“Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.” Gail Tsukiyama, novelist
What fun to totally let your mind roll first thing in the morning to a random prompt!
Joining the conversation is always a bit tricky. You leave to go to the bathroom, weaving your way among the tables, eyes searching for the ladies’ room sign, having chosen a spot in the conversation where you knew a little of what was being said. You’d heard that part before. Didn’t want to miss anything but, damn, you had to pee!
Time to pull out a toothpick? Get the salad out of your teeth? Apply some lipstick. Find a mint. Fluff the hair.
Returning to your seat, smiling as you go, you perk up your ears to see where the conversation is now, not wanting to interrupt, but longing to jump back in, as you replace your purse on the chair back, pick up your white linen napkin, scootch your chair back under the table and take a sip of water.
Randomly, the subject has changed from that of Cynthia’s husband’s mom’s foot that wasn’t healing well to an update on one of Lee Anne’s kids who’d gotten married last year in a grand affair in California you’d also unfortunately missed.
“Wait, sorry. What did I miss? Are Meredith and Jim pregnant? Moving back to North Carolina?! Did he get that new job??”
Rachel takes her fork and scrapes it across the empty plate, gathering remnants of the decadent flourless chocolate torte they’d all shared after their monthly meal, while Jaime fills me in on Lee Anne’s news. Abbreviated synopses allowed among these friendships, decades in the making.
Prompt: 5 minutes “Stand Alone”
Stand alone. On your own two feet. See what you can do without any others to stop you, to help you, to harm you, to interfere, to suggest other ways. What does your heart say? What is your heart saying to you?
Stand alone. You already do stand alone. But alone with a living God burning brightly inside your very heart chakra, comforting you, guiding you, suggesting ideas that will catapult you to the Highest Version of Yourself that you can imagine. We just don’t often take the time to listen to that part of ourselves. Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit is a part of each of us, so intertwined with every fiber of our being that we can never not be holy. If we listen.
Stand alone. I used to stand alone and mope inside about being alone. Why doesn’t anyone really understand me? I need them to understand me! I cried tears and sobbed guttural wails as I wrestled with the challenges of growing up, maturing, moving from an insecure teenager to an insecure adult, an insecure wife, mother, neighbor, church member, volunteer, over-achiever. Until it all came crashing down on me in the form of what would morph from one day of a swollen throat, fever, body aches worse than the flu, fatigue that slammed me flat to the surface of my water bed and wouldn’t let me go, into the woman I am now. Twenty-five years I’ve lived inside my body alone, alone in houses full of people who cannot understand this bizarre chronic illness. But now I stand alone – secure in Who I Am.
Boundaries burst every time. What the hell, you might say? I thought I’d learned that lesson and then you realize you’ve done it again — compromised your integrity, your soul, giving in to the pressures to be liked.
Boundaries burst when you’re a people pleaser. When you let yourself be guilted into making a different choice. “Sure, I’ll come to that.” “Sure, you can borrow my ________ ” fill-in-the-blank. “Sure!”
Boundaries burst when inside your head your voice is telling you one thing, reacting with a zillion thoughts, none of which come out of your mouth. “No problem!”
My husband calls it “Southern Belle Bullshit” — when (women) say one thing and mean another. He holds up his two outstretched hands: one motioning “come hither,” the other rigid, palm out, staunchly saying “No! Stop!” This always gets a laugh from an audience, but now when he does this, I notice at least half the time he has a point, has caught me sending mixed messages. Old habits die hard.
Boundaries burst when we throw off the shackles of our past. When we suddenly see, “Aha! Now I get it!” It might only seem like a tiny shift in perspective, but it’s an important one, a huge one, really.
Sometimes people have the tendency to overcorrect themselves — the gargantuan pendulum swing necessary for them to practice a new way. Off-putting, it can seem to others. Suddenly a shock. But no one is going to hand you permission to change on a silver platter when it means they no longer can rely on your co-dependence! Get real! But the brusque change can bristle others’ feathers, I’m just saying.
