Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pep Talk Misery

Hi, all.  I have a dear friend, someone who had a far worse childhood than mine, go through a crisis a few weeks ago.  I sent her a ghastly letter of miserable comfort which, thankfully, she understood.  It's one of those "everything has a silver lining" letters, one of the corny things I absolutely believe in.  Beauty in a dung heap is often corny because it's full of cow shit.  But flowers love it.  I thought I'd reprint my letter here. 

Dearest Friend:

I lost everything to save my son.  Everything material that I had except for a movie collection and some pieces of junk.  But because of that, he's alive.  I lost my home, my savings, my car, my job...two jobs and my business, actually, and had to move back to the hellhole I was raised in. 

It was worth it but it fucking hurt.

Back home, I lost my stepfather, my cats, my job, any hope of a relationship with my sister, and seven other family members in one year.  I realized my mom's selfishness wasn't because of her drinking, as I'd romantically believed for over a decade.  I lost the housekeeper/cook job with my sister, saw her twist and then fire my daughter, who almost lost her own home because of it.   I became a slave to my needy and then invalid mom, where every day was comprised of cleaning up shit, piss, vomit and blood.

It fucking hurt but it was worth it.

I left the state and went to a close friend's cabin, where I tried to piece together my old business and get enough money to get back to the East Coast.  I ended up losing a friendship which I'd thought was one of the true ones.  He viciously turned on me and I still don't understand why.  It made no sense.  I tried to get back to New York but couldn't and had to slide back into the Briggsville hell.  I got the horrible college graduation invitations from Leland, addressed to my sister and my mother but purposefully omitting me, and I became suicidal for only the second time in a pretty tough life. 

I tried to help the parents of my best friend as they battled his mother's cancer, but when she lost that fight I lost my friend as well, in a baffling and horrific nightmare of circumstances.  I limped back to Mom's house.  I was so trapped by responsibility and poverty, all twisting together into a windstorm that was literally destroying me.  Everything was awful to the point of no hope.  Everything.  I wanted to die, I wanted to stop trying.  I was so exhausted, it was beyond depression.  It was simply exhaustion from existing.  I held on but didn't want to.

It was agony but it was worth it.

I got my mother out, got her into the nursing home with her Advanced Alzheimer's, a good one that my sister had found.  I packed up her house, found my dead brother's decades-old massive blood pool in the closet and scrubbed it up for hours on my hands and knees, covered with rotten hamburger stench and my brother's gore all over me.  I screamed as I did it.  I raged.  The next day, an enormous tornado ate a quarter of the town and pretty much all of the field behind the house.  I cleaned up the mess, helped saw up the branches, hauled shit for days to the front yard for collection, and began to close up the house.  I packed up the car, spent all the money from the sale of the furniture mailing shit out to NY so I wouldn't have to pay for a moving truck, which I couldn't afford anyway, got into Mom's dilapidated old van and drove away.  The insurance woman told me it would be a better idea to transfer ownership and insurance of the van once I arrived in New York; cheaper that way.  So when the van hit those rocks from the Pennsylvanian mountains and popped the back tire, and the van and half its contents, including my computer, were destroyed, I got no money because the car was still in Mom's name and Kat was executress of the estate.  She made sure I got nothing from the insurance check.  I got to New York and had to find not an apartment, like I'd hoped, but a tiny room that had to be walking distance from the restaurant I'd transferred to from the Midwest.  When I arrived, I discovered that my old redneck boss, the one who made racist comments about the president, had not transferred, but fired me, thus destroying all my insurance.  So when I crashed, if I'd gone to the hospital, I would have been uninsured and not even known it.

Awful, awful, awful, but worth it.

So why?  Why was all that shit in a shit blender storm worth it?  Hindsight is the only thing that can de-tangle that fucked up mess.

Leland is alive and prospering.  I gave him time to become a decent person.  It's up to him to do it.  Personally, when he was in rehab, I discovered an inner strength I had no idea I possessed.  The delivery of the graduation invitations was so over-the-top cruel, it literally snapped me out of my depression.

Going back to the house of my childhood made me see things clearly.  Painfully, sure, but clearly, and it freed me from the guilt I'd have felt otherwise with the publication of FREAK.  My daughter got out and is very happy where she is in Wisconsin.  She loves it and would never have known such a life if she'd been even content in Briggsville.  But the misery forced her to get out and find a better life.  So she did.  I did too.

The friend who owned the cabin wasn't a friend at all.  Neither was the best friend.  I was just so used to terrible people that obnoxious selfish people seemed like a walk in the park and I was content to have them all around me.  But Fate wasn't.  I was having poisonous people cut out of my life.  There aren't any more.  You and I both know how we are prone to collect them.  This is a first for me and it's incredible how much a person can bloom when they're not being told what a sack of shit they are by a loved one, even in jest.

If I hadn't cleaned out Mom's house, I never would have found Ian's blood.  I never would have cleaned it up and prayed over it as I poured the slop out of a bucket behind the barbecue pit in the backyard.  Anybody else would have probably not even realized what they were scrubbing up or worse, they'd have simply ripped up the tile and tossed the whole mess into a landfill somewhere.  I helped him find rest.

If I hadn't had the car wreck, if I'd had the money I'd laboriously saved (which all went to the wreck and its costs), I never would have found my beloved roommate, who's like the sister I always wished I'd had.  I might have gotten a job somewhere else and never met the people I was obviously supposed to meet at this restaurant, the ones who are helping me even now with the book, the ones who are so kind and supportive and truly care about me and not what they can get from me.  And as for not having a car, all the walking to and from work has helped me shed sixty-five pounds and I'm in better shape than I've been in years.

