Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Six-legged Buggy Love

My boyfriend Sabatino bought me a bug yesterday.  I was so thrilled with it, I kept blurting out to strangers and friends alike, "He bought me a bug!  A great big beautiful bug!"  Tino then pointed out, very gently, that perhaps I shouldn't mention a gift so out of the ordinary and in such a generic way.  "They're going to think I just scooped up some big damn cockroach and handed it to you," he said.  So, let me clarify this highly unusual and most beloved gift.

It is a dead bug, a Vietnamese insect called a "Ghost Walker."  It was mounted in a museum-quality shadow box by a gifted and obviously very patient artisan who has created such display pieces for museums all over the world.  Sabatino, my gentleman, knows my passion for insects.  I wanted to be an entomologist when I was a kid.  We viewed two walls of these jaw-dropping bugs; everything from butterflies to walking sticks as long as my forearm.  I was enchanted.  Tino told me to pick one, it would be an early birthday present.

There's nothing I could possibly have wanted more.  When we got it home, I laid on my back and held this thing up to the light, staring at it from every angle.  It was glorious.  I called several of my friends to wax rhapsodic over it and their cringing was almost visible over the phone lines.  That, too, was glorious.  Ten years ago, their horror would have made me self-conscious and over-sensitive.  Today, it simply amused. 

There's magic in self realization.  Something whimsical and sparkly happens when you finally see yourself clearly after a lifetime of self-hatred.  I used to get gifts from my ex-husband which were always something he wanted to give me, something he thought I should have that was useful or attractive to him, like a roaster pan or sexy underwear.  I never thought to question these; I thought it was obnoxious and ungrateful to do anything but accept them.  And I liked them; don't get me wrong.  It's always nice to get presents.  But the gifts were never chosen with me in mind.  They were rarely anything that I would have bought myself if given the chance.  My insecurities allowed me to be dressed like a doll, controlled like a doll, obedient like a mannequin, and grateful for the chance to please.  There was even a skewed smugness inside of me over the fact that I was such a  good, good possession.  All my individuality was unimportant, banked down, controlled and frowned upon, first by my abusive spouse, then by myself.  It was the insecurity addiction in full force; individuality and free thinking are the first things to go if the addiction wants to survive.  And like any addiction, my insecurity wanted to not only live but grow.  And it did, out of all proportion, until it ate me alive and almost killed me with suicidal tendencies and misery.  That's why I look at my life now and shake my head at the wonder of it all.  To come from such a broken-spirited train wreck of a human being to a person capable of accepting such miraculous, perfect gifts, given by someone who knows me and loves me.  Six-legged buggy love.  Weird, wondrous, and completely flawless to my weird and wondrous self.  Good luck out there, all my dear screwed up brothers and sisters of circumstance, as you struggle to wrestle your own insecurities to the ground.  They'll always be kicking and snarling, but they shrink fairly quickly to a shadow of their old selves when you don't feed them.  Take care of yourselves and remember to love the crazy bitch in the mirror.  She, he, and it are definitely worth the struggle.

Love, R 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Twist Cone Legs

I recently waited on a couple who are now my favorite customers to date.  I was working a lunch shift when this old black dude and his wife were put in my station.  I was in the back when they were sat so I didn't see them until they were already in the booth.  He was in his mid-eighties, she a bit younger.  As I approached the table, I liked them immediately; they were laughing and joking with each other like two teenagers in love.  He was wearing a Marine Corps/ Korea cap, so I asked if I could shake his hand.  It's something I do with every veteran or military person who walks in the door.  I'm like a stalker that way; just have to thank them for risking their lives for people they'll never meet, that sort of thing.  He had a firm grip, friendly and steady.  "Yeah, I lost both my legs in that war," he said.  When he said that, his expression flickered for a moment, remembering, and the smile slipped.

"You got those Bionic Man computer legs or the old-fashioned prosthetics?" I asked, smiling.  His face lit up with a giant grin again and he replied, "No, no, no, I don't want nothing to do with those computer legs!  With my luck, some smart ass kid would figure out a way to tap into them with his game controller and I'd suddenly start running when I wanted to stay put!"  I laughed and pretended to press buttons.  "Yeah, let's mess with this old dude," I said.  He and his wife cackled as I pretended to be jerked sideways with legs gone crazy.