Boundaries burst for others, too. Let’s say you’ve had brick-tight boundaries, letting no one in. No one. Always protective of yourself. Emotions locked up so tight inside your chest, nary a tear has escaped your eyes in decades. Feelings bottled up, emotional expressions kept in check, invincible, strong. Well, maybe the occasional outburst, which no one saw coming or understood, because mostly you’ve never let anyone close enough to know the real feelings going on inside of you. But in the process, you have no intimate relationships. Not many anyway. Not really intimate. You’ve protected your heart with boundaries so clear it hurts. Boundaries bursting then are like a tight, full balloon ready to be tied off, but instead, something causes you to let it go, releasing it into the air in front of you. It sputters around the room in relaxed delight and you exhale and laugh and smile! You’ve let your drawbridge down, and others, timidly at first, start to cross the divisive moat you’ve built around yourself for years and years. Ah, yes. Love rushes in when boundaries burst. (time)
I love this piece written by my Holden Beach Writer’s Group friend, Joan Leotta!
Great piece here about separating the writing from the subject matter. The reason I love writing memoir, actually, is the process of rising above the events, situations, even feelings, and employing the craft of writing to try to effectively “universalize” the message and touch the lives of others in a positive way. I keep my personal journals personal – my therapy! Thanks for this, Allison K. Williams!
Right before Christmas I spontaneously answered an appeal from an organization I’ve been a part of since 1991. They’ve changed their name in an effort to reposition the invisible malady we share. The idea was to spread the work about ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) by asking ten people to donate twelve dollars each to raise money for much needed research. I made an embarrassing selfie Vimeo video, showing myself in the state I’ve hidden from the world, my town, my friends for twenty-five years. I hate asking people for money, so I tried to downplay the donation aspect while encouraging my friends to “share” the message to help raise awareness of Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. I took in a deep breath, said a prayer, and clicked the “post” button on Facebook well after midnight, before I lost my nerve.
I have over a thousand “friends” on Facebook, some I’ve never met in person. Many of themfrequently “like” the inspirational quotes I post, photos of my precious granddaughter, humorous jokes, pretty pictures of the beach. The resulting response of silence to my linked video in my Facebook world was palpable, deafening really. What on earth had I done? Had I just “lost” a bunch of “friends?”
Slowly, a few responses trickled in, applauding my courage. One night I received a private message from a long lost friend, thanking me for my candor, explaining how my video had affected her family. Her son had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome a couple of years prior, but things had been getting very tense in her household, as her husband just didn’t understand and he had been getting more and more frustrated with their son. She had showed my video to her son, who said my description was “spot on.” She had showed it to her husband and “something clicked” and he finally “got it.” The role of caretaker to those of us with ME/CFS is a lonely and weary one, too. I sighed, finding comfort that I had helped someone. The personal embarrassment was worth it, if I had only helped that one family.
I called my best friend in Tennessee and asked her opinion.
“It was pretty depressing,” she admitted with her familiar chuckle.
“I know, right? But that’s how I really am about 75% of the time.”
“Really? I would’ve guessed about 25%.”
“No, I just don’t answer the phone or talk about it every time I’m so down, even with you. You know me better than anyone and you really thought I felt this way only 25% of the time? Should I delete it?”
“No, but maybe you could do a follow-up video explaining more? And just shoot from the hip, no script, just telling it like you just told me.”
I took her advice and recorded a more upbeat video. I put on make-up and filmed it outside on my deck, sunshine and chirping birds in the background. I got a few more “likes.” I raised a little money. But another friend, one who had lived with similar health challenges for decades as well, told me she liked the first video better — that she felt like I had negated all the wonderful honesty I’d expressed in the first one when I posted the second one.
So I did a third one, this time using YouTube. It was right before Christmas. I held my iPhone out and recorded another selfie with Christmas music in the background. This one was a mix of the two. I got a few more “likes,” more heartfelt donations, and several private messages thanking me for validating similar feelings, for expressing the day to day realities of living with CFS and Fibromyalgia in a way that reached family members who had not been very understanding until seeing my video.
After Christmas, my husband found a “scooter” on sale at a medical supply place and, after 25 years of hiding my pain, painting on a smile for the world, living a mostly housebound life, I took my first spin. I was a nine-year old with a new bicycle! You could not wipe the smile from my face! I felt only joy and exuberance as I felt the wind in my hair as I zipped down the street!
“I hope this doesn’t make you feel … disabled, handicapped.”
“Well, of course it does! But I’m so over it! I’m 55 and I am so over it!”