I think you're right about the welfare of your family being all important.  I think Fate has a hold of you all and is not going to allow anything really awful to happen.  What you've lost is just stuff.  I think you were stubbornly holding onto a life that was just a repeat of what you've always known and Fate is now stepping in to save you from yourself.  You're not losing the final remnants of your old life: you're shedding them, like a too tight and dirty old snake skin.  Now you'll be able to grow.  Your one-year-old won't give a shit where he lives or what you can buy him for at least ten years as long as his parents love him.  And that, my beloved, beloved friend, is a guarantee.  Yo will always love him.  You will never allow your past to be your son's future.  This is a rebirth for you all.  I had nothing.  Nothing.  Now I have everything.  As to my poverty, so what?  I know how to be poor and I'm working my ass off to change my own future, to escape the past, to wrestle it and make it work for me instead of against me.  You hang in there, my love, my dearest friend.  You hang in there and you keep going forward.  There's light on the horizon so keep moving.  I love you very, very, very much.  I always will, no matter what.  Be well.  Be strong.  Endure, shed and grow.

Love, R 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weird Animal Summer

I've had a bit of a weird animal summer.  Not quite as extreme as my weird animal week of long ago, but strange and wondrous nonetheless.  There was the backyard bunny who lounged beside me one sunny afternoon in early June.  He laid like a cat and gazed at me, not four feet away, completely at ease in a dust bowl he'd hollowed out under a bush.  I was there first, hanging out in the grass, listening to the water fountain in the bird bath gurgle, when he hopped up, looked me over, shrugged his bunny shoulders and just flopped down.  We hung out for about half an hour before I got up to go to work.

Then there were the flocks of robins who decided to play chicken with me on my walks in mid-July.  I'd be sauntering along on the sidewalk or blacktop road and they'd zoom right past my belly, within touching distance, as if I was a car on the highway and this was their avian trial of courage.  Over and over, day after day for several weeks, the robins swooped.  They never swooped at me as a threat; it was always who can get the closest without the big human eating us. 

And then, of course, the kitten, tossed out a car window like so much garbage.  I was walking to work under my gigantic umbrella because it was raining, and saw an SUV type vehicle stop in the middle of the road half a block ahead of me, throw something out, then drive on.  I thought it was a crumpled up lunch sack or something but it was a starved kitten.  The vet said it was about three months old and weighed less than a pound.  Using a syringe the vet gave me, I fed it every twenty minutes for weeks and force fed it water for half that time.  It is now healthy and happy in its new home with its new and wonderful owners, a sleek and shiny silver tabby named Loki.  The Norse god of mischief.  Very appropriate.

Flocks of sparrows which don't fly away until they're practically under my feet, pigeons who dive bomb me, a dead Canadian goose on the path I take to work every day, and the young sparrow who decided my baby-talking was an invitation to "come on down" because he flew onto my head and sat for a while.  I stood there, blinking, thinking, "Uh...little bird...I have to go to work.  Please don't shit in my hair."  It isn't the first time a random bird has flown onto my head but it hasn't happened for a good decade and a half.  Thankfully, the little sparrow did not crap in my coif and I was able to go to work after he flew back up into the tree. 

My mom called me from her nursing home two nights ago to tell me that a young kid I taught art classes to in high school had come to the home to sing and play his guitar for the clients there.  When he found out who she was, he gave her his number to give me.  I called to thank him for making my mom so happy and the first thing out of his mouth was, "Remember when we rescued that dog by the Williams' farm?"

Fundamental things stay the same.

Love, R

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pop a Pilly Person

I get annoyed with too many physicians prescribing pills.  Say that three times fast.  When I first went into the hospital, over two decades ago, for unexplained pain, and stayed there for five days, the doctors scratched their heads over all the weird results from all the myriad tests they'd done on me.  On the fifth day, they did a CAT scan and the results looked like I'd "been beaten with a bat."  My connective tissue was all swollen and squeezing everything else.  After I got home, the long march of medical inquiry began; doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist.  For the most part, I welcomed their poking and prodding because I was as baffled by my ghastly symptoms as they were.  But seven out of eight therapists, sprinkled among the rheumotologists and gynaecologists and a zillion other ologists, talked to me for ten minutes, then tried to throw psych drugs down my throat.  Don't get me wrong; I think prescription drugs are wonderful things when correctly prescribed.  That being said, I didn't trust the opinion of anybody who barely glanced at me for even a quarter of an hour but was positive that they knew exactly what I needed. 

The doctor who finally figured it all out, the one who took the time to read my copious notes and listen to my descriptions, said something brilliantly simple to me.  My insecurity was raging, and I'd begun to think that maybe this was all in my head.  I recognized the fact that I was screwed up, depressed and miserable...maybe I'd done this to myself.  Another chance at self-blame and I grabbed it with both hands.  My surgeon looked at me and said, "Rebecca, depression doesn't show up on a CAT scan."  I've never doubted the importance of second and third opinions ever since.

I was thinking about all the people in my life right now; kind and generous folk who truly care about me and want me to be happy and fulfilled.  It's something I've never had before and the feeling is wondrous.  How different life is when you do some simple self preservation exercises: namely not allowing life suckers and emotional cannibals to feast on you.  It feels good to have meat on your spiritual bones, with no teeth marks or gnawed joints to contend with.  I still get that ice-water-in-the-guts feeling when I have to tell someone "no" but the world, contrary to what my insecurity assures me, hasn't come to an end yet.  I am gloriously, blindingly unimportant to the vast majority of everybody else.  It doesn't make a difference to the scheme of things when I take a little time for myself, when I don't spread myself too thin or forget about REM sleep to please somebody else.  In the big picture, such secure actions don't mean much, but they're a whole new world for me.  I am becoming, a little bit every day, a better person.  Happier, more thoughtful, far more insightful and even a bit more intelligent, all because I'm listening to something other than the voice of insecurity.  What a mouthy brat it is.  True friends have been instrumental in this and I wouldn't have true friends if I hadn't put a muzzle on my inner negatives.  I'd still be plodding along with the old familiar crowd of toothy-jawed cannibals.  True friends are the best prescription I've ever experienced and I thank God for recognizing them.  They're part of my regimen of self-discovery now, a foundation to help shore me up as I build my own structure.  So good luck to all of you out there as you work toward a more sunshiny self.  May you find and hold, and be found and held, by true friends.  Make sure you include yourself in that mix.

