I Can’t Remember…

smelling a flower“I miss the smell of Christmas,” He said nonchalantly.

My breath caught and my chest tightened.  “What do you mean?”  I asked, already knowing and trying desperately to sound normal.

“I don’t know…I remember that Christmas had a special smell, you know, and when the air smelled that way at other times, I would remember Christmas. It felt good.  I don’t have that anymore.”

I could feel that familiar lump in my throat, the one I always get when I think about that day, and although I was fighting it, tears began to well up in my eyes.  Thankfully, he was unaware of the impact his words were having on me and I was determined not to let him know.  He talks about it so little, I don’t ever want to react in a way that would make him feel hesitant to do so.

“I really think memories are linked to smell,” he continued, “like Thanksgiving and other times.  It’s as if not being able to smell anymore, is causing those memories to fade and I miss them. I miss the smell.”

All I could say was that I was sorry and then I reminded him of all the other things related to memory and the good times we have had and again, I reminded him that perhaps one day that part of his brain will heal and those smells will return and he will appreciate them in a way he never could have otherwise.  I reminded him of how lucky he is that in spite of his brain injury, he can laugh and walk and talk and play basketball, and be treated normally.  He nodded.

After that, all I could do was hold my breath and hope for control, at least until I dropped him off at school.  Then I could give in.  It’s like a panic attack I think—the tightening and the sinking feeling.  It’s almost like reliving that day.  Just like when I drive by that hospital—the one where I first took him, certain there was something horribly wrong.

Kids are resilient though—we all are.  He’s come a long way.  He has gone from saying, “If I have to stay this way, I will kill myself,” (He didn’t know that it was probably permanent at the time) to smiling at me and telling me dinner is good and taking the Spirit Championship for his senior class by drinking a horrible concoction in the fastest amount of time.   All in all, it’s okay now.

Some people say if they could go back and change a horrible incident in their lives, they wouldn’t, because of what they have learned.  I guess they are better people than me, because if I could go back to that day, I would have insisted on giving him a ride to soccer practice instead of letting one of his teammates do it.  Life doesn’t work that way though and I can’t go back.  We just find the good where we can.  We’re closer, I’m more understanding of those who have to see their children suffer, and Noah has a greater appreciation for things he didn’t before.

One of the most difficult things is helping people understand the gravity of his loss.  He lost one of his senses, one that adds vibrancy to life, but also one that protects him from harm (Toxins, smoke, etc.)  It’s a huge loss, yet people tend to make light of it.  That is until I tell them the,“I Miss the Smell Of Christmas” story and suddenly, in their eyes, I see it—the light of understanding.  That means everything.

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Our Two Selves

_The_art_of_pretending__by_Nonnetta“It would mean a lot to me if, you would reach out to Jane while Mike and I are at the meeting this morning,” he said off handedly, as he finished tying his tie.

“Ohhhh, please, please don’t do that to me, “ I cried, as I curled up on the bed.  “I just want to relax and do my own thing today, maybe she does too, and besides, why can’t she reach out to me?

“She socially awkward I think,” he said with a smirk.  “She’s a very private person, but she’s really nice. You guys should really hang out today.  I think it would mean a lot to Mike too.”

My man never asks anything of me.  I think this may have been the first time he specifically asked me to do something for him like this, and, in the end, I knew that I would.  She is nice enough, and we’re about the same age, but she’s a New Yorker, with kind of a hardened exterior.  Maybe I was intimidated by her, I don’t know, she seemed so strong and self-assured. As it turned out, before I had a chance to reach out to her, she actually reached out to me:  “Want to meet for breakfast in 45 minutes?”

I texted back, “Sure.”  Dang.

So there we were, sitting across from each other, eating breakfast. It felt a little awkward at first, but I have to admit it was better than eating alone; in fact, I probably would have just eaten Hershey’s Kisses in my room, or raided the mini bar. Anyway, just because of the type of person I am (innately curious about people), I began interviewing her.  It’s funny, when you begin to ask people about their lives and you are genuinely interested, they open up.  As she let down her guard and let herself be a little vulnerable, a different Jane emerged, and that strong exterior began to melt away.

I sat quietly as she told me how she lost her oldest son in a car accident six years ago.  He was killed in a drunk driving accident, along with his good friend.  He left behind a wife and a two-year-old daughter.  It was heart wrenching to see her relive that day and how raw the grief is, still to this day,  but it gets worse.  Since the accident, Jane has only been able to see her granddaughter a handful of times and the last time was two years ago.  Her daughter-in-law doesn’t want anything to do with them and refuses to let them into her daughter’s life.  This is their only grandchild too.

