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 blanket

This was written for a dear friend who is looking for some way to reach her sister in the darkness. May it touch you as well. 

The blanket

I stand still and try to disappear into the darkness around me. The cold is unbearable and soon my body begins to shake in search of some warmth or light.

Finding none, I curse everything and everyone. In desperation, I gather up all my pain and begin to knit together a blanket. Weaving in every insult, every punch, the horrible unspeakable things, the shame and the evil I know all too intimately.

I step back and look at my blanket. It is beautiful, a complex knit filled with all the colors of sorrow and despair. I fling it around my shoulders, and like a superhero, it gives me the identity I so crave.

Now I am someone special because of my pain. I am a survivor. I am not numb anymore and I am alive. The blanket makes me think and feel. I spit in the face of everyone who has hurt me.

No longer shivering, I parade around in my blanket for all to see.

“Look at me!” I cry out in joy. “Look at how beautiful I am now.”

I sleep curled up in my blanket, the softness making me feel comfortable and safe. I never let it out of my sight. When others try to get near me, snap, I fling the stitches in their face. Only I know the truth of my pain. Only my blanket can protect me.

Over time though, the blanket becomes worn, heavy and the stitches start to unravel. I desperately cling to it, but the power seems to be fading and the cold and darkness reaches me again.

Huddling under the blanket with tears streaming down my face, the blanket refuses to comfort me anymore. It mocks me now and I get angry.

I look until I find something else to give me comfort.

Then something else.

Then something else.

They all offer a moment of warmth.

Just a moment.

I lay down and now the blanket is so heavy I cannot move. My body is being pushed into the earth and the fabric is cutting into my skin. I pray for death to take me away.

Then I hear a voice quietly whispering my name over and over. I recognize this voice instantly and recoil from it.

No. Go away. I’m too damaged. Too broken. Just leave me.

But the voice continues to whisper over and over and then gently tugs at my blanket.

“I don’t need help,” I yell and pull the suffocating blanket so tight around my face that I can barely breathe.

He whispers my name again and I feel the blanket slowly peeling away from my body. I tug against it one more time and then let go.

All at once He takes the blanket and flings it onto His own shoulders. Through tears I roll over and see Him smiling down at me.

“I will carry this now,” He says.

He reaches His arms out to me and without thinking I leap into them.

He puts a robe around my shoulders and it is the warmest, softest thing I have ever felt.

“Walk with me,” He says.

I do.

I feel so light and free. The air is fresh, the colors bright and everything feels different.

I am no longer alone.

I never really was.

He tells me this walk will never be easy and I will be tempted to weave a new blanket over and over again. The pain, darkness and cold will forever chase me, but I don’t have to live in fear anymore.

He has my blanket. He has my hand.

I am not alone.

I am a child of God and He loves me.

Although I feel unworthy, I accept this love and this gift.

Now, I proudly wear my robe for all to see and remind myself daily to let Him carry my blanket.

I don’t need it.

I am free.

A journey with my son

He won’t look at me anymore. I twist my head all around trying to find some angle to reach him, but he is allusive and quick. I don’t know when I lost him, but I feel the separation as sharp and painful as a knife wound. I bleed out silently, letting the anguish take me further and further away.

His feet shuffle slightly and I hear his breathing quicken. The tears are right there. I can almost feel them as if they were forming in my own eyes. He squints hard, fighting them and looks in the direction of the clouds.

“Do you see that?” he says pointing his entire hand upward.

“Yes,” I say without following his gaze.

“I want to go there,” he says.

“So let’s go,” I say.

His breath quickens even more and I look away. I don’t want to break the spell, so I count my intake and outtake of breath.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

“Really?” he says.

“Yes,” I say.

Six.

Seven.

Eight.

“Good,” he says.

I can feel him shift next to me and I stop breathing. I hold everything perfectly still, afraid to shatter this moment or even to crack it a little. It feels like the most fragile thing on the planet and I’m worried that even my thoughts will cause it to flee.

His hand reaches for mine and I stay limp and let him grab it. He squeezes it hard and I match his firmness without moving anything else in my body. My breath is as quiet as I can get it and I’m willing my mind to stay blank.

I feel our feet lift off the ground and I’m terrified. Now I squint my eyes closed, the tears pooling quickly as I feel the air become colder around me. His grip stays tight and I want to look at him. I want to see his face and read all the emotions I know are there.