That broke the ice and they told me their stories.  I love that, when people share their tales with me.  He lost his legs in 1952, one above the knee, one below, and spent the rest of that year in a military hospital learning how to walk again.  I told him about my aunt, the one who was paralyzed by polio, and how she was so bitter and angry before a hilarious and irreverent old priest got ahold of her and told her to stop feeling so sorry for herself.  "Yeah, I went through that," he told me.  "I was lying on my bed, looking at the stumps that used to be my legs, and was just...pissed off.  Really bitter, really hating what had happened to me.  A nurse came in and told me to quit my bellyaching and get my ass down to the burn unit.  I went just to shut her up; got in my wheelchair and just went.  Hon, I saw men there without noses or lips, hands and feet burned off, no ears, no hair, eyes gone, some without faces at all."  

I teared up a bit at that.  "Johnny Got His Gun," I said, and he nodded.  "Dozens of 'em.  I stopped feeling sorry for myself after that and just thanked God I had such a little thing happen to me.  A little nothing that got me home."  He pointed at his wife.  "Home to her."  She reached across the table and held his hand.  "How long you been married?" I asked.  "Since 1954," she answered.  "I married him after he came home."
"Did you know him before?"
"Oh, yes.  Loved him then too."
"Did you ever see The Best Years of Our Lives?"  (I always have to make a movie reference)
"It was just like that," he replied.  "She wouldn't leave me alone."
"Not until he married me," she said.  "I wanted him.  He was always whole to me."
"Did you ever see any of the returning vets with those weird curved legs, like grasshoppers?"
He nodded.  "That's where we just come from right now.  I was being fitted for new legs.  Those boys get those legs on and jump right up to the ceiling.  I don't want none of that!  Let them have that kind of fun.  Just leave me my old legs.  I'm good with those."
"Remember your first set?" his wife asked.  He laughed.
"They were white.  They didn't make negro legs back in 1952.  I had to wear white legs for about ten years.  My mom laughed; told me she always knew I was half white!  And heavy!  Those things were solid wood."

We talked for another half an hour.  I shamelessly neglected my other tables who, it turns out, didn't mind.  They were all listening to this extraordinary couple tell their extraordinary stories.  I learned how them met, how tough it was to learn how to walk with those heavy ass legs, what a joy life was for them, how every minute was precious, even the bad ones.  "There's always somebody worse off than you," he said.  "Always.  You think any differently, you got a world of trouble inside your head." 

Bob Dylan wrote, "There are people that you don't forget, even though you only seen 'em one time or two."  That was what happened with the Gilberts.  Al and Melissa, married fifty-seven years and loving each other every minute of it.  I will never forget them and I will always love them.  What a lucky day for me, to have them come and sit in my station.  You never know who you're going to meet, day to day, in all walks of life.  You can wade through a sea of faces, all in a dull sepia tint or a soft, dull grey, passing you by without your noticing any of them.  I've been both; dull grey and light bulb bright to others, depending on the times and whether I'm noticed or not.  Then there are the shining moments, those brief sojourns into a stranger's life, that give you something to think about.  With a grin. 

Take care, all of you shining moments out there.  Remember to grin.

Love, R

Monday, August 29, 2011

Three Little Words

I love fucked up people. 

Don't ask me why.  Maybe because I'm so screwed up myself.  Way back in the horror years of self-hatred and galloping insecurity, I knew deep down inside that there was a good human being underneath all that shit I was projecting.  Problem was, I wanted somebody else to discover that fact; somebody else to nurture and protect, love and cherish me.  I never thought of doing all that myself.  I wanted a knight in shining armor, a celluloid best friend, a kind and thoughtful stranger to dig it out, to uncover the hidden wonder of Becky O'Donnell.  I didn't want to do the work.  I wanted somebody else to handle the rock quarry of my personality.   I wanted someone else to have the patience and interest in discovering the fabulous me hiding beneath the mountain of bullshit.  I wanted someone, anyone, to see it; to recognize it was there so I'd know I wasn't crazy.  When you can't love yourself, you feel overwhelming gratitude to any abusive scumball who'll say they love you, can't live without you.  The scumball part is immaterial.  The love is what we need, even if it's never more than words, even if it comes with a swift kick and a punch in the face.  At least somebody says the words.