Love, R

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Slippery Slope

Did you ever see the movie Poltergeist?  There's a scene where the mother is trying to get out of the gross out backyard pool, which is full of bobbing gooey corpses.  The pool is in the process of being dug, so there's no cement and it is, of course, raining, as is often the case in haunted house movies.  She's scrambling up the sides of the muddy hole, unable to get any traction, and the black slop is beginning to cave in on her, which it eventually does, pitching her back into the cesspool of pissed off dead.  Very dramatic and skin-crawlingly skeevy. 

I think that's what it feels like sometimes when you're trying to change your life.  The intent is there, but gravity and rain combine with mud and you're very often grease-pigging your way back into the cesspool of your old existence.  I was the piggiest of them all.  I slipped and slid and crawled back up and slipped and slid again, always plorping back into the stagnant water and ghastly personnel I'd been trying to escape in the first place.  I couldn't get any traction and I never looked inside myself for any climbing tools.  I always looked outward, hoping to be saved, hoping to scramble hard enough next time to get out.  Maybe I'd dig up a rock or hard place to get a toehold.  But circumstances have to be modified from the inside out, not the outside in, when it comes to changing something so monumental as an entire life.  It wasn't until my son went into rehab and I went into rehab counselling that I began to see that I was throwing buckets of grease onto the walls myself.  The intent of escape was there...but so was my big ass bucket of slippery slop.  I was sabotaging my own determination.  I was digging my own hole.   

It all comes down to self esteem.  If you think you suck ass, your mind and body will find a way to obey.  They're just following instructions.  If you look in the mirror and see only faults, as I did for so long and sometimes still do, then faults will be all you develop.  I used to do an hour of yoga, run two miles, do six hundred sit ups, dance for an hour or so, every day, all to lose weight.  It wasn't because any of the above mentioned activities were fun.  I did it to be skinny.  To find self worth.  To please others.  Their opinion was more important than my own because I sucked ass.  I concentrated on the outside, hoping that would do the trick.  Nothing was done for my inside.  Even when I did something worthwhile, I found a way to ruin it.  I taught art classes at an abused children's home, which was a beautiful and fulfilling thing, but allowed myself to be badgered into quiting.  The argument was simple.  My husband told me I was selfish and a bad mother to leave the house once a week for two hours to teach somebody else's children.  Especially damaged children, he told me.  They weren't going to amount to anything anyway.  They were already ruined.

It's easy to manipulate an insecure person.  We believe pretty much anything our alpha dog tells us because we don't trust our own judgement.  Why would we trust the instincts of ourselves; somebody we despise?  So we listen to people we picked to hurt us in the first place.  That's our bucket of rancid grease and we hurl it with abandon every time we try to change.

The trick is to value our inner kindness.  We certainly listen to our inner asshole.  Why not lend an ear to the benevolent side of our own personalities?  It's hard, sure, and it takes time because the inner jerk will certainly shriek to get your attention, but it really works.  That's the set of climbing tools to get out of our flop hole of horror.  Value ourselves.  I'm not talking about false pride, or patting yourself on the back for not doing anything to deserve it.  Deserve it.  Become good, one step, one inch, at a time.  Otherwise, it's still empty.  Smile at yourself in the mirror.  Hold yourself at night and think about what good you've done.  Compliment somebody on what they're wearing.  If you see an old lady struggling to lift a bag of groceries, help her put them in the car.  Throw some change in a charity can at the checkout counter.  Smile at a neighbor.  Hold the door for a woman with her baby.  Help others.  Kindness is contagious, just like cruelty is.  One's a disease and the other's its cure. 

But helping others is just the first step.  It won't be enough if you don't get the praise you need.  I've always helped others, ever since I was a kid, but I always expected that someday, I'd get a big pat on the back from somebody for being such a peach.  So I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  But nobody ever did anything but want more because I'd surrounded myself with cannibals and they ate me, on a plate I dished up myself. Even when friends complimented me, I didn't believe it.  I questioned their motives, thought they were just being nice or trying to get me to do something.  The blindness of my own insecurity guaranteed that I stayed in my rotting hole until I began to rot myself.  I didn't understand whose voice I was waiting to hear, whose hand I wanted to pat me on the back.  I kept thinking it would be a soul mate, a lover, a best friend, a hero.  But I was none of those things so it never occurred to me to do it myself.  And that's the person I most needed it from.  Me. 

So become a hero, even if just a teensy one, every day.  With the smallest of gestures, you can change a life.  I still remember an old lady at a gas station, thanking me for being such a good mother to my toddler son.  That memory still has the power to warm me because it wasn't about my outer shell.  It was my inner light and my happy little boy's laughter that inspired her words.

  You can change yourself.  Believe even when it's impossible to see anything but shit.  That's just what you're used to.  It's not all there is.  You can give the world a beautiful contagion of generosity and thoughtfulness, all without being a pushover.  That, too, is a slippery slope.  Put down the grease bucket and begin the climb out.  You can do it.  Like I say, over and over, if a nutball loser like me can do it, anybody can.  Believe it.

Take care.

Love, R

Saturday, September 18, 2010

House Sitting

I am going to be out of town for a few days.  I'm housesitting for my good buddy, which entails lots of channel surfing on her ginormous television and playing with her cats.  Hard work but someone's go to do it.  I will not be completely idle, however; I'll be writing stuff to put on my new facebook page.  One step closer to the PR work for FREAK when it comes out.  Next thing you know, I'll be tweeting.  Surreal thought.  Take care, all, and be well and happy.

Love, R

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poison Brain

I have a friend who's in prison now.  She's a young woman with a good heart and a huge problem, and she is rightly paying the price for his enormous crimes.  Her name's Laurel.  She's a drug addict, and has been for six years.  In that time, she's run through a lot of her parents' savings, decimated relationships with family and friends, and ostracized pretty much everybody.  A year ago, she drove her car while wasted, best friend in the passenger seat, and crashed into another car loaded with innocents.  They were lucky in that no one was killed but Laurel was the only one who walked away without a scratch.  She told me that when the air bag deflated, all she could see was blood and glass.  Her passenger is now crippled for life from a broken neck and has had multiple surgeries to repair what's left of her face.  Laurel tried to kill herself two months ago and has criss cross scars on her wrists, still pink with fresh healing. 