As she began to talk about it, it was like floodgates had been opened and all her anger, her heartache and her regret flowed out.  My heart went out to her, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to suffer such loss, but I’m glad I could be a sounding board for her.  I’m glad I seemed safe enough for her to share with.  After breakfast, as we headed outdoors to explore, she seemed more relaxed–lighter somehow. My conversation with Jane was just another reminder of the similarities we humans share.

As we walked through the French Quarter later, I looked at all the people that passed us by—all shapes, sizes, colors, and demeanors as well.  We all have two selves, don’t we?  The one that we let the world see, and the one that we hide in fear of what others will think or how they will judge us—even in the secular world.  As I studied the people around me I thought, “Wow, we are all in this together, aren’t we?”  None of us is immune, but we try to pretend that we are. Every single one of us–along with the good stuff–carries heartache, grief, fear, shame, regret, and sadness, and every single one of us needs someone to sit with us and just be with us in it sometimes. I know Jane did and for just a little while she was able to take her mask off  and breath.  I feel honored to have been a small part of helping her do that.

The Year Of Lasts

photoI knew this would happen…the day would get away from me and I wonld not have written anything.  It was a busy day. I’m getting ready to go out of town and my youngest son, Noah, had a Varsity Basketball game, (that’s him in the picture, nailing a three point outside shot) that was supposed to start at 8:00, but actually ended up starting at 8:30 and before I did that I had to go to the gym and before that make dinner, so he would be able to eat before the game.  Why, oh why can’t I be one of those mom’s that says, “Here kid, here’s five bucks go to Subway.”   I just can’t seem to do that, especially this year.  It’s just kind of a special year for us.  It’s my baby boys’s (he’d kill me if he heard me say that) senior year.  It’s a year of excitement and challenge, a little stressful and filled with lots of lasts:  The last soccer game, the last year to be team mom, last basketball game, and driving a car load of smelly, hilarious boys, last Winter Ball, last Prom, and the last of four high school graduations.

I was always the one to scoff “empty nest syndrome.”  I made sure that I always had a life separate from my kids.  I have never been a mom to live vicariously through any of kids.  I always thought, “What’s the big deal? This is what they are supposed to do–grow up and move out, geez!”  I always said that I looked forward to them being “up and out.”  I, for one,  could hardly wait.  Then something weird happened.  It started at Soccer orientation this year.  I had to fill out all the usual forms and as I wrote, grade 12, I felt a little start inside me.  I suddenly realized that my youngest son would be graduating from high school and that would be that.  How could I not have seen this coming?  He was just this little freckled face boy with disheveled hair, riding his tricycle naked down the street , waving at the neighbors as they drove by.  He was the little fatty that snuffled at my breast and slept in my arms…What the fuck?  What the heck was going on?  I was going to have my freedom soon.  No more laundry, no more dirty jerseys and stinky shoes.  No more making sure there was dinner on the table.  I had prepared myself for this…I had!  I needed to get a grip, and yet, there I was, getting weepy at soccer orientation…great.

For a while, I was fine, I hadn’t really thought much about it until the last soccer game of the year.  They stood in their usual huddle, at the end of the game, they put their hands up together and chanted, “Knights on three!  One..two…three..KNIGHTS!”  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I teared up, I got the biggest lump in my throat…”This is the last time they will do this together,” I thought– the last time.  I see now that it’s going to be this way for the rest of the year.  It’s going to hit me over and over again, the everyday things that this kid has done all his life, are going to end at the end of this year.  I’ve decided that for the rest of this year I am going to embrace every memory as if it were a precious jewel.  As I now watch him play his last basketball season, I drink in every moment, every win, every loss, every three pointer he makes, every smile he flashes when he does, every high five and slap on the shoulder these boys share, I am tucking them all away in my heart, because when the buzzer sounds on that last game of his last season and they chant, “Knights on Three,”  the realization that this part of our lives in coming closer and closer to an end, is going to  wash over me like a tidal wave and when that happens I want to feel certain, that I took in every precious moment of it all.

I no longer scoff at the idea of empty nest syndrome.  I get it now.  Sometimes the idea of coming home to an empty house that lacks stinky shoes and dirty jerseys and a young man’s  voice saying, “why don’t we ever have any food in this house and what’s for dinner?” makes my chest tighten a little.  It’s so enlightening when you realize why people do things that you never understood until you are there yourself, then you have this aha! moment.  It’s great.  I still don’t get why older people wait until their groceries are all rung up and bagged before they start digging in their purse for their checkbook, but hey! Maybe some day I will!    I do look forward to a different season in my life.  This what every mother works for, right?  Raising a child that is healthy and independent, able to get out there and make it on their on…but I am going to miss this, the turkey sandwiches and scrambled eggs before school.  Man, I’m going to miss that boy!

It Isn’t Personal

Itisn'tpersonal BO

As I’ve gone through some of my old posts and relived some of the ways in which family and friends responded to my de-conversion, one important thing emerged. Much of my suffering hinged on me believing that they were responding to me personally and I was somehow in the wrong–the damager, the bad person.

