Can we talk?

Her bouncy blonde curls hang wildly down to a soft, mustard-colored sweatshirt. She is smiling, and her blue-green eyes, the light of her face, squint ever so slightly.

We lean close, trying hard to fill the space between us with all the things which have happened since we last sat here, our favorite table in the corner, drinking matching diet cokes and sharing popcorn from a red and white bag.

This is love.

The feeling is big, and yet so simple; connection, familiarity, safety.

Our friendship was forged years ago as young girls trying hard to be seen and heard in a sea of middle schoolers. Something drew us close then, but we seem to have forgotten it, or maybe it lay buried under all the things.

Nearly a year ago, while dodging post-hurricane waves in Florida, our hearts opened up and spilled out to one another. Forged in the powerful surf. Tougher than the wind. We remembered.

We used to borrow each other’s clothes, sing loudly in the car, skip arm and arm down the halls, stay up all night talking about everything and nothing.

I want more.

More of her. More of us. More of the space between women which is sacred and holy and fucking amazing. More time to see her fully, all her complexities and contradictions, hopes and fears, everything.

I want more.

A week ago, I left for a writing retreat to this hippie camp near the ocean and the redwoods. I wanted something to happen, sure, but I feared nothing would. Anxiety, like the proverbial devil on my shoulder, whispering all the ways I would fuck it up.

But I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

Magic became not only attainable, but real; with a fairy path leading to a yurt, a unicorn chef who cooked concoctions worthy of the Gods, and a bonfire where truth was spilled out and passed around from one to the other.

The whispers of the ancients, things I know to be true in my bones, rocked me as I stood every morning on the damp redwood deck in my wool socks, the cool wetness seeping in, a hot cup of coffee clutched tightly in my hands.

The breezes would carry bits of conversation from the women inside, voices of strength and of hope, gathered around a fireplace adorned with candles and trinkets from those who came before. A sense of divine connection filled my soul.

I want more.

Since my return, I’ve dealt with rotten jack-o-lanterns, sick kids spewing mucus and whining loudly, piles of laundry, seven million voices in the carpool van all talking at once; the layers of responsibility trying desperately to bury the ancient truth again under all the shit.

I’m terrified another five, ten, twenty years will pass in a blur before I have another moment of remembering.

I want more.

So, my friends, as I stare at you too long, hold you too tight, forgive me. I’m lost in the redwoods still.

I just want to talk.

 

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The Magical Place

 

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The light and the dark of my friend

It can happen in just a second.

We are chatting happily about nothing in particular and the light suddenly shifts. Something I said either sparked a memory or struck an exposed wound that I didn’t see, and the darkness descends.

It’s always in the eyes first. I see the color shift slightly and then his gaze drops. Hoping it wasn’t noticed, eye contact is resumed. Yet the wrinkles on his forehead deepen and I can see the truth just under the surface bubbling.

His voice is his biggest betrayer. The tone, volume and speed all drop and I can actually hear the sadness seeping in. It’s subtle, but so noticeable once you pay attention. Like a siren broadcasting the approaching storm, it’s unmistakable.

Defenses shoot up fast, as only someone as experienced in living with pain knows how to do, and I prepare myself for the protective show.

Smiling way too big.

Telling a joke far too exuberantly.

Twisting the conversation away.

Diversionary tactics honed from years of experience.

He is a master at hiding.

He has perfected the art of subtly pushing friends away and protecting them from his demons. Thwarting real conversations with jokes meant to make you uncomfortable and to push your limits. If you’re off balance than you won’t look deeper at him.

handI watch as he pours himself into his creative outlets. His music, writing and art are filled with darkness and light. They are brilliant and help keep him from descending deeper down.

All of this hiding, covering up and creativity do work…most of the time.

Yet after experiencing and battling the darkness myself, the terrible monster that is depression, those moments when I see it happen can’t be ignored. I can’t just let them go without notice.

Nobody should have to go it alone.

True darkness isn’t something you can wish away or just “get over.” It’s as personal as your fingerprint, yet universal in its ability to destroy you. Everyone has experience with it, yet not everyone is pulled completely down.