I don’t risk it. The wind is getting stronger and I feel my hair blowing all around my head, as if it is trying to pull itself free of my scalp. My shoes fall off of my feet and my dress begins flapping loudly in the breeze. Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.

“I got you,” he says.

His voice is almost lost in all the sound around us, but I somehow hear it. My body, all tense and tight in fear, loosens at his words. I open my eyes and look at him.

“I love you mom,” he says.

This time his words are loud and seem to echo around us, bouncing off the clouds and air. His glasses have fallen from his face and his blue eyes have brightened to match the sky around us. His shabby brown hair, always in need of a haircut, looks somewhat perfect up here.

Sunlight is bouncing off his tan face, giving him the glowing effect the leaves in the tree of our backyard get in the early morning light. He is searching my face and seems pleased by what he sees reflecting back at him.

The air is suddenly still and quiet. We stop and he reaches for my other hand. He looks into my face as we circle slowly, the clouds wrapping themselves around us like golden blankets of light. The magic within him, the power I’ve always seen, swirling around us in bursts and bubbles. He giggles and smiles.

“I love you,” I say.

My voice echoes too, bouncing around and coming back in every pitch and tone. Like a chorus of my voices, high and low, singing the words over and over. The words seem alive and powerful, filling up every part of the space around us with great warmth.

We start to descend, the sounds of flapping clothes and wind rushing forward again in a great gust. He lets go of one of my hands and for a moment I fear I will fall, but his other hand is strong and reassuring. I close my eyes to stop them from burning in the wind and don’t open them again until my feet land back in my shoes. His hand drops from mine at the exact same moment.

I turn to look at him, but he is already looking away. I feel the space between us become heavy again, as if a wall was being quickly rebuilt in the span of 10 seconds. He angles away more and more until his back is facing me. I follow his gaze and see he is still staring up at the sky.

clouds

There is a massive cloud taking up the entire span of the sky directly in front of him. The cloud is made up of hundreds of textured layers, each varying in color from the palest of pink to the darkest of gold. It is glorious and we both stand still and look at it.

I want to reach for him, to yell and sing out my love in all the voices of the sky, but I don’t move. He knows, I tell myself and nod my head. He begins to walk away without turning around and a smile bursts across my face and fills my soul with the knowledge of it all.

He knows.

Sorry nobody clapped for you, people suck

It is pretty much always the same. Lines of kids in caps and gowns, flowers, balloons, crying moms and fussy babies, speeches about the meaning of life, scattered bursts of applause and snapping cameras (mostly cell phones now).

Every time I attend a graduation, I’m proud and happy for the graduates. I never get tired of seeing all that hopefulness.

But it comes with equally strong feelings of hate for the human race.

I try to suppress it.

I focus on the mom with the tissues in front of me that screams out, “I love you baby!” as her boy walks across the stage.

I focus on the dad beaming two rows down who is videotaping the entire thing with due diligence.

I focus on the grandmother who is overcome with such joy that tears run down her face.

Then it happens again, another name is called that is met with silence.

This kid has no cords around his neck. No awards to speak of.

I clap in my quiet, lame way, but it’s nothing. It isn’t heard because the next kid, the one with 50 family members and tons of his peers screaming his name, is now walking across the stage.

That’s when the anger starts and I think about how fucked up this whole thing is.

I was one of the “good kids.” I worked hard, understood the game, and had lots of family members to cheer me on.

I wasn’t that kid that nobody clapped for.

But I see you.

I know that your life is harder than these spoiled kids with two loving parents and a hundred relatives that flew in from around the country to support them.

I see you.

I know that you barely graduated because you had to juggle taking care of your siblings because your mom has to work. She couldn’t come to your graduation because of work. She works hard. You do to.

I see you.

I’m fucking pissed on your behalf.

You’re the 302nd kid to walk across the stage and I know you feel alone. I can see it in the way you walk and the way you don’t make eye contact with the staff that is shaking your hand. From way up here in the stands, I can feel the pain of your life.

I see you.

This doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of the other kids. The ones that are dripping in awards that they earned, the ones who are famous around campus for their sports achievements, the ones who didn’t miss a day of school. Yes, they absolutely 100% deserve the recognition, praise and love.

But so do you.

I wish you could have heard my clap.

I see you.