Laurel isn't the only person I know in jail because of drugs and I'm sure she won't be the last.  A young man I'm very close to, with an equally horrific problem, just went in a few months ago himself.  Their crimes are eerily similar.  Promising youth squandered on drugs for fun and popularity, car crashes, death and dismemberment.  It reminds me of my brother and how he was killed on his motorcycle by a rash youth forty years ago.  His fiancee survived but is unable to walk for any length of time, even after dozens of surgeries. 

I see both sides.  I am not blinded by love for these criminals but neither am I sightless from hatred for their deeds.  I believe they must pay for what they have done.  My two friends are doing so, in ways they can't imagine.  So are their blameless victims.  Nobody wins when it comes to drugs. 

The escape from suffering, which is the number one excuse for using drugs in the first place, is such a selfish reason.  I'm not sure that most people think of it the way I do.  Sure, it's selfish for the obvious reasons of just gaining a lazy pleasure or cessation of misery, but I think of everybody the ripple effect of buying illegal drugs touches in the first place.  I was a victim of addicts as a young kid, a plaything to be passed around like a dirty rag to wipe somebody's ass.  I literally know hundreds of people who can say the same. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Do I Love Thee?

I was watching The Barretts of Wimpole Street the other day, starring Norma Shearer, Frederick March and Charles Laughton.  What a great movie.  I've spent the last week or so marveling over the story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.  They were two poets who began their relationship through correspondence and a love of their art: poetry.  She had been raised in an abusive household but was already a famous poet by the time she met Robert, a more obscure and loudly passionate poet himself.  He fell in love with her after reading her work for the first time.  He understood her.  He knew who and what she was inside, by the beauty of her words.

How cool is that?  I don't feel any jealousy toward this most famous couple; I am always grateful when proof of love is shown in history, and reverent when it's displayed in art.  Robert rescued Elizabeth from her father in what is commonly thought to be an incestuous household.  It is known to have been physically and emotionally destructive to Elizabeth and her many siblings.  She wrote one of the most beautiful love poems ever written as a tribute to her feelings for her beloved husband, Robert Browning.   I've included it here, the lovely Sonnet 43, more commonly known as "How Do I Love Thee?"

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints.  I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

It's an amazing thing to read the soul of an artist.  I'm so grateful to have been able to experience these words, this graceful weaving of love, friendship, gratitude and appreciation that these two remarkable human beings felt for one another.  They began with an unlikely friendship and it blossomed into a seemingly impossible but unavoidable love.  I think Fate brought them together and the whole world benefited from it.

I have a special place in my heart for Elizabeth; she too is a sister of circumstance, a victim and a brave survivor of an unspeakable childhood.  She channeled that pain into creation, spinning lyrical comfort and a sacred balm of poetry to untold millions throughout the years.  That's the ticket out of hell for people like us: the damaged, broken wrecks of humanity who flounder in deep water and so often sink without a trace.  Creation and generosity, self-forgiveness and determination to not repeat the past, even if we've done it all our lives.  A treasure hunt with our own souls as the prize, clearing away the debris of our past so we can show the world the golden beauty of us.  Show ourselves.  Even without a handsome savior, we can find that treasure inside.  We can be our own Robert Browning and rescue ourselves...maybe even others who are floundering still.  Everyone has, somewhere inside them, the soul of an artist.  Tap into it and create something beautiful.  If we're capable of creating ugliness, and I know I certainly am, then we are equally capable of creating beauty.  And beauty can heal the world.  Just ask Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Love, R

Monday, September 13, 2010

Brain Sucker

When my kids were little, I used to go up to them, put my spread fingers over the tops of their heads and yell, "Brain Sucker!!!"  I would then slorp my fingers as if trying to suck their brains.  It was just one of the things I did, like when I played Rabid Mommy.  Don't ask. 

I thought of this little bit of reminiscence today after I heard somebody using the words "brain" and "sucker" in the same conversation.  They were talking about relationships and college simultaneously.  It made me think of my own past relationships and how I dealt with them, so very differently than I would now.  It's amazing what a few years of emotional exercises will do if you stick to them.  I have so much self worth now and I had so little then. 

My head wove together this unrelated string of thoughts and came up with a revelation: there are real brain suckers out there; people who slorp and gobble and devour scarred messes like me, people who are scarred and damaged themselves but are predators while I was prey.  Since I grew up in a blue collar family, poor and uneducated for generations and violent to boot, my younger self decided that the best plan was to be among educated non-violent people.  Logical.  Problem solved.  I congratulated myself on my own cleverness.  But logic and cleverness can't replace wisdom and insecure people are not wise.  We simply aren't.  We judge things by our own experiences and tend to see only the surface without bothering to look below.  I married a man who was working on his own higher education.  He didn't drink or do drugs, he wasn't violent; indeed, he considered passion of any kind to be crude.  I thought I'd hit the jackpot: here was someone completely different from my father.  Everything was going to be sunshine and roses.

