Romanian cousins had come to visit for several weeks. I had met them before and really enjoyed them. It was easy to be me around them. However, they were brought by Josh’s parents, not so good a thing. Romanian language flowed at all times although everyone save Mircia was fluent and he had been learning English so he could talk with me. Maia enthusiastically and deliberately steered the conversation to all things Romanian. I accepted it most of the time, but it did wear on me. Perhaps once or twice a day I asked for English to be spoken for a time.

One day we were going camping and stopped at a restaurant for lunch – my tolerance threshold had been reached and I asked for English in a soft voice. Josh who was seated three or four seats away, told me to shut up, clearly heard by all. Even the kids stopped talking in shocked silence. Josh’s cousins looked uncomfortably at their plates while his parents glared at me, quietly communicating their disapproval. I left the table and went outside. I had done something wrong. I should not have asked for English and I should not have left the table. I was causing a scene.

The rest of the camping trip followed much the same. Josh treated me like the outsider I was and seemingly took a perverse pleasure in putting me in my place. The children’s behavior was all over the map, voicing their confusion at the adults’ behavior. It took over two months for Josh to really communicate with me once his parents and cousins had left. It was an achingly lonely time.

***********

For months before our trip to Romania, Maia told me I wouldn’t be accepted by the people there. I was too different. By the trip’s start, I was so unsure of myself. But a funny thing happened . . . on the plane, a couple of women came past my seat and touched my shoulder. Josh’s relatives were openly accepting, and were critical of the way Maia treated me. I felt I was coming into my own, I could accept who I was if these strangers could accept me. And my time of true kinship with all women began.

***********
There is a picture by my computer of the day I remembered who I was, actually there were two of these days at the end of my marriage.

The first was New Year’s Day at Mount Shasta. We had gone up for a weekend getaway. The days had been spent in the snow – sleighing, having snow ball fights, making snow angels. When the kids and Josh finally fell asleep, and I was blessedly alone, I picked up a pen and started writing a poem.

I know this sounds like a banal moment, something not worth noticing in the broad spectrum of life’s incidents, but had you been inside my heart and knew the multitude of my insecurities you wouldn’t scoff. It was years before I would be able to believe a bit in my abilities and I had given my power of judgment to Josh long before. I had been a prolific poetry writer when Josh and I had first started dating and while the juvenile emotions baldly expressed within led me to feel vaguely nauseous when I reread them years later, they were mine and they were deeply felt and true. Josh once said he didn’t like my poems, he didn’t like the way I wrote, and I shut down, closing off my creative soul for the next thirteen years. I had published some business articles but nothing that touched my heart. It wasn’t until that New Year’s night, when everyone else was asleep, that I could finally admit my marriage was ending, and that said, could once again slowly open that long shut door.

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

The second day . . . the one concerning the picture on my computer . . . was taken during the last couple of weeks Josh, I and the children were together as a family. We were on a vacation to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah. It was a wonderful time overall, our anger and frustration with each other was kept to a minimum. Josh and I even talked about moving to Montana and considered how we could support our family in this wild, amazing country. We could see ourselves there. I wonder how it might have been. A divorce would still have happened eventually but how might our lives have looked?

We made love off a mountain path in Glacier National Park, giggling as other people walked so close past, and swore to each other we were committed to the marriage but even as I said so, I knew I would be leaving. Love had nothing to do with it, it had always been there for me, it always would be – it was all about survival. I had been empty for so long. Josh had crushed my spirit constantly, on a daily basis, grinding me down with his wrongful perceptions, demands, and accusations for almost all of our time together. His insecurities manifested in continual reprimands. So I kept silent the words I needed to say, which were safe to say, and kept silent the truth. Long before, I had told Josh that if I left, there would be no turning back. I would have no room left for do overs.

As we drove down from the Montana Rockies into Wyoming, the majesty of mesas and ravines took my breath away. Rust red, ocher and golden straits wove through the cliff faces, revealing a rich tapestry of color. The occasional dude ranch or homestead was blessedly the only indicator of a human influence. We drove along a river and stopped to jump in and cool off from the summer’s heat. About twenty miles or so outside Cody, Wyoming, I saw a depression in the cliff face beside us, about forty feet up . . . a trace of water smeared the cliff as it headed for ground. It looked like there might be a cave there and I love caves.

I asked Josh to stop and began to climb up the cliff face. It was a vertical assent, with only finger-holds to support me. George and Marianna cheered their support the further I went. When I reached the depression I saw it didn’t evolve into the cave I sought, but was a mere outlet for the barest hint of moisture. But as I stood there, looking out at the spectacular beauty of the countryside, and seeing what I had just done, I fully realized I still had me. I had not died under the constraints of marriage, the demands of motherhood, and the difficulties relating to Josh’s and my families . . . I STILL HAD ME I could survive on my own!!

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

Two weeks after that day, I left Josh. The kids had gone to their grandparents, for the first time, for a couple of weeks. It was as if permission was granted for the dam of emotions to burst over us. The day came when I literally ran away, with him following in hot pursuit, going to a nearby strip mall to I call a friend for help. I could see him driving through the plaza, looking for me, and I ducked out of sight whenever he came remotely near. For the next few weeks I stayed at the homes of various friends’, not letting Josh know where I was. He would camp outside homes of my friends’, waiting to catch sight of me. I only went back only when the judge said to until custody and living arrangements were made, and was as nervous as a cat the whole time.

There is no question I loved that man. Twenty two years later I haven’t remarried and still find him in my dreams frequently. It’s just that if I was going to survive, I had to leave. I had bruises all over me even though he never hit me. They were the pain inside manifesting on the outside. I was never good enough for Josh. I wasn’t a good, obeying, supplicating Romanian girl.

The divorce took three years,a mediator, two psychological evaluations because Josh didn’t like the results. Five lawyers for him because they weren’t doing what he wanted, they were abiding by the law. He told the judge he was opposed to the divorce and the judge replied the choice wasn’t his. If I wanted out, I could.

In the end, the kids and I moved to Connecticut where I had a better chance of working and a better place to live. It may have been, at times, jumping from the pot into the fire, but I was free to find out who I was. It took a long time to begin feeling free but one day I woke up and wasn’t scared. It was one of the greatest gifts God has given me. There have been many hard times since then, but the marriage was no longer one of them.

Revisions, Revisions, on and on

I am currently in the process of setting up pages.  New posts are going in. Old posts are being switched to their proper page.  Given that my TBI gets in the way of everything I do and I keep forgetting so have to relearn how to do the most basic tasks, it will be a while before I get it the way I want.  Please be patient and hunt around. Writings may show up where you least expect them.  Thank you my friends.

Dreams and Choices

DREAMS

In dreams are visions born and choices made,
slipped under the skin before
the consciousness can react
making stands which force resolution.

Once I dreamt of living my dreams
in happiness and fulfillment.
Laughing with friends, stimulating, enriching,
finally within a circle of balance, goodwill and peace.

You came and held out
the long grasp of your hand, and I
full knowing the losses, feeling great pain
of their removal from my life,
took the offered hand and turned my back
on the warmth of open acceptance.

But still could not resist
one last look back, eyes brimming with sorrow,
at the choice I was making,
deep inside knowing it wrong,
but thinking I could change him,
heal his sorrows, end his pain.

Lot’s wife understood
the burning need for the last look,
to what she knew, she understood
even though she
would be forever turned to salt.

One darting look back,
forever turned to stone,
a lesson I must remind myself
each time your hand
extends to mine.