The inequity of the hand that you were dealt makes me want to do something. I want to hug you and tell you that it gets better. That everything will change now. That you will be that American success story, rising out of the ashes like the phoenix, and you will get everything you’ve always dreamed of having.

But that’s a lie.

The truth is, you have to keep working. You have a lot of hard work ahead of you.

You have to show up and do stuff.

Every. Single. Day.

Life is not easy for anyone.

The kids that have a million fans in high school are not exempt. Everyone has work to do.

They might also have to face a hard fall from the high of being on top. They may spend a long time recovering from the ego blow coming their way.

They may also be so hard on themselves, a perfectionist bred from parental/societal/internal pressure, that nothing they ever do will make them happy.

We all suffer in some way.

We all have to work hard.

The thing I really want to tell you isn’t far from the silly stuff your classmates said in their commencement speeches. All that shit about “your life is what you make it” and “you can do it.” I know you rolled your eyes. I did too. But it’s true.

One minute you will feel overwhelmed with regret and sadness.

Then your 8-year-old daughter comes up behind you and gently rubs your temples and kisses the top of your head.

You will have a list of stuff to do that never seems to get smaller and you’ll scream at how meaningless it all seems.

Then your 10-year-old boy brings you coffee while your writing and it’s the right amount of cream and sugar. He sets it down and quietly whispers, “I love you.”

So, yah, life is hard. It’s not going to get easier or simpler.

But there is coffee, soft touches and moments that lift you back up and flood you with hope again.

Now get to work.

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.

Fighting against the clichés of life

For sure I was going to work with animals. My days would be surrounded with puppies, kittens and horses. I would heal them, train them and love them all. People would be astounded by my abilities and would travel from around the world to see me work my magic.

I’d live somewhere in the mountains surrounded by beautiful redwood trees, but just a short horse ride to the beach. I’d have a house filled with children to share my love and we’d be deliriously happy. My mom would have her own house on my ranch and I’d always have visitors coming and going. I’d be surrounded by people at all times and never feel alone. Ever.

This was the vision. My grand plans for my life.

When your 10-years-old, the world is open to you and nothing seems impossible.

When I look at where I am now, my life is nothing like that. In fact, I epitomize every Lifetime movie special about white middle-aged women.

I’m headed toward 40. I have two kids and live in suburbia with two guinea pigs. I drive a carpool in my minivan and embarrass my children. I volunteer at my kids’ school and am the pizza lady. I’m heavier than I used to be. I’m in therapy for my depression. I’m starting to wear an alarming number of necklaces and scarves. I’ve started collecting little glass turtles. I drink wine and go to a book club. I cry at sappy movies and talk a lot about when my kids were really little. I go on Facebook and try to come up with witty comments so my friends will “like” it. I take an absurd amount of selfies.

I am a cliché.

If my kids played soccer, then the picture would be entirely complete. But since they don’t, I’ll just further my image by saying ridiculous old-people things like “I can remember when gas cost $1.75” or “in my day you had to record your favorite song off the radio if you wanted to hear it over and over.”

Even better, I can start complaining about how fast time goes by and how sad it all is. The children of my two very best friends from high school are 18 and 16 now. Seriously? I can’t even understand that. It’s dumb.

When the depression had its hold on me, this line of thinking would have sent me right back to bed. I’d have pulled the covers over my head and wept at how my life has turned out. I’d try to focus on the blessings, but they would slip through my fingers and fall away. I’d be left lying in the debris of my dreams with an intense sense of hopelessness.

Not anymore. Now, even though I’m aware at how completely formulaic my life is, there is still this enormous part of me that doesn’t believe any of it. This quiet whisper that tells me, “yeah, but there is something special about you.” It cries out to me that my life hasn’t even begun yet.

I carve out moments to think and pray now. I dream about what my life could look like and how I can make it happen. I write a lot of poetry and daydream about love and adventure. I’m filled with a hope that I’d lost before.

I spend a fair amount of time now laughing at myself. This morning, I awoke from a dream about a pink kitten named Cotton Candy. I could almost feel her fur and hear her purring next to me. I made up songs about her and sang them to my children at breakfast.

“Pink kitty, how you make my heart sing
You are the reason for everything
Those eyes are so beautiful and bright
And that sweet purr brings me such delight”

My kids laughed and made fun of their silly mother. I love being childish, vulnerable and open. Life is much more fun when I don’t take myself so seriously.