But I failed to look below the surface.  Peter had come from a horrifically abused background as well.  I considered that a bonding thing and was actually glad of it.  But I didn't look to see how he dealt with his own skewed view of the world.  We both saw jaundiced versions of life.  I believed that if a person worked hard enough, was kind and patient enough, that they could save anybody, solve any problem, fix everything.  Peter believed that if a person rose above everyone else, pushed emotions aside and judged the lower ranks as harshly as they deserved, then he could be safe and in control.  We were both insecure and stupid in our naivete but we stuck to our philosophies like glue, walking through life with blinders on. I didn't understand that real kindness sometimes wore a harsh face, or that kindness to myself was every bit as important as kindness to others.  If I didn't value myself, no one else would either, and I taught my children a dangerous and wholly unintentional lesson: insecurity.  Even though I knew of its dangers, even though I tried to do the right thing, I still passed it on because my actions spoke louder than words.  I argued, often heatedly, with my husband, I made a big noise and put on a tough mask...but I still obeyed him in the end.  I still allowed him to envelope and devour me until I began to lose my own identity and self-worth to the point of self-destruction.  My children saw this daily.  Rhianna learned to be controlled and abused and Leland learned to control and abuse others.   All of this came about because I didn't know to look beneath the surface.  I saw only a man trying to better himself through education.  I heard only his assurances that things would get better when he was done with grad school.  When he finished grad school and began his post doc but continued his cruelty, I swallowed the line that he would be nicer when he finished school entirely.  So I waited.  I waited while he found fault with everything we did, waited while he never came home, never did things with the kids, never thought to include me in anything to do with his colleagues.  Rhianna and I were the dirty uneducated secret, the ones holding him back, the embarrassment.  Leland was ignored for the most part as well, but showered with all Peter's pompous superiority and insecure demands.  In Peter's mind, Leland was of his blood, thus superior to Rhianna, who wasn't.  Even when I discovered Leland's serious drug use and overdose, all Peter could say was that I couldn't put him in rehab.  What decent college would take him if it was known that he was a drug addict?  Peter was a professor by then, a respected intellectual, and it would look bad if he had a son in rehab.  Thankfully, I was at a point where I could see a little more clearly, and I kept our son in rehab even though it was the hardest thing I've ever done. 

The point of all this rambling is to ask anyone out there reading this to learn by my mistakes.  Remember that intelligence, cleverness, kindness, toughness, are all surface things.  Important, of course, but surface only; tools to be used by our inner selves.  The inner selves we show to very few, if any, others.  If the foundation isn't strong, the whole building will crumble.  I was my own foundation but I was made of chalk and sand and my world came tumbling down.  Strangely enough, it was that catastrophe that forced me to rebuild.  I was lucky enough to do so.  I'm still laying brick and mortar.  I always will be.  If you're in a bad relationship, whether it be with someone who's physically abusing you or simply controlling you through guilt or bullying, look beneath the surface.  See what's really there and what you're doing to yourself and any loved ones around you.  I have a friend who said that a loved one shouldn't make you feel like a curled up, dry leaf.  A loved one should help you to bloom, to find the best in yourself and encourage your growth as well as their own. 

I have made a vow to myself: I will always be there for me; I'll value myself enough to watch my own back.  I will build a healthy relationship with Rebecca before I contemplate a relationship with anybody else.  If I don't do that, I'll just slide right back into that fly paper ditch I just clawed myself out of.  I will never let anyone else ever make me feel less than human, less than an equal.  I will recognize the difference between serving and being a slave.  I will lead by example and I will be honest in what a dumb ass I've been for most of my life.  It's okay to be a dumb ass as long as you strive to become something better. 

To thine own self be true.  Scrape off the self-hatred and the lousy parasitic relationships and grow a little bit every day.  See yourself clearly and take the time to do that correctly.  Soon, you'll be standing instead of crawling.  And keep doing all the silly but important emotional exercises every day.  Tell yourself these things, every night before you go to bed, no matter how stupid your insecurity makes it feel:

Good night, beautiful mind.
Good night, beautiful body.
Good night, beautiful spirit.

When I began doing that, I sneered and didn't believe a word of it, felt contempt at myself for even doing it.  But water can wear away stone and wash away treacle bitterness.  Keep at it.  Make a difference in your life and change yourself, one drop at a time.

Love, R

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nine Eleven

I was living on Long Island on September 11, 2001.  Like everybody else, I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the first plane hitting the Twin Towers.  I was in the car with my best friend.  She'd forced me to get up at the crack of dawn because there was an early bird sale going on at a store and she wanted me to go with her.  We were listening to Howard Stern on the radio when it was announced that a plane had just flown into the Twin Towers.  We sat in the parking lot and knew it wasn't an accident when the second plane struck. 

We raced home.  My ex-husband, who'd moved back to the Midwest the year before, was in the City and I knew he'd said he was going to the Twin Towers.  I'd actually been mad at him because our son Leland hadn't seen him for a year and he'd made plans to go into Manhattan by himself.  I'd wanted him to take Leland, spend time with him.  Now I was happy that he'd been so selfish. 

I went to Leland's high school and demanded that he be brought out of class.  I didn't want him to hear any secondhand bad news about his father if anything had happened to Peter.  I also just wanted my son near me.  I was in full blown protection mode.  The office worker tried to tell me that they wanted to keep everything normal but I simply looked at her and said, "Get my son.  Now."

As I sat and waited, I saw how crowded the office was.  Nervous teenagers with barely contained tears sat shaking in their seats while others milled about, murmuring quietly.  The whole room seethed.  A woman with a baby on her hip came in, and an adolescent girl jumped up and wailed, "He's dead!  He's dead!"  The woman held her hand out and yelled across the space, "No, baby.  No.  He got out.  He's okay.  Daddy's okay."  Then I saw my son and everybody else vanished.  He hadn't skipped school.  He was there...and pissed off at me for getting him out of class.  I didn't care.  We went home and put the news on.  It stayed on for the next five weeks.

I called my friend Danny.  He's a jack-of-all-trades, and I knew he was working near the Towers.  I knew him, knew he'd run straight there the second the first plane hit.  So I called his cell, which of course couldn't get through, and just kept hitting redial, redial, redial, my eyes glued to the TV the whole time.  As the first tower began to collapse, I got through.  There was nothing but a huge roaring sound, a grinding, tumbling killer wave of noise on the other end.
"Danny?" I screamed at the top of my voice.  "Danny, are you there?"
"Yeah," he yelled back, out of breath.
"Were you in the Towers?"
"Where are you now?"
I started screaming, "Go, go, go!!!"
I shouted as he ran, hearing the roar catch up to him, listening to a sound I'd never experienced, something terrible and huge and fast.  Finally he got around the corner of a building and could hear me again.  We shouted back and forth to each other but it was so loud, I could tell he didn't know who he was talking to.  When I asked, he admitted he had no idea who I was.
"It's Rebecca!"
"Rebecca who?"
I'd dialed the wrong number.  It was a total stranger.  I told him I'd call his family, let them know he was okay, that there was no way he'd be able to get through on his cell.  He thanked me but refused, then said, "I'm going to hang up now.  Thank you."  I blurted out that I loved him.  I don't remember if he answered back.  Then the phone went dead.  After we hung up, I realized I'd never even asked his name.