I know that I am lucky. I have support, love and therapy. I strive to stay in the light most of the time, yet I know the dark intimately and slip down more than I care to admit.

There is no fix for depression.

It makes you feel alone and isolated. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to go there with you. It’s too uncomfortable and you have to be willing to expose your own darkness.

It is not for the faint of heart.

I want to be there for him, for my mother and for many others that I see struggle. All I can offer is an acknowledgement of the pain, my sincere love and a listening ear.

I can’t turn away from them.

For me, when I feel that heaviness start to take me over, I get busy. Super busy. I focus on each task throughout my day, making myself check lists and fretting over tiny details that have little real significance. I pour myself into my children and others and hope it’s enough.

But inevitably it happens.

I break.

Retreating into my hole with tears streaming down my face, I push everyone away and wallow in my feelings of inadequacy and fear.

The Machine

There is something in the tonal change
subtle, barely perceptible
enough to pull the lever

Chain winds around and tightens
breath becomes harder, thoughts unclear
belt moves, screeches its familiar tune

Never enough, constantly trying and failing
can’t let go, things will break
turning, tightening, hurting

Unrelenting it whines and chugs
painful pitch vibrates deep inside
sweet relief, release forever inches away

Intensity, fear wrapped in network of pain
turn it up, always threatening to break
shuddering, pulsing, trembling within

Gears slip, yet won’t fully snap apart
unbalanced it eternally churns uneven song
never the same, lever won’t be pushed back

I can see this pattern, this machine, work itself on me and many others that I love. I see it wind us up and spit us out. I wish I could shake us all free of its grasp and live fully in the light. Yet, deep down I suspect that isn’t something that can happen. The dark is always there.

Yet I am trying.

And I am praying.

I’m a tiny baby Christian just barely blooming. I read the Bible as a teenager, but never really embraced it. I was cynical, questioning and goal focused. There was no time to ponder my soul; I had papers to write, bills to pay and expectations to fulfill.

A few nights ago I read this:

1 John 2:6-7: If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The darkness has been such a big part of my adult life; it’s hard to imagine fully letting it go. Yet I want to. I wonder what it would be like to let go of all the pain that I hold tight to my chest? I wonder what it would feel like to live each day embracing the light and never fearing the dark?

I take another stumbling step forward, but I am no longer alone.

Battling giants and stomping the floor

10274147753_73b9312e43_cThe children were playing on the edge of the woods when then heard loud sobbing. Although frightened by the sound, the children gathered their courage and found a lonely dragon crying. Each tear turned into a precious stone as it hit the ground. The children befriended the dragon and he no longer was lonely.

For years the children would return each Autumn to the woods and visit the dragon. He would give them one of his tears to keep. As the children entered the darkness of winter, these precious stones would serve to remind them of the love, light and friendship they share.

But this year something dreadful happened. A horrible, mean giant stole all the tears. This giant prefers darkness, fear and loneliness and he loves to scare little children. You must sneak into the giants home while he sleeps and steal back the dragon tears one by one. You will need to gather your inner-strength, courage and light to lead you through the task. Good luck.

This is the story that I and others read to the children on Saturday at our school’s annual Harvest Festival. The children would then sneak into the giant’s house and grab a stone.

I watched as one by one they did, indeed, gather their courage and enter the house. The giant was making sounds and shifting in his sleep. He would occasionally wake or say something scary. The children did it. They loved it. Some came back multiple times to conquer their fear.

As I watched this play out over and over, I realized how much I am running from my own fears. My giant is my fear of rejection. My fear that when people get to know me they will leave. My fear that when I speak my truth I will be laughed at. My fear that allowing myself this space and time to heal is selfish. My fear that I will never be happy because I don’t really deserve it.

So I’m facing these fears. I’m walking right up to them. The giant is making lots of sounds but I’m moving forward anyway. Inner-strength, love and light are my weapons.

Sunday was another dancing morning for me and I went thinking about fear. I went with the intention of releasing some of it. What came out was anger. Lots and lots of anger.