(NOTE: Just so you know, I’m aware that I’m writing in clichés now. It’s OK. All those Facebook memes are right. Life is too short. Dance like nobody is watching. And so on and so forth.)

The darkness is still there, but I don’t surrender to it as often. As my mother would say, “can I get a whoop-whoop!” There are parts of me that are awakening and stretching for the first time in years, and it feels good.

Damn good.

I am not just a series of stats on a piece of paper. I am not just what you see. Nobody is. Chuck Palahniuk was wrong when he wrote in “Fight Club”:

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

There was a time when I believed that whole-heartedly and it almost swallowed me alive. So I now reject that notion. I’m in the “we are all special and unique” camp now. I’m working hard to see the light in everyone and celebrating what I love about people in my life.

I recognize that from the outside, I represent a certain type of white woman in America. You can file me under middle-class, middle-aged, privileged, whining and self-absorbed. I’m not arguing any of that. However, I’m more than that. We are all more than our labels.

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but I haven’t been posting anything here. I think I’m fearful of the types of things I’m writing. Words are flowing, but what is pouring out isn’t focused or even clear. It’s a jumbled puzzle of conflicting emotions and ideas.

Mostly it’s short stories and poems about casting away depression and finding my place. I’m searching for a deeper relationship with God and seeking an understanding of my purpose.

So, with a bit of trepidation and fear, I’m going to share some of that writing with you. Hope you like it.

 

IMG_4624Sky message

I am a child.

I stand in the rain, eyes shut tight, as the drops fall ever faster. Like fingertips pressing down on my head and shoulders, they draw lines down my neck and arms. My clothes become heavy and my body shivers harshly.

I stretch out my arms and try to embrace that which I know I can’t. Tears join the raindrops and at once I can’t stand. My legs give way and I fall to the wet ground. The water pools around me, and the grownup voices yell at me to go inside. Get out of the rain. You look ridiculous.

But I don’t.

I am a child.

I want the rain to grow arms and pick me up. I want it to tell me that I’m beautiful, special and that there is nobody else in the world just like me. I want the words to slip into my ears and run into my brain. The intensity of this longing stabs sharply into my stomach and I wince as the pain spreads and threatens to overtake me.

You are not like everyone else.

These words slosh around me like a living being, vibrating against my head, and I am suddenly lifted. Heavy arms pluck me up like a baby and cradle me in a loving embrace. The rains dripping heartbeat pounds against my back as I bury my face into the bosom of my protector. Soft breath is against my neck and the whispers drip slowly into my ears.

You are safe.

Belief floods me and the shivers cease. The pain runs down my legs onto the ground into a puddle of misery and sadness. I open my eyes to see it reflected below me, the dark and ugly mass of insecurity and loneliness that has clung to me for so long. As I watch, it starts to flow away from me, streaming toward some unknown drain to the depths below.

You are safe.

The words fill me with hope and I cling hard to the arms holding me. Yet even as I try and trust the safety and warmth flooding me, fear creeps in. Am I too heavy? Am I slipping down? How long can this protection possibly last before I am dropped into an even bigger puddle?

I am a child.

The clouds slowly blow away and the sun bursts forward with a strength that takes my breath away. I find myself standing on my own feet, feeling my heartbeat returning to normal. The warm blood of my life courses through my body. I raise my arms to the sky and try to hug that which I know I can’t.

I am not like everyone else.

Nobody is.

Something is happening here

All the windows were rolled down and the sunroof open. My hair whipped about my face and I was smiling.

Really smiling.

The kids and I had a fantastic morning highlighted by a delicious breakfast, lots of book talk and my daughter squeezing “I Love You” into my hand in the secret way my grandma taught me when I was her age.

As I sang and danced alone on the drive back home, I could sense something different about me. Something is happening.

My fears about my depression deepening again seem to be subsiding and I’m feeling hopeful.

Summer is coming.

I painted a picture of the sun and decided to turn it into a Summer Countdown.

Each ray of sun gets us closer to the freedom of lazy mornings, swimming with friends and staying up late.

Each ray of sun stands for another day that I’m working on myself and learning how to undo years of twisted and negative thinking.

Each ray of sun is a possibility and a chance to make things better.

Summer is coming and I’m no longer afraid.

I’m excited.

Bring it on!

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