Danny had run there but he wasn't in the Towers when they went down.  He spent the next two weeks working twenty-one hour days, stringing emergency phone lines at Ground Zero.  My ex was in Washington Park and saw it all.  He was part of the crowd that walked across the bridge back to Long Island.  I walked all over my town, peeking into the shops and calling friends, making sure everybody was safe.  Many weren't.

A year later, I was in an Italian restaurant with my best friend and her husband.  We were in the bar, waiting for our table.  There was a rowdy old drunk who was yelling about something.  He looked to be around sixty, sixty-five years old.  My friends drifted to the other end of the bar but I sat on my stool, watching the waves of pain that were radiating off this old dude.  He wasn't just a self-indulgent drunk; something was very wrong.  I thought of the date and wondered if it had anything to do with his rants.  He came over to me, blue-eyed and bleary, and thumped me on the back like an old comrade.  I smiled and he began to rant again, yelling about loss, sorrow, anger and hatred but with no specifics: just noise about "how they should all die, everybody, everybody."  He started gripping handfuls of my hair, running his fingers through it.  I let him; I could tell it was helping.  He started crying and admitted that he'd lost not only his son, but his grandson and his brother in the Twin Towers.  "I'm not hitting on you, sweetheart.  I swear I'm not hitting on you," he mumbled, hands in my hair.  
"I know you're not."
My friend came over and told me our table was ready.  Glaring at the old man and his inappropriate fingers in my hair, she then looked at me like I was crazy, letting him touch me like that.  I got off the stool and the man's hands dropped to his sides, his chin quivering with all the emotion he was trying to bottle up.  I went over and put both my hands on the back of his neck, pulling him forward until our foreheads touched. 
"You can grieve like this a bit longer, but you're almost done, okay?" I whispered.  "Almost done."
He grabbed the back of my head, tight, then nodded.  He sighed, and his face crumpled.  "Yeah.  Okay."

Every time I watch a movie that's set in New York, one that was made before 911, I feel this visceral rage when I see the skyline that was stolen from us.  When I think of all the men, women and children lost on that terrible day and the gutless cowards who murdered them so gleefully.  Everyone was going to funerals for months afterward.  Every week, firemen stood at stop signs with boots in their hands, in which drivers stuffed any money they could spare.  It was all donations for the families of the lost.  I think about my friend from Iran, a woman who'd fled the country when they tried to kill her for teaching girls how to read, and how people here spit on her as she walked down the sidewalk after 911.  Or my pal from Libya, who was sitting at a bar a week later when a man came up and punched him in the back of the head for no reason, knocking him unconscious and giving him a concussion.  Of their kids being targeted at school because they looked Middle Eastern.  It made me think of Woodie Guthrie, and how he stopped an angry mob from attacking a Japanese family in their store, right after Pearl Harbor.  Guthrie jumped on top of something, can't remember what, and began to sing, "We shall overcome."  Music soothed the beast and the mob changed into a united front of concerned people.  I'd love to see a Woodie Guthrie right now, strumming a song of unity and love instead of fame-obsessed sociopaths fanning hatred on 24 Hour propaganda channels.

But in all that chaos, all that strife and justifiable grief, I also saw something beautiful.  Something hopeful.  A nation coming together to mourn and help each other recover.  Celebrities gave their time and money, individuals volunteered anything and everything they could, students did fund drives and grade schoolers drew cards.  It was the same during World War II, when everybody did their part, coming together under a common and despicable attack.  Sure, we have the whackadoodles and their slobbery rhetoric, but the big-hearted and generous far outweigh them.  I love this country.  I love the diversity of people in it.  I love the freedom that allows even the most idiotic morons imaginable their freedom of speech and expression, even as I abhor their actions.  I know that we can come together in bad times and good because we've done it before.  Many times.  As long as there are people to check prejudice and illiteracy and stupidity, we always will come together.  Like Gandhi said, good always triumphs in the end.  Always.  And even when it doesn't feel that way, even when we're in a valley instead of on top of a hill, that is still true.  We just have to believe it, then roll up our sleeves and make it happen.  With a little work, good will always triumph in the end.  We can unite and keep ourselves strong.  Take care of yourselves and be well.

Love, R

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grass Under My Feet

I was contemplating the comfort of grass under my feet tonight.  For the last few nights, I've gone out into the backyard, taken off my shoes and socks, and wiggled my toes in the manicured fauna of the lawn.  There's something soothing about cool grass on the tootsies, like a mother stroking your hair when you were little.  So, I went a bit farther.  I sat in the grass and looked up at the stars, strangely grateful that they were always there, even when hidden in cloud shadow.  Earth and sky, always there.  Roots and branches, feet and head, body and spirit, always there, always together.  It was gorgeous.

But something was nagging me in the back of my mind; a heavy sorrow, a seeping wound.  I examined the sensation and realized I was hanging onto it fiercely, like a lifeline, even though it was hurting me.  I could feel it, something sharp inside, something detrimental and dug in deep.  I knew this ache.  It was the old familiar anger and sorrow from all my criss-crossing emotional scars, trying to draw my attention away from this lovely moment.  Noisy misery doesn't want to be healed and it'll raise hell to get you to stop.

I refused to give it notice, so it began yelling like a demanding brat in a toy store.   What are you doing?  You look stupid!  What if the neighbors are watching you?  There are probably bugs in this grass.  GET UP!!!

I began to whisper in the darkness, "I let go of my anger over my father.  I let go of my anger over my mother..."   You could practically hear my insecurity yelling, "Nooooooooo!" like a foiled villian tumbling down a rabbit hole. 