At times I stomped the floor so hard that my feet hurt. My hands kept clenching into fists. I realized that I was holding so much anger and resentment. After several hours it started to release its hold. I could feel the anger melting off. By the end of the session I was smiling. Really smiling.

There is still so much work to be done, but I’m feeling lighter.

I spent the rest of the day yesterday with my family. We went to the park. I played catch with my husband. I’m so afraid of baseballs. I saw my mom get her lip split open as a kid and the balls scare me. But I got to the point of actually catching some with my eyes open.

“You are not rooted to one spot,” my husband said. “You can move your feet to meet the ball.”

I watched my daughter try over and over to conquer the monkey bars. Her determination is wonderful to see. She is no longer afraid of falling and can make it halfway before losing her grip. No frustration or tears. I’m in awe of her.

My boy spent his time building with sticks and leaves and floating his creations down the creek. He would throw it off one side of the bridge and then watch it come out the other side. Over and over.

After the park, we all went bowling and then out to dinner. Laughter. Silliness. Balloon animals. Ice cream. Kisses.

Best of all, I was there. Really there.

Stupid, bad mommy

Holding her hands back as she attempts to punch me, I forget about her feet and one connects with my side. Hard. All of her limbs are in motion with the intent on doing damage. She is still small and I can handle her blows.

It’s what is coming out of her mouth that feels like I’m being repeatedly stabbed with a rusty knife blade soaked in poison.

“I hate you!”

“Your a bad mommy!”

“I wish I’d never been born because your so bad!”

“Your a stupid, ugly mommy!”

Each hurtful phrase is followed by a scream that comes from deep inside. It shakes her whole body and seems painful. I hold back my tears and try to remember…she is only 6. She is in pain.

But it hurts.

It feels like I’ve failed at the most important job in the world, being her mother. I’ve failed to give her the tools to handle things.

My poor sweet, sensitive girl.

From the time she started talking it was clear she has strong feelings and emotions. She thinks about things little ones should not and comes up with phrases that often leave me speechless. She is always concerned with how people feel and is often brought to tears when hearing a story about someone sad.

For those reasons, and many others, I have to be careful of what she is exposed to. We limit media and she attends a Waldorf school. But I can’t shield her from every hurt and, truthfully, I don’t want to.

This “I hate you” stuff is new. This is the first full week of school and 3 out of the 4 evenings have ended with an outburst (each getting progressively longer and meaner). After the rage comes the real tears and we get to the hurt and pain. Then, most horribly, it ends with guilt.

“I’m a bad kid.”

“Your a good mommy and I’m just awful to you.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Those words twist the knife and I want to run out of the room sobbing.

The truth behind all this pain is that my girl wants a best friend. She is obsessed with the idea of having someone she can count on. Someone she can trust. I’ve explained that it takes time to build friendships and that she just needs to play with everyone right now.

“Time is all you need.”

“Just keep being yourself and people will line up to be your friend.”

“You are awesome. You are amazing. Give people time to see that.”

I even brought out the old Girl Scout song:

“Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver

And the others gold”

She wants it so bad that every interaction becomes “is she my best friend or not?” Then she decides the answer is no and is as heartbroken as she will be when her first boyfriend dumps her.

I’m not stupid and can see the correlation between her pain and my own. I know that even at age 6 she can feel her mothers depression. I am not whole right now. I’m broken and I can’t help but feel that she senses it.

How can I expect her to be strong, resilient and confident when I am not?

I hate this.

I want to give her skills that help her find meaning and love.

I want her to feel whole and confident.

I want her to stop freaking out and saying mean things, because this mom can’t take much more. Words freaking hurt.

How can I do all that? I have no clue.

I know some of the answers can be found by seeking Gods help. It keeps coming back to that. We read her book about guardian angels last night and she found some comfort in that. I’m talking to her more about prayer and we are going to start praying together.

My daughter is amazing. I am certain she is destined to do something great with her life.

I only wish I could fast forward through this hard stuff. But, of course, this is the stuff parenting is made of. The hard stuff.

I just hope I survive.

Shards of life

I am a beautiful glass vase that keeps being filled with flowers that then rot and die.