The textbook definition of a fucked up insecurity addict.  Been there, done that.

When you get to the point of planning your own suicide or drool like a Pavlovian dog at the thought of not breathing anymore, that's when the need for love is the strongest.  As much as I knew I had a real treasure inside, I was heartbroken that nobody else saw it.  Nobody else gave a shit.  Nobody knew me.  Nobody loved me.  My kids did but they were just stupid kids.  They'd soon forget me and love some new mommy better.  I was being noble in relieving them of such a worthless sack of shit.  Killing myself would be the best thing for them.  I knew I was setting a bad example just in my day-to-day living.  Best to free them.  Better to just stop being.

I was about as fucked up as a person can get and still be alive.  Looking back, it's amazing how different I am from that poor, shattered basketcase.  It's also amazing how much of me is still like that.  I'll always be the wounded mess because that is a part of my past, something I carry with me always.  But self-love has helped me to flip it from a negative to a useful positive.  I recognize other basketcases because I am one.  I understand fucked up people because they're a mirror.  And I want them to see me too, to see that it is possible to be something other than miserable and starved for love.  I want them to know that if they do just a tiny bit, just a small amount of kindness to themselves, they can change everything: the way they think and feel, what they can do for others, even what they can accomplish career wise.

I've ridden the bucking bronco of insecurity for most of my life.  In the last few years, with the daily exercises of telling myself "I love you," I've gotten that crazy damn horse to calm down enough so I can lead it instead of it leading me.  It still likes to take off and drag me along sometimes on a hell of an uncomfortable ride, but nowadays I'm usually the one calling the shots.  I've gained control of my own fucked up nature.  It'll always be fucked up.  But that's okay because even though I'm a basketcase, I'm a lot of other things as well.  Like an ogre, I have layers and many of them are beautiful.  There are gaping wounds in me that have healed into pink scars, terrible emotional gangrene that's been cleared away and self-hatred that's been neutered and can I say it?  Inefficient.  All with three little words I waited far too long for someone else to say.  I love you.  I love you, Rebecca.  I truly do love you.  You fucked up mess. 

May you all find the strength to love yourselves too.  It's inside, right beside the hidden fabulous treasure of you, just waiting to be dug out.  Happy prospecting, my friends.  Take care.

Love, R

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sunshine After the Rain

I'm one of those people who love birthdays and holidays.  My house looks like Kris Kringle's place at Christmas (apart from my Mister Misty Red & Green Skulls I put Santa hats on), a haunted castle at Halloween, and Bunny land at Easter.  Birthdays to me are absolutely sacred things; the day the world was given the gift of you or me.

I didn't always feel that way about my own birthday.  Annually, I glared at my hated reflection in the mirror, pissed off that yet another year had passed without my accomplishing anything other than becoming even more of a loser.  And fatter.  I had an obsession with my blub.  All those hopes, all those dreams of my childhood, flushed down the toilet with nobody to blame but myself.  I considered myself a stupid, chickenshit, ugly fat bitch who couldn't tie her own shoe.  I'd fucked up my life so badly.  Why the hell would I celebrate something as awful as my own birth?

Such a strange thing, self-loathing.  It's almost as passionate a belief system as that of a religious zealot.  Everything was a test of my faith; if I glimpsed something attractive in the mirror, I was betraying my own righteous rage.  If I felt the slightest pride in the tiniest accomplishment, it was false vanity.  I was repulsive to myself.  It was a moral imperative for me to remain that way.

Insecurity likes you to be a blind zealot.  It does a tap dance on your psyche, stomps you flat and sets fire to the remains.  The really creepy thing is, you applaud it for doing so.  That's right.  Get that bitch.  Keep her down.  That's what an insecure person feels inside.  Outwardly, maybe even consciously, pretending the opposite.  I think that's why we gravitate toward negative relationships.  We get someone to abuse us the way we feel we deserve, while secretly thinking our love and support will turn our beloved scumballs around.  It's a misguided hope, pinning our own self worth on the ability to turn somebody who's even more fucked up, around.  Noble goal, true, but until we get our own goofy brains in order, all we become is cannon fodder splattered all over the landscape.  That helps nobody.  When it involves children, it's lethal.  Kids grow up with the programming of their childhood.  Be very careful what you're teaching them.  Tell your kids you love them and you want them to be strong and confident all you want.  But when Daddy gives Mommy a black eye, or they see either parent listless and miserable but staying in a horrible relationship, that's a visual that far outweighs any fluffy words of love.  A picture's worth a thousand words.  What movie of the week are you showing?

