“Stand Alone”

Prompt: 5 minutes “Stand Alone”

“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? IMG_6132

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.

Sat nam.

“Supposed To”

July 9, 2013
Prompt: 15 minutes: “supposed to”

Supposed To

She was supposed to get a lot accomplished today, piles of vacation mail littering the kitchen counter, dirty clothes on the laundry room floor, wilting calla lily plants screaming for water from their old pots, long leaves drooping. She turns the pots occasionally, angling them away from sunny windows so they’ll reach out, stretch outward in another way, filling out, not so lopsided from years of inattention save the weekly dousing when she had too much on her mind to cherish every little moment, every little thing.

Life is supposed to last long, keep on going, the canvas unfurling indefinitely, inviting one to pick up brushes full of color and paint your heart’s desire.

But it doesn’t always go that way now, does it? No, sometimes we get so busy we’re like Little Black Sambo running around the tree so fast, fleeing from the tiger, whipping himself into butter he did, I did, we do.

When you are young, it seems like forever between Christmases, you wanting to fit into your mother’s dyed to match green high-heeled pumps, their chunky heels clomp clomp clomping along the hardwood floor, headed for the kitchen where your mother is fixing you and your stuffed friends a tea party.

all dressed up

all dressed up

As a mother, you make a mental note of your daughter’s living in the moment joy while pretending she is all grown up. You snap a picture of her in the netting skirt atop her size 4T jeans, the old burgundy velvet hat that was your grandma’s, the white kid gloves all the ladies wore back then, back when you’re sure time must have passed more slowly. You take the tiny plastic Strawberry Shortcake plates your daughter brings so trustingly to your care for her own “pea darty.” You place equal numbers on each of Cheerios, pretzel sticks, grapes and cheese, knowing she will eat it all, helping out Big Bird, Sally, Ga Ga and Snowy. Life is supposed to be this good and it really is! It really is!!!

Until some days it’s not, it’s just not.

You analyze and debate inside your head what’s missing, what might be if things were even better. If you could be more of yourself in this marriage, if life is supposed to be this conflicted, this painful, this small. You smile at your children during the day, singing soulful lyrics with Amy Grant, Carole King, Carly Simon, Carly, Carol, Amy CDsas you drive your kids on errands. They learn the words and sing refrains in their little voices, legs kicking, oblivious.

You come to dread 5 pm some days, then weekends, living for Monday mornings, quiet midnight hours when you can fold hot, clean smelling towels fresh from the dryer on the carpet in the hall all by yourself, sometimes weeping. How did it get like this? Surely this is not the way it’s supposed to be, is it? Is it?

That first marriage was supposed to be the only one. They were supposed to live happily ever after. They were supposed to grow old together.

But time can heal old wounds. How nice that finally, they can laugh and break bread together again in their grown daughters’ homes, new partners by their sides, all “one big happy family.” Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be — multiple sets of parents and step parents all together toasting graduations and marriages of their grown up children, reminiscing together about the good memories of the days gone by.

Eight Weeks

Prompt Writing: 15 minutes: “Eight Weeks”

Eight Weeks

In eight weeks, I will have breast surgery behind me. For good. I hope. Know, I believe. (Ha – I meant “No, I believe,” but how much better is “Know, I believe!”) For GOOD, I tell you! Knock cancer cells on their butt! Excise them out and banish them from my life forever.

In eight weeks I will be packing for my dream trip — a writing workshop with Elizabeth Berg in Chicago! She is my all time favorite author and I devour her books as soon as they are published. She writes so cleanly, simply, yet touches my heart, my soul, my mind — silky strips of pastel fabrics flowing over my body, feeling so poignant, so delicious I want to savor every word, reread every paragraph, every book. And I get to meet her! In person! In a smallish group of women writers! It’s only money (and you can’t take that with you!).

Berg Books

My awesome husband agreed the moment I asked him about spending such a large sum on myself, taking off and leaving him with Roosevelt, who whines whenever I’m away. He knows how much I love Elizabeth Berg. From the first book of hers I read, tears leaking from my eyes as I tried to explain to him why Pull of the Moon grabbed me so, poolside where he was attending a dental conference — us not married yet and in that getting-to-know-each other phase, me still grieving the loss of my first marriage. Not yet 50, but well into identification with Nan’s feelings of confusion, needing solitude and adventure all at once. Yes. In eight weeks I will have just that.

“After the Storm”

Prompt writing: 20 min: “after the storm” GO!