As I read the old posts, I was reminded of a book I read a while back, by Don Miguel Ruiz, entitled “The Four Agreements.”  One of his chapters, “The Second Agreement, Don’t take things personally,” was extremely insightful.   Ruiz writes, “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”  As I considered that idea, it struck me, when someone responds in anger and fear it’s because of their anger, and their fear.  I wish I had been able to see that early on in my journey out of Fundamentalist Christianity.

When my sister screamed at me that I was going to Hell, I wish I could have responded in love, maybe saying “I know this is scary for you, but I’m still me” and then believed it.  When a Christian friend got mad and told me that she took it personally that I would no longer be in church worshipping with her, I wish that I had not taken on her insecurity as my own, feeling like the bad guy.  When my best friend told me that she hadn’t invited me to her daughter’s wedding because she was afraid to have me there because it was a Christian wedding, I should have been able to recognize the fear in her eyes as being fear of her own doubts, not of me personally.  If I had understood that then, I would have been able to walk away from those encounters feeling empathy, not like I’d just been punched in the sternum.

I’m not sure if seeing those and other situations through that lens would have changed the outcome of any of those relationships, but it would have probably eased the heartbreak and shame that I suffered at their words and would have helped me understand them better. As Ruiz explains that when people spew anger on you, “You eat all their emotional garbage, and now it becomes your garbage. But if you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell.”  I wish I had understood that then, because, man, I felt like I was in the middle of hell.

Back then, I took everything Christian family and friends said and did personally.  I really felt like it was my responsibility to make them understand, ease their fears and their anger.  I’ve come to realize that I can’t fix those things in others.  Their responses to me, at their core, were not about me and that gives me the freedom to exercise empathy and compassion.  Will I still take things personally?  Of course, but I hope less and less.  For a while I thought that getting pissed off instead of hurt was progress, but I’m beginning to see that the concept of “it’s not about me; it’s about them,” is going to have a much more positive impact on me and the people around me.

Precious Shift of the Paradigm

Paradigm shift:  “A radical change in underlying beliefs or theory.”  I have been saying for the past, oh, I don’t know, four years, that I experienced a mid-life epiphany. I suppose I did sort of, but I’ve come to realize that what I really experienced was a paradigm shift—several, actually.  I did have the insights that accompany an epiphany, but with that came something much more permanent:  The paradigm shift—change that stuck. I’m not just speaking here about my exodus from Christianity (no pun intended), but there have been a few aspects in my recent life where paradigm shifts have occurred and one such shift took place at the end of my marriage.

I had been married just over 25 years when my divorce became final.  There had been some major problems for years, but the three to four years leading up to the divorce had been eviscerating.  Going through divorce is usually destructive, painful, scary, and isolating, and ours was all of those things at first. Divorce can also be hopeful, strengthening, freeing, and a relief and that is what ours became and remained.

If someone would have told me back in 2008, that after my divorce, I would not only have a civil relationship with my ex, but we would be good friends, I would have never believed it. We had known a few couples who had divorced over the years and they were nothing less than destructive enemies, causing irreparable damage to each other, their friends, and sadly, their kids. My ex and I are not only civil, but we are friends that can talk over things, even argue over things and still depend upon our friendship to remain.  How did this happen?  There are many reasons and I want to eventually cover all of them, but today, I want to start at the beginning.

Every morning it was the same.  I would wake up and as the fog lifted, I would remember:  I have been betrayed.  I have been betrayed by the one person I knew I could always trust and now I am alone.  My chest would tighten my throat would close and I would end up sobbing. Everyday, I was a walking, breathing empty shell.  I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t think.  The pain was all encompassing.  I would desperately seek comfort in the arms of my husband, but for the first time in over twenty years, he couldn’t comfort me. This time he had been the one to cause the pain. I would reach out to him, wanting desperately for him to make it better, to make the pain go away.  I was fucked up. He was the strong one, the one in control, the one who held all the keys, the one to make the decisions.  Then one morning, that all changed.

It started out like every other morning had, but this time as I laid there licking my wounds, a voice inside my head said, “His loss,” and I listened.  Friends had been telling me this, but I couldn’t take it in, not until that morning.  I repeated it out loud, “His loss.” Over and over again, I said, “It’s his loss, his loss.  He has lost me and it’s his fucking loss!”  I got up that morning, took a shower, made breakfast for my kids and life began again for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t a cake-walk by any means, but it was a bit like I had been crawling naked on shards of glass, and now I could at least stand up and walk, and after crawling, walking felt pretty good.  Had my circumstances changed?  Had my husband changed?  No, neither of those things had changed.  What was the difference?  What had changed to give me clarity, strength, and hope?  Why the only thing that I had the power to change:  Me.

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