I went through a litany of relatives and loved ones who've done me harm in the past, people who've hurt me physically, mentally and emotionally.  I spoke the words to unlock the chains that bound me to their terrible actions.  But once again, I left out a very important harmer.  Me.  Didn't even think to include myself in the mix.  So tonight I went out into the yard, took off my shoes and socks again, wiggled my toes and whispered, "I let go of my anger over myself.  I let go of the hurt I've done to myself.  I let go of the rage over how much I've hurt myself."  And the earth was there to comfort me.  Always there.  Dirt and grass are good listeners and they feel great too.

Now, sitting in my room and typing away, I am pleased with this new little tidbit of Rebecca Speak.  A new idea, a fresh regimen to help combat the insecurity, like learning a new exercise routine.  So I'm going to do it every night.  I've woven an intricate web of fear, loathing and depression over the years, all radiating out from a central spot, where I've squatted for so long.  It'll take some time to snip all the sticky threads but I'm confident I'm up to the job.  One step at a time.  I've already cut quite a few. 

So go on out there and dig your bare toes into some green grass, my friends.  Feel the solidity of the earth beneath your feet, breathe the air into your lungs and begin a routine of your own; a routine of self-love and healing, of dropping each negative emotion and feeling yourself get lighter with each release.  With practice, we'll soon be floating.  I feel like flying.  Let's start snipping the threads. 

Love, R 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zombie Fest

I went to go see the extended version of Avatar a few days ago.  It was fun, but that's not what got me all wiggly with excitement.  First of all, let it be known that I love Halloween.  Actually, I adore Halloween, Easter, Christmas and any other holiday I can decorate or watch movies to. 

As I was walking out of the theater, I noticed a giant poster in the lobby that had ZOMBIES written across the top of it.  My local theater, for Halloween, is showing a string of great zombie flicks in the six weeks before October 31st.  I will, of course, be going to most of them, but the one I'm most excited about is the original Night of the Living Dead, which I've never seen on the big screen.  This film has a strangely sentimental place in my heart because of my brother Frank's description of the experience when it first hit theaters.  I was very little.  He was a teenager, and went with his buddies.  When he returned, Frank was visibly shaken, something that fascinated my little grade school self.  I sat and listened to his blow-by-blow details of the groundbreaking film, from the first stumbling old dude zombie in the graveyard to the chewy bug-on-a-tree housewife.  The movie scared Frank and his tough guy friends so much, they sat on the floor and watched it through the cracks between the seats.  It wasn't until ten years later that I saw it myself, butchered on a local TV channel. 

Zombie movies have been in my family since before I was born.  My mother loved them.  She told me she couldn't sleep for a week after she first saw I Walked with a Zombie, the zombie Jane Eyre movie by the brilliant Val Lewton.  She described that movie to me twenty years before I ever saw it.  We watched Dark Shadows together when I was pre-school age, and my love of horror was solidified in that time.  I heard Johnny Depp is going to play Barnabus Collins in an upcoming film version.  I read monster comic books and watched Creature Feature movies, macabre scary stories and haunted house tales.  I even re-edited versions of horror short stories to give as dramatic prose readings on the speech team in high school.    I'm still pretty eclectic in my choice of reading but I love horror and romance before I go to bed, my own eccentric sleep remedy.  Don't ask.

My favorite story about zombies is when my good friend, against her wishes, finally relented and agreed to read the masterpiece of all zombie novels, World War Z, by Max Brooks.  It is the scariest book I've ever read.  Both her teenage kids had read it and nagged her until she gave up and took the book to bed with her.  In the middle of the night, under the beam of one small lamp, she sat in bed, terrified but unable to put it down, bug-eyed over the horror on the page.  Her door creaked open but no one came in.  After staring for a minute, she went back to the book, certain it was one of her cats which had nudged the door open.  Suddenly, her daughter reared up from the foot of her bed, grabbed her feet, and yanked her down while her football-playing son leapt on her from the side of the bed and began gnawing into her belly.  She screamed so loudly, the neighbors called the cops.

I love it. 

On the last year that my son Leland trick-or-treated for Halloween, he told me that I had to put on the scariest makeup ever and it couldn't be like anything I'd done before.  We were very serious trick-or-treaters; he'd race home from school, don his mask and gear, and I'd be waiting with a backpack of drinks and sandwiches so we could keep going right through dinner.  I'd periodically dump his pumpkin head bucket into my backpack so he could carry it easily.  He wanted to get a record candy haul for his last year.  He was twelve, and refused to trick-or-treat as a teenager, so this had to be the big one.  So, I pondered makeup and outfits and came up with something appropriate.  I smeared white clown makeup all over my face and let it crack, then dusted the cracks with black powder.  I rimmed my eyes with red, purple and black liquid makeup and stuck crunched up corn flakes in the blobby parts to look gross.  I blacked my teeth to make them look jagged, teased my hair into a mess, painted my hands and nails to match, put on a long black gown and a hood, then took fake spider web floss and put it on top of my head, pulling it all the way down to my feet until I was enveloped.  Then I stuck plastic spiders all over it.  Leland and Rhianna were both pleased by my horrifying self when they got home.  Rhianna went to trick-or-treat with her friends (she didn't like our insane marathons) and Leland and I went off to gather the record breaking candy haul.  I think he got twenty-eight pounds that year.

So, to all you out there who like zombies or anime, pink lace or black cobwebs, never feel embarrassed or shy about your own eccentricities.  There's a wonderful freedom in revelling openly in one's own quirky joys.  I have a good friend who loves ceramic frogs to an alarming degree, something I can't fathom.  But I applaud her loyalty to her own tastes.  To thine own self be true.

Even if it's zombies.

Love, R

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day

Hello, all my friends.  May you have a wonderful Labor Day.  Eat hot dogs and undercooked potato salad, roast marshmallows over flaky, almost spent coals and lie in the sun.  Take a break from angst, sadness, depression, work.  Suspend your disbelief in anything good for this one day and be young again, childlike with wonder as you look around.  Take note of all the beauty there is in the world.  I, myself, have no plans to barbeque or be with friends or family, but in my head, I'm a big fat, sated porkpie, full of nitratey yumminess and cherry pie.  I'm happy and grinning and walking in the sun, even as I head off to my job of slinging hash.  It's the mindset that makes things wonderful or terrible.  So suspend your sorrow for today and try to hang onto that feeling, even as tomorrow's sun rises.  It's hard work being happy but well worth it.  Always try.  Take care of yourselves and enjoy the holiday.  Rest, relax, and recuperate.