After the Storm

After the storm, the clouds make way for a little light to peek through. Then a little more. The deep elephant gray morphs into a lighter ashen gray, then a bluish tint that gives the moving sky that cotton candy look. The wind still gusts, bending palm fronds in unison. But you can see beyond the dunes on the horizon, and the sea has calmed. No breakers crashing their powerful see-what-I-can-do white foaminess as they slam down in mighty display.

No, today the magnificent, dreaded Hurricane Sandy is moving north, sparing us here in North Carolina, gathering intensity to smack a mighty blow to the more populated northeast. I feel their pain, their fear, knowing well the all-consuming efforts to gather water, food, flashlights and batteries. Sandbagging, boarding windows, doors, sometimes escaping inland, awaiting your own “after the storm.”

After the storm, the real work begins – picking up the littered pieces of wind-tossed fragments of foreign lives now resting in your yard. Wondering where your own things are – a lawn chair here, a bird feeder there, a soggy library book floating in a muddy puddle. Hopefully not expensive boats smashed, ruined, piled high together on a shore of debris.

And what of other, more personal, less tangible storms? The storms of intertwining lives? Isn’t it just the same?

Shell-shocked at first that it really got that ugly, that crazy. Replaying the angry words over and over in your mind as you wonder what to do next, where to begin the clean up. You thought you were prepared, hell, walked around with some niggling part of you always at the ready, to protect and defend your sensitive heart at a moment’s notice.

Yet sometimes we just can’t anticipate the big ones. They’re temperamental, with a mind of their own sometimes, those life-altering storms. You’re not looking for them – no weather report warning you days in advance. No extra milk and bread and toilet paper security. No, just when you think there’s no need to have the candles and a lighter handy, a storm can just come out of nowhere really.

But there it is – all black and red and spewing hatred like fire from a dragon’s mouth, and you cower, closing down once again, raising the drawbridge to keep the “enemy” out, protecting your heart, or what’s left of it, from further wounds.

Sometimes you might lash out right back, not gonna take this shit anymore, escalating the war of words and painful barbs, as “love” takes some deformed shape you don’t recognize at all and you just keep adding insult to injury, determined not to get backed into a corner. You might throw your shoe, hoping to scare the storm away, force it back, those slippery droplets of venom leaking through anyway, flooding the space between the two of you, until you are both ankle-deep and one of you decides to end the madness.

After the storm? Well, what can you do, really, but pick up the broken pieces and weep.

“Forever”

Another off the cuff prompt writing: 35 minutes: “Forever” GO!

Forever

Forever is a long, long time. Decisions, choices, paths taken in an instant can affect – DO  affect – your life forever. And I mean, FOREVER!

“Mate selection,” as someone called it recently. Now there’s a choice that affects one’s life tremendously. The little souls brought forth in human body as a result – unique experiments on this earth plane, as all of us are.

Forever can feel oppressive, like “when will this ever end?” Forever can feel boring, like how much longer until something different – better or worse – comes along? Forever can feel awesome, like “I could do this forever!

Forever is a promise we make, but do not always keep. For it is impossible to know with certainty how we will feel when “forever” gets here. We can try. We can try and promise forever, until death do us part, but you really don’t know for sure how that will turn out, do you? Not by the statistics of divorce in this country today. Not by the tabloids featuring broken marriages for all the public to see as they wait in line at the Food Lion, purchasing salad-in-a-bag with an expiration date in just 6 days – that’s the freshest she could find. The almond milk will last almost a month. The can of Lesueur tiny green peas over a year. But nothing in that store will last forever. Well, maybe the Saran Wrap, plastic things that won’t decompose – nope, not even in a landfill while even her unborn grandchildren walk this earth.

Grandchildren. Children. Family.

Now there’s something that lasts forever. Forever, as in tracing one’s roots back as far as geneology records can be deciphered, exposed, uncovered. And as far ahead as we can possibly imagine – which really only goes for a few generations for me, but could go on forever, if we don’t destroy this planet first.

Forever. Forever is the love I have for my children. No divorcing there. No matter what they do or say, or don’t do or don’t say, I cannot imagine that my love for them would ever end. Ever. Memories of happy faces in swings, singing “fingin’, fingin’, fingin” in a sing-song voice, as birds and butterflies complete the wooded backyard scene, the devoted family dog on duty, walking, sniffing around, plopping down in the sun with one eye open – Spatts, the Sentry, guarding his people, always. Forever, really, if you believe  that sort of thing, which I do. In my mind’s eye, I see Spatts, Bailey, Tip all happily running around together in a heaven of freedom, looking down on us all – Hallie, Caroline, me – sending protective, loving energy to us, without our even realizing. Waiting for us patiently, as they always did on earth. For when it’s time for our bodies to transition and our souls to join the Great Forever, they’ll be there to greet us. I do believe some things are forever.