Beauty.
Rot.
Repeat.

Now the vase has been dropped and broken into shards of glass. The pieces are uneven and sharp. Some are beautiful. Many are ugly. It might not ever fit back the way it was before. But that’s a good thing.

It’s a crazy mess and I want to share some shards with you.

*Floating down the Truckee River with my crazy mom, the beautiful Liz and all the kids. Water fights with strangers. Laughing so hard as we crashed into things like rocks, rafts and bridges.

*Watching my daughter lose it. Completely. Screaming and calling me the worst mom in the world while people floated by on their rafts. I may or may not have wished to drown at that point.

*Getting a text that one of my oldest, dearest friends, my dear Angy, her mom Gloria was in the hospital. My arms literally ached to hold her and be there for her.

*Finally being with Angy as she had to see her mom like that. Hearing words that nobody wants to hear. Feeling like the most important thing in the world was being there.

*Knowing I could trust my mother and my friend Liz with my children, so I could release that and be present.

*Seeing the strength, courage and poise with which Angy handled things. She has been and always will be a beacon of light in my life. She is a truly amazing person.

*Seeing her father Earl broken as he couldn’t bear to see his love like that. The love they shared was so intense and present that I felt it was a physical thing I could see.

*Sitting with Earl as he told me story after story about Gloria – how they met, courted, fragments of memories they shared. “I was never nothin’, but she made me feel like somethin’.” Those words are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard in my life.

*Holding my friend as her mother died. Feeling that intense pain like a physical stab. A pain we all have to endure over and over. Knowing that just being with her, holding her, crying with her, was some comfort. Feeling our humanity and fragility together.

*Watching my son learn to shoot a BB gun with Earl. As they knocked down cans in the backyard, it was like time was stopped. I was a kid again, but I had my boy with me.

*Trying to understand my husbands’ reaction and realizing that some pain never goes away. Some things can’t be fixed.

*Knowing my grandfather is battling cancer and that I won’t be able to be there with him. Hurting that I can’t see his beautiful eyes in person again or hear him play his guitar and sing.

*Making the decision to send my mom to see her dad. Makes no sense financially, but seeing the tears in her eyes as I told her to pack and that she was going…worth everything.

*The kids and I drove her to San Francisco for her flight. It was stressful, the kids had to pee, their was traffic and we almost didn’t make it. But she did. She is there. She is probably hugging her dad right now as I type this. That makes my heart sing.

*Realizing it was 3:30 p.m. in San Francisco and that there was no way I wanted to sit in traffic for hours. So, with tank tops and not much of a plan, we parked at Fisherman’s Wharf. We walked around and froze. Ended up on an amphibious vehicle. It drove around S.F. then drove into the bay. Kids got to steer. Talked with the sweetest couple from Denmark celebrating their 10th anniversary. Love was pouring out of them.

*Sitting in my friend Sondra’s backyard drinking coffee and hearing our kids play together. Knowing she will be by my side always. She loves all of my pieces..and I hers.

*Coming to terms with my own unhappiness and realizing that I can’t fix everything. Breaking down and discovering that I try to make everyone happy, but that I cannot. I can only really make me happy and I’m failing. I’m not responsible for others happiness. Still not sure I believe that.

*Seeing how many people care for me. They are coming out of the woodwork and they are all saying the same thing, “so glad you are back, we missed you.”

*Making a plan to work on my strength. I need to get strong, physically and mentally. It’s the path I need to be on. It’s the hard work I need to do.

*Playing babies with my daughter, seeing her love and care for my old doll Nathaniel wearing clothes and diapers from Cooper’s baby wardrobe. She can be so gentle and kind.

*Ironing my beautiful, white tablecloth for Gloria’s celebration of life tonight. Spraying it with starch and fighting all the wrinkles. It will be filled with flowers and pictures. Nobody will see the imperfections. They will see the beauty of the cloth. The beauty of life. The beauty of Gloria and the love she inspired.

So, those are the shards – glorious, sharp, jagged and uneven. I’m fitting them back together. It’s going to be a beautiful, strong vase that you can count on. It will just take time.