I've talked to battered mothers, brave sons and daughters, well-meaning grandparents, who've all told me basically the same thing when it comes to getting beaten on a regular basis.  Or raped.  It keeps them off my kids.  It keeps him off my sister.  If they're on me, the others are safe.  Selfless courage in a child.  Misguided dumb fuck courage in an adult.  No matter how desperate a situation is, no matter how abject your poverty is, there is always an "out" somewhere.  Always.  Don't believe the hype coming out of the mouth of the asshole who's brutalizing you.  Check it out for yourself.  There are hot lines, libraries, shelters; endless possibilities of being helped by people who really want to help you.  People who were very often in situations just like yours, and who now volunteer.  Remember the returning veteran commercial that was playing a few months back?  It shows a returning vet wandering through an empty city, with nothing and no one around.  Suddenly, another vet walks up to him, shakes his hand, and says, "Welcome back."  There are thousands of brothers and sisters of circumstance out there right now who want to shake your hand and show you the way to a new life, one that's free of bruises, terror and self hatred.  Take their hand.  Move forward from the pit.

I recently had the honor of meeting a young woman who had done just that.  Years of abuse and terror, an eternity of fists and fights and drug-addled violence against her, her children watching or listening from the other room, being damaged by the environment just as much as she was being damaged by her abuser.  Even after years of brainwashing, by herself as much as her attacker, paralyzing her courage, with poverty and depression sucking the life right out of her, she found the strength to finally leave.  I met her on her birthday, only a few weeks after she and the children got away.  I saw a glowing, beautiful creature as I looked at her; furtive-eyed and still a bit in shock over this unexpected turn of events.  It was wonderful, a truly miraculous sight.  I hope she can stay free of the pattern long enough to find value in herself.  Otherwise, it'll just be a new set of fists.  But she felt good.  It was a rebirth birthday, a glorious thing to see.

I remember my therapist telling me, shortly after I left my own husband, to make sure I didn't enter into any new relationship for at least a year.  Like a country overthrowing a dictatorship, I was very vulnerable.  I didn't know how to live under any other kind of regime, so there was a good chance I'd slide right back into it with someone else.  I had to give it time.  I had to have a relationship with myself.  It was the best advice I could have been given.  Amazingly enough, I listened to it.  Now I am my own best friend as well as my own worst enemy.  But the enemy part is a lot smaller now; much more easily managed.  I'm an insecurity addict.  Insecurity will always be skulking in the background, eager to take over my silly mind once again.  As long as I'm conscious of that fact, I can guard against it and continue to grow.  And moments like these, where I see a beautiful fellow fuck up get free of an environment far worse than any I'd endured, when I see her smile on her birthday, I know how good life can be.  It doesn't get better than that.  Hope from the hopeless.  Sunshine after the rain.  That's what she was and always will be to me now.  Sunshine after the rain.

Take care.

Love, R

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Misplaced Nail

One of the things an insecurity addict is really, really great at is being a blind as a bat dumb ass.  Looking back on my life and my own decisions over the past four decades truly brings that fact home.  But a not-so-subtle change has happened in how I view my own state of once-moron: I don't beat myself up about all those wrong choices and miserable longings anymore.  Nowadays, I rarely bring out the red hot pincers or lock myself up in an iron maiden for a bit of Me Torture.  That's in the past as well.  There's another thing an insecurity addict has a gift for.   We're extremely good at self-torture.  Everything revolves around how we can fix it, make it better, calm him down, get her to stop nagging.  How can we solve all of everybody else's problems?

There's nothing wrong with helping others.  I recommend it highly.  Wanting to do so is a golden thing, a sacred thing.  That desire can and has inspired millions to do the same.  When channeled in a positive way, an insecurity addict's emotions can make the whole world a better place.  Look at all someone like Princess Diana accomplished, or Eleanor Roosevelt, or even Paul Newman and his Newman's Own brand.  But like any addiction, it has to be controlled or it'll eat you, and anybody around you, up.  But focus it and there's no end to what can be accomplished.