“Merit Badges”

I recently wrote an essay for a competition that I did not win, and so I will not get to go to Oakland, California to meet Anne Lamott and Kelly Corrigan next month after all. Nor will I receive a call from a senior editor at Random House/Ballantine. Or from the Executive Editor at O Magazine. Or from a top literary agent at ICM. Oh well, I didn’t know what ICM stood for anyway! And I still thoroughly enjoyed the writing process and  honing my essay down to less than 800 words (799!).

I followed the guidelines: “Notes & Words is looking for the next great memoirist. We’re calling for short personal essays about the challenges of caring for a child (age 18 or younger), including medical issues (e.g., an accident, illness or diagnosis) or emotional crises (e.g., a death, divorce, breakdown) or one of any one of the more common parenting dramas (e.g., academic, social, athletic, epicurean).

I thought my life situation fit the subject matter perfectly, and so I wrote to the contest theme. Since my essay wasn’t chosen, I’ve decided to “publish” it myself here on my blog. Let me know what you think – could I possibly become a great memoirist if I keep plugging away? Thanks for reading!

Merit Badges

“This year’s winner of the Trentini Scholarship, worth $24,000, is  …. Caroline Craft!”

Without thinking, I gasped as my beautiful daughter made her way to the podium, holding up the shiny gold taffeta of her long prom dress so she wouldn’t trip. How on earth had I forgotten to check to see if it needed hemming?

Brushing away tears, I watched Caroline deliver an unrehearsed acceptance speech with poise, grace and humility. I glanced over at my ex while I squeezed my husband’s hand, marveling that the committee had presented the prestigious community award to a child from a broken home. I thanked God she had managed to thrive despite the divorce and my chronic illness.

Hallie was eighteen months old and Caroline four and a half on November 25, 1990, the day I awoke with what would later be diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. One week I was a full-time mom juggling my own part-time marketing and PR business, exercising with Jane Fonda and bopping to Jazzercise music. The next week I was flat in bed with a low-grade fever and pounding headache, my throat swollen, my legs hardly able to carry me to the bathroom. Little did we know how long this bizarre, unpredictable disease would last or how distressing it would be for our family.

Brain fog distorted my short-term memory. I struggled to recall that grapes, not raisins, were what the girls had ordered only moments before with their sandwiches cut in “triangles, not squares, Mama!” With the blue ice pack on my head, a heating pad on my legs, I wrote sad poetry through tears while, outside, a babysitter answered “Yes, you may” to “Mother, may I?”.

Out of desperation I created a “treat kettle” for when I simply had to have a two-hour nap, long past the time the girls had outgrown theirs. I filled my Grandma Ginny’s old copper kettle with strips of paper on which words described fun, but sedentary, activities we could do together if I got my nap. I prayed Social Services wouldn’t find out I slept while my young children played, unattended, in their rooms. When the big and little hands of the clock showed the appointed hour, they could wake me up. We’d draw a treat from the kettle: “color with crayons in bed with Mama,” “read library books in bed with Mama,” “watch old Caroline videos together,” activities I could do, even on pretty bad days.

I made merit badges from construction paper – yellow circles with blue paper ribbons taped at angles, the words “MERIT BADGE” printed in black Sharpie. Awarded spontaneously when the girls had gotten along particularly well, these paper prizes encouraged behavior that allowed me to get a much-needed respite from the typical harried life of a mother. Merit badges could only be cashed in when Mama was having a “good day” and able to drive, but they were prized carrots dangling in the background of our lives. They offered trips to The Corner for strawberry, lemon or bubblegum-flavored ice cream; to Delectable Delights for gummy bears and fresh squeezed orangeades. Usually, we’d stop by the library to get new books – Berenstain Bears, Curious Georges, Amelia Bedelias.

As months turned into years, the illness took its toll on my marriage. I tried my best to shield my daughters from the increasing anger their father felt at the illness, but directed toward me.

“Why do you stay married to Daddy? He yells at you all the time,” Hallie questioned at age eight. A year later we split, all four of us sad.

As I heard Caroline acknowledge the other finalists so graciously, tears of elation mixed with grief slid down my cheeks. I recalled how many years I’d been repeating the same excuses to teachers and room mothers: “Maybe next semester I’ll be able to volunteer more or bake some cookies, but now I can only send in paper products or snacks I can buy ahead of time.”

Yet we must have done something right. Both our daughters were happy, healthy and successful, despite their challenging childhoods.

While Caroline thanked her parents, I recalled the many weekends we had sent the girls away to visit their grandparents to give us a break. I’d felt guilty imposing on my parents, despair at losing time with my kids. I remembered cheerfully singing Wee