Love, R

Friday, September 3, 2010

Low Tide Funk

Every once in a while, no matter how we might guard against it,  our mood grows heavy and a low tide funk sets in.  That's what I call the occasional loss of energy and optimism; the weary moment that makes a person realize they need to step back and recharge their own batteries.  It's not the Blue Meanies; more like their aftermath.  I try to help friends when they're going through a low tide funk, and am grateful to have their shoulders to lean on when my own emotions are flip-flopping like fish on a soggy beach. 

It's usually other people's pissiness that gets me funkified.  Some minor irritation or major mean ass behavior will set me off and I'll have a bit of an old fashioned rant.  It feels good to let off steam but I try to keep my foot stomping to a brief minimum.  Then the funk creeps in as I digest all the drama.  In a week or so, I'm usually chipper again. 

I had a funk hit me a few days ago.  I have a friend who's in jail right now; a nice kid who did a stupid thing and is rightly paying for it.  His incarceration is not what upset me; I know a lot of damaged people who end up behind bars.  Highly intelligent, this kid needs a lot of mental stimulation, so I've been writing to him and sending articles he might be interested in.  I want him to think about a future that contains hope.  He was studying science in college before he went in, so that's what I've been focusing on.

My ex-husband is a scientist.  I don't usually have any contact with him, but he's uniquely qualified to advise me about potential reading material for this kid.  So I swallowed my trepidation and emailed the ex, requesting suggestions.  He wrote back: I think science journals are probably too technical for your friend.  Why don't you try a used book store or a comic book shop?

What a dick.  Cue the low tide funk.

In truth, it was my own fault for contacting him.  We insecurity addicts gravitate back toward the black hole of improper relationships pretty much all the time.  It's the nature of our unique addiction, wanting to propagate the greasy oil slick of crappy people in our lives so we can be in familiar territory.  There's a sort of self-deluding naivete in our thinking, where we try to justify being a dumb ass.  If I just give him one more chance, he'll suddenly become kind.  My patience will have paid off, my faith will be rewarded.  Instead, I just opened myself up for the meanie to stick the knife in again.  So I got funkified.

Thankfully, it didn't last.  I am in such a beautiful place right now: surrounded by loving friends, creating every day, no cannibals or vampires sucking the life out of me, no real health problems...a vast difference to any other time in my existence.  Unlike my childhood, where I was forced to endure, or my early adulthood, where I was compelled to suffer, I have now chosen to be happy. 

It's not easy.  This is uncharted territory for someone like me.  I have been used to bad or terrible behavior in almost all my relationships since birth and it's tough to value myself enough to change.  But I'm doing it and the world is definitely changing around me, for the better.  I don't accept negative people in my life anymore.  I don't freak out when somebody doesn't like me, or try to recreate myself into what would please them.  I am true to myself.  Most importantly, I don't insult myself anymore.  That was a huge obstacle to overcome, especially when you're witty about it, like I was.  I could get people to cackle deep belly laughs at my own self-degrading, encouraging them to join in.  That way, even my friends could hurt me because I was literally asking them to.  Once I began to realize this vicious cruelty I'd perpetuated in myself, I took steps to stop it. 

I'm a work in progress.  I still have a problem accepting compliments.  That's still difficult for me.  I'm practicing saying, "thank you" instead of making excuses or laughing it off.  Funny, because I adore compliments.  I don't like flattery, but compliments are always wonderful.  I have a close male friend whom I love very much but am not pining for.  That's a great difference too; the lack of obsession, the absolute belief that happiness is impossible unless I have a romantic partner. I am happy enough with my own company.  I don't mind being alone; I actually enjoy it.  That's a milestone as well: self haters despise having to spend time with that bitch in the mirror.  I have come a long way.  I still have a long way to go.  But the journey itself is fascinating.  To lay down roots which enable your own growth.  What an incredible thing for such a damaged, crushed spirit to experience...and all my own doing.  I am actually proud of myself for attempting it, and for sticking with it.  I'm thrilled to see the difference this effort has had already, and I refuse to be discouraged by my frequent stumbles along the way.  I was once a suicidal, fucked up train wreck.  Of course I'm going to stumble.

So it's okay to be imperfect.  It's not a crime to displease someone who wants you to obey in a detrimental fashion.  And there's nothing wrong with trying to find a way to help a friend in need.  One just has to be wise about it.  Good luck to all of you in your own sacred journey, and make sure to cut yourself a little slack.  Everybody stumbles.  Just make sure you get up and keep walking.

Love, R

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Restorative Goodness

Hello, all.  Nothing pithy or dramatic or spooky tonight, just a bit of beautiful kindness to report.  My dear friend Luther, whom I've known for thirty years, is at long last having a baby of his own.  He never thought this would ever happen.  His wife is almost eight months pregnant with a little girl and they're very happy about it.  I wanted to do something for this most beloved friend so began shamelessly calling all my friends in several states and telling them Luther stories to inspire their generosity.  And boy, did they inspire!  They spread the word and the results were incredible.  Complete strangers donated stuff.  Many even wrapped their donations as if for a baby shower.  My other friend, who's going to grad school in Chicago, drove all over hell to pick everything up and is going to deliver it to Luther and his wife very soon.  I can't wait to hear details as to their reactions.

That got me to thinking about humanity.  Sure, it's a boiling cesspool sometimes, and heaven knows we rampaging insecurity maniacs have had more than our share of dipping a toe in the stinky brine...but then there's something like this.  Complete strangers, hearing of someone's need, and coming together to help out.  To be generous.  To do something sacred.  It restores my faith in humanity, shows me how good we can truly be.  My own unexpected present, all gift-wrapped and ribboned.  The gift of the knowledge of goodness and the ability to notice it. 

It's like Christmas right now.

Love, R