Here's how an insecurity addict thinks, for all of you out there who don't know already: we see the world through shit-colored glasses with blinders on.  It's very, very hard to change our stubborn minds about a stupid decision we've made because stupid decisions are really all we have to cling to.  When forced to look at what a ridiculous and often self-made nightmare we live in, an insecurity addict will run for the hills rather than take good advice.  I remember a high school teacher chastising me about all the self-made scratches along my arms.  I clawed three new ones down the inside of my wrist, right in front of her.  Did it with a "fuck you" grin.  We love the attention of friends and family who worry about us, even while we secretly sneer at their misplaced loyalty.  We feed off the sympathy, horror and anger of others because we don't generate any affection for ourselves.  Why would we?  The bitch in the mirror is the one who got us into this mess in the first place.  Insecurity has to be tackled from the inside out.  It's a sneaky gremlin who's very good at hiding.  We've all got untold corners and rubble for it to curl up in, safe and snug in the nice gloomy shadows.  There's a kaleidoscope of darkness inside abuse victims for it to disappear into.

But think about it.  That makes us a precious commodity, my dear friends.  We're experts in pain.  There's a world of hurt out there that you're all familiar with.  Use that expertise to do some good.  Don't let insecurity tell you you're too stupid or inept to make a difference.  Learn from my own mistakes.  As a teenager, I desperately wanted to help in a habitats for humanity-type organization our local church had begun.  I never volunteered.  I wasn't lazy or uninterested; just the opposite.  I remember sitting at my desk in Sunday school, sweat beading my upper lip, as I tried to raise my hand when they asked for volunteers.  What was my reasoning for refusing?  I didn't know anything about carpentry.  I thought I might do something to make whatever structure we would be working on unsafe.  My misplaced nail would bring the whole thing crashing down.  Probably on a baby.  And the puppy sleeping beside the crib.  And a mama cat in a basket with newborn kittens.  And the loving grandmother who spent her entire pension check on a plane ticket to visit the new grand kid.  They would all die because I didn't know how to wield a hammer correctly. 

That's how an insecurity addict thinks.  The world hinges on our, and only our, misplaced nail.  That's how overpowering our stupid, egotistical, self-loathing angst is.  We are fragile, crackle glazed and broken creatures, many of whom will snap your fingers off if you try to help us.  Wounded bears in the woods.  Until we begin to sponge away our own inner hatred, we won't heal.  We'll keep being bitter, broken and stupid.  Worst of all, we'll recognize this truth about ourselves and the hate will grow stronger still.  I know.  I did it to myself most of my life.  It began with family telling me I was a piece of shit.  I took up the reins of abuse myself around the age of six.  But I changed.  You can too.

I still have a hard time with insecurity.  Not as bad as it was, nowhere near as bad, but still hard.  Little things set me off.  But I do my self love exercises every day.  I tell myself what a good person I am, what nice things I did today, how much I love Rebecca O'Donnell.  It's an alien thing to tell yourself "I love you."  Feels egotistical and silly at first.  But oh, what a garden can grow from such a tiny bit of watering.  I keep at it.  I do kind acts, little and big, and that makes me a better person.  Financial generosity and philanthropy are all well and good if you can afford it, but a smile to a co-worker and an offer to fetch coffee for all is like sunshine on a rainy day.  Think of it.  You can be a thing of light.  You just need to do a little loving spit and polish.  Take care.  I believe in you all.

Love, R

Friday, August 12, 2011

Treading Water

I have become a narcoleptic.  I am snoozing all the time but never feel rested.  I was hefting trays at work the other day and thought the carpet looked oh-so-comfy and wouldn't it be nice to lie down on it and do a bit of snoring.  Perhaps this is associated with the grieving process; some friends have told me they did the same thing about a month after their loved one died.  The timing is correct but I don't feel devastated by Mom's death anymore.  It's more an ache when I reach for my phone to tell her something and remember, "Oh yeah..."