The first few times I drove my “Go Go,” I stayed on the same two streets I’d walked for years whenever I could get out of the house. But two weeks ago I branched out and took a “walk” (“a scoot”?) beyond the side street on which I’ve lived for fifteen years, but have only seen, I realized, from a car window. As I motored past Wake Forest Elementary, a nostalgic tear slipped out behind my Ray Bans. I recalled the many times I had joined first Caroline, then Hallie, for lunch in that noisy cafeteria. Light and noise and smells had assaulted my sensitive body and I’d smiled my way through the thirty minute experience before I drove home and crashed in the bed, resting up before time to pick them up in the carpool line at 3:20. The sounds of those little elementary school children, their energy, their boisterous joy, the innocent, promising twinkle in their eyes — I am so glad I got to experience them! I am so grateful that I braved the times I sucked it up and went to my daughers’ schools even when I didn’t feel up to it. I almost always paid a dear price later, but no one can take those memories away from me.
Continuing, we turned the corner and then another corner, the Seminary campus on our right. Roosevelt, my little terrier mix, trotted right along with me, both of us learning how to navigate the moving vehicle and the leash, adjusting our speed from “hare” back down to “tortoise” when he galloped and fell behind; stopping abruptly when he found a bush he was determined to sniff, to lift his leg and make his mark while I untangled and readjusted the leash situation. Ideally, I needed him on my left, freeing my right hand to press the lever forward when we were ready to go; to release when we needed to stop suddenly.
“I don’t think this is an all-terrain vehicle, Roosevelt,” I said when we hit a rough parts of the sidewalk, ran over anything larger than a sweet gum ball, navigated turns. Cars sped past us as we made our way down Durham Road, the major 35 mph thoroughfare through our small town. I kept my head down for a few houses, but at some point I got the courage to look up, to smile and nod my head to people whose faces turned to look at me through car windows, rolled up in the chilly winter air.
Near the end of our mile-long scoot, I got my new scooter stuck on uneven pavement and had to exert great effort to help it get over the hump. Then we met with a rather large branch that had fallen on the sidewalk. Ignorantly, I tried to go over it instead of getting off and moving the debris. The plastic basket popped off and I stopped us abruptly. We’d almost rolled over it. We’d almost tipped over. I got off, figured out how to reattach the basket, and moved the branch. We finally made it back to our street without seeing anyone I knew.
I took out my iPhone and recorded a little of our scoot-walk, capturing Roosevelt’s cute little run beside me. When I posted that on Facebook, I got over 70 “likes” and quite a few comments.
One friend asked to see a picture of the actual scooter. I retrieved the only one I had, the one taken by my husband the first day he had surprised me with the after Christmas gift. I was wearing no make up, no bra, my wild hair unruly around my ear warmer headband. It was not a flattering picture at all. But something inside me said, “What the hell? I’m 55. I already posted that depressing video. Who gives a rip?” So I commented back on that post and attached the awful photo, once again getting over myself and letting real life — my real life — show.
October 26, 2014
Nana’s 79th Birthday
I had an insight this morning: Mom “reaching out” from her 79-year old vantage point, longing to share, impart, connect with the subsequent generations of her family. We roll our eyes, take in some things, but hurriedly, slightly irritated at the incessantness of it all. Some stories some of us have heard a hundred times and we glance at our cell phones or a book from the coffee table as we pass the time at her townhouse. But today I stretch out on the couch, mouth closed, eyes shut, listening as she yearns to impart the old stories to her grown grandchildren. Do they remember? Have they already heard? Are they simply on overload after having looked, obligingly, at the many scrapbooks she got out earlier? It doesn’t matter to Nana, who insists on telling it so the grandson-in-law will also know, the son-in-law, before it’s too late. Before she forgets. Before she is relegated to perfunctory visits without substance. Before she fades into … oblivion, or is no more.
Tears come to me now, sitting right behind my eyelids as I pen these thoughts. One day I will miss this vibrant, opinionated, spunky, wise woman. I have been so blessed to be her daughter. I am so blessed to watch her age with vim and vigor. To hear that she walked the waterfront, did her yoga, went to art class, history class, book club, choir, the Democratic community meeting in her small town. She runs circles around me, and has for a while now.
We take her out for a birthday dinner celebration at an upscale restaurant on the water and she orders a filet mignon, as do I. My husband orders a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio and she chuckles, remarking how she happy she is to be content with her little single serving bottles of Sutter Home, one per night. But she quickly balances that with appreciation for this “good wine.” She is a master at social graces.