I was rearranging my DVD collection tonight, hauling books out of one of my bookcases to make room for the movies that are spilling out all over.  A letter my son wrote to me a year ago fluttered out.  I picked it up and re-read it, then sighed and put it back.  It had been full of recriminations for my evils as a parent, then basically said that he thought we should have a relationship and wouldn't that be wonderful?  It was the first contact we'd had in seven years.  I remember how thrilled I was, despite the catty digs, to have heard from him after so long; how excited I was at the prospect of seeing him.  What did he look like now?  Last time I'd seen him, he was a gaunt and pissed off seventeen-year-old.

He never contacted me after that.  I wrote back immediately, really happy, but he never contacted me again.  After Mom died, I emailed his father and asked him to tell Leland what had happened.  His dad even sent flowers to the funeral, for which I was grateful.  Leland neither attended nor sent flowers or a card.  He did write to my sister, quoting Dostoevsky's Brothers K about happy childhood memories.  He wrote that if it hadn't been for his grandma, he never would have had any.


My friend B and I went to a movie the other night: Rise of the Planet that went Ape.  Loved it.  We had a blast, laughing and blabbing as we always do.  She told me that Leland had recently been on vacation and posted photos on his facebook page.  It's a private page so I can't see them.  She pulled them up on her phone and I looked at pictures of beautiful scenery and gorgeous architecture.  The only shot of another human being was of Leland himself, and not his face at all.  He'd been lying on the beach, and had taken a pic of the water, catching a glimpse of his feet, gritty with sand.  That one hit me; the first sight of my own son in years.  He has my feet.

It's a strange thing to realize that someone you love isn't a nice person.  I never wanted to lump my own kid into the group of poisonous family members but for the moment, that's where he is.  I wish him well.  I hope that some day he can find his kindness again because he'll never really be happy without it.  I fear for him; scared he'll turn into an Ebenezer Scrooge, toiling daily on his invisible ropes of chains and money boxes, growing angrier and lonelier as the years go by, bitter with the whole world.  But hell, I'm nothing if not an optimist.  Even Scrooge, scum ball extraordinaire, found his inner soul in the end and became a good, happy and kind person.  I truly think that's the secret to self worth: to become worthy.  Simple but surprisingly difficult. 

Sometimes sadness just overwhelms me.  The weight of the past curls its tendrils around my legs and pulls me under for a simulated drowning.  But I always swim back up to the surface.  There's so much beauty, so much life, to still be lived.  For so many years, all I could see was grey misery and soggy bitterness, like day-old Coco Puffs in rancid buttermilk.  Sticky, inescapable yuck.  Sure, life's full of slime and angst and panic.  They're all noisy and they all want to snatch a ride on your back, weighing you down and nagging you to hurry, do better, try harder.  But if you take a moment to step back, straighten up and see sunshine in the trees or even lovely rainbows in an oily puddle in a parking lot, you can sluff the little fuckers off.  You can refuse to carry them any farther.   Beauty works wonders.  You just have to recognize it.

Insecurity addicts aren't really that different from Ebenezer Scrooge's chickenshit dealings with the world.  He feared life's hardships so made his own life harder still.  Insecurity can make you do the same thing; select bad choices because you're shaking in your boots and it's too scary to try for happiness.  Over the past couple weeks, several brave women and a courageous boy have inspired me with their decisions to change their habits, leave their abusive relationships, and take the plunge into new lives.  All of them, once drowning, now treading water and heading for the shore.  I'm doing the same thing, coughing a little sea water and cussing a blue streak as I swim back from far shallower water than they've been in.  Good luck with your own oceans, my friends.  May you feel the sun on your face and firm ground underfoot soon.  Just keep paddling.  Roll over on your back and float if you have to, but always keep swimming for the shore.

Love, R

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Turning Point

As many of you know, my mom died almost three weeks ago.  Part of me can't believe it's been that long, another part of me feels like it's been forever since she passed.  It was a terrible death, very prolonged, with unimaginable suffering.  I'm glad she's done with that.  There's a huge relief that she's not in pain or terror anymore, and a selfish relief that I don't have to endure the helplessness of watching her go through it.  But the grief is still surprising.  It hit me much harder than I thought it would.

When someone dies a slow, lingering death, one that takes months, us loved and loving ones have time to brace ourselves.  We figure out how we'll deal with it, we buck ourselves up with imagined scenarios and logical forecasting and, in the end, desperately long for it.  I love you, Mom.  You're an amazing fighter.  Please will you just let go now?  A third of your skin is gone.  It's time to let go. 

And then she does.  Finally, at last, she slips this mortal coil, probably giving a silver laugh as she wiggles free of that nightmare of a body.  She must have had one hell of a crowd waiting for her: her baby brother, her son, her sisters, Charles the Man; they probably had a party.  I mused and wondered and imagined it all.  But as my very wise best friend once told me, "Imagining and experiencing are two very different things."  Sure, she's free of pain but my mom's still dead.  I didn't think it would hit me as hard as it has.

I've been on a "sign from her" kick.  I feel a bit like Houdini's wife, waiting for that specific sign to prove he's still hanging around.  Mom had told me, a long time ago, that she'd like to come back as a robin.  She was always a bird lover and robins were a particular favorite.  So I've been obsessed with seeing a robin.  Come on, bird.  It's not like you're an uncommon species.  Hop across my path.

Every damn robin on Long Island has been in hiding for the past two weeks.  Nothing.  Not a glimpse, not a peep, not a warble.  Gone.  I walk to work every day, straining an ear and an eyeball, and every day for weeks, I've seen no red breast.  The paranoid goonie inside me began to wonder.  Now that she's dead, she knows about my book FREAK.  She's in it; every drunken repulsive thing she ever did in front of me is in it.  Well, quite a few.  Maybe she's mad.  Maybe she doesn't want me to see a sign that she's watching me.  Maybe she wants me to stew because I am such a fucking horror of a daughter.

As you can tell, the insecurity addiction was rearing its ugly head, gorging on all that grief and doubt.  I hid in my girlie cave and fought the good fight, whaling on my noisy insecurity with a sledgehammer until it settled down again.  But still, I looked for that robin.  And day after day, it didn't appear.

So let me tell you about yesterday.  I was walking into work early in the morning, just sneering at all the cardinals and blue jays and hoards of sparrows, when I noticed a shrieking rage up in the tree I was just passing under.  There, puffed up in rigid fury, skinny legs bent and pissed off, was a robin, directly over my head.  He was MAD.  He hopped, he fluffed, he threw his wings into affronted points and fixed me with a beady eye.  His butt feathers poofed, and I narrowly skirted a stream of well aimed, righteous bird shit.

I was delighted.  Here was my sign.  An angry little bird with no sense of proportion, bitching a blue streak at me from a branch I could have touched with an outstretched finger.  He didn't care.  He would have pecked me.  Oh, yes, this was a sign.  I thought back to all the stories Mom had told me of her youth, of squeezing a cheeseburger onto the head of a boy who insulted her, of driving a date's car into the ditch when he tried to feel her up, of clawing red rivers down the cheek of another fresh kid on a bus ride.  No spiritual herald of my mom's would have come quietly.  He would have bitched and shrieked and tried to crap on me.  I grinned and baby-talked and all but skipped with glee at the sight of him.  He calmed down enough to look a trifle confused, then peeped a bit and flew off.

When my brother Ian was killed at the age of nineteen, Mom used to clean his tombstone every day.  Each morning, she'd wake up, make us breakfast, see us off to school, get her cleaning bucket and brushes, and drive up to the cemetery on the hill.  The first week, she saw yellow butterflies covering the grave.  The second week, she planted daffodil bulbs.  They'd been his favorite flower.  At the beginning of the third week, she gathered up her supplies and got into the car.  Halfway to the cemetery she told me she heard Ian say, very clearly, "God, Mom...not AGAIN!"  She stopped the car in the middle of the old farm road, engine idling, and looked up at the tree on the hill, marking Ian's grave.  Then she said, "Okay, son," turned the car around and went home.

I think of that robin yelling at me and I believe it just might be Mom saying, "God, Beck...get on with your life!  I'm FINE!"  At the moment, I'm in the middle of the road, my engine idling.  I think it's time to turn around and embrace life once more.  I hope all of you out there, with your griefs and tragedies and sad sad stories, can see the wisdom of that pissy little bird, find a way to turn around, and embrace your own lives.  Take care.

Love, R