She smiles and marvels at the growth of her first great-grandchild, being spoon-fed pureed organic butternut squash in the high chair. The eight month old picks up puffs, pincer style, finding her mouth and squealing with delight. Mom grins and squinches up her nose. “Isn’t she just precious? I can’t get over … “
Happy 79th birthday, Mom. I love you completely. I treasure your stories, your depth, your life. I treasure our connection, your undying support of me and mine, the loving intentions behind your actions, the enthusiastic, lively woman you are and have always been. I’ve walked in your shadow, and I’ve soared while you’ve lifted me up. There is no bond quite like that of a mother and her daughter. Because I’ve been so well-loved, I am able to feel a depth of love for my own that has often made me weep with poignancy, allowed me to coach them through their trials with available attention, to bite my tongue and let them grow on their own when that is called for. Because you have loved so well, you will never really end, Mom. You will live on in the lives of your progeny, even if we forget some of your stories, even if we don’t get to hear them all, even if we don’t get the chance to understand the whole complexity of the life that made you you.
Today we celebrate the loving matriarch of our family as she enters her eightieth year of life. I bow in honor. I smile, tears lurking right behind my eyes as I imagine what it must feel like to be turning 79, what it will feel like when I am unable to punch in your phone number and have a nice long chat. If you have fears, claustrophobic gasps from time to time, please know I kind of understand. Know you are not alone. You can share these feelings with me, or let them pass without remark if acknowledging them is too unsettling. Just know I know. As best I can at 54.
Depression is a lonely business. It sits behind one’s steady eyes, shaking your faith in yourself, your place in this world, your desire to stay in it. Sometimes it all just seems too much. And when you’ve felt like this more times than you can count, and you’re on the downhill slope of life anyway, and you’re so tired, just so tired of keeping on keeping on, you just might reach for something, anything really. Whatever calls your name while you look for a speck of light in the dark inky world of despair you can’t see as temporary anymore. This time I reach for expensive, brand name Prozac. It keeps me here. This time.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 11:11 am
Prompt: “Interior Vision” 20 minutes
Interior vision happens when we stop the madness of the world to dwell with what’s inside our very cells, our breath, behind our eyes where luscious sunsets melt their beauty, trickling rose and orange down into our very souls, at the cellular level we cannot see, cannot fathom, yet feel all the same.
Interior vision. With interior vision there are no blind spots, only more and more mirages that manifest into truths you feel with your very heart, way down deep. You think, “Aha! Truth!” But as soon as you think it, “it” dissipates into a thousand glass shards, reflecting light that bounces all over the place, like too many kids on a trampoline at one time. Truth ricochets from one side of your head to the other and you smile as you reach for it yet again, it was so profound, you almost had it, almost had it!
Damn. You lost it, but it felt so good. You felt so good for a second or two. One with the Divine, only lasting as long as the flutter of a soft breeze in the kelly green leaves of the mighty oak, planted solidly in the earthy ground, roots running long and deep, locked into the core of mother earth. And so you ground yourself again, resuming the long, slow, deep breathing, inhaling love, exhaling fear; inhaling peace, exhaling fear; emptying your mind of worldly thoughts of tasks that beckon you away from connecting with this interior vision. What’s that about? Why so elusive?
Ahhh. Breathe again. More deeply. Even more deeply. Light the incense to help you find it again. Hold that crystal quartz, the malachite, the rhodocrosite maybe? Inhale the Nag Champa fragrance and close your eyes and make a path, a space for interior vision to come forth, to blossom. Inhale “sat,” exhale “nam.” “Truth is my identity.” Breathe in time with the soft instrumental yoga music in the background, a clear sapphire pool of answers as you dare to stick one toe in. Not ready? Inhale deeply, exhale even more, with a full sigh if you have it in you. Empty out, empty out the garbage of your sticky life, your busy mind. Let the soft low beats of the tabla, the plucks of the harp, the lilting bass clarinet sing you once again into that quiet place where interior vision can emerge. Where truth rises up, a single image loaded with paragraphs of inarticulatable messages from spirit.
I am the smiling dolphin rising from the sea, nodding genuine loving-kindness and approval to the thirsty me on the shore. It is good. We are one. We are all One. Mere drops of the same healing ocean. There is hope. At least for this moment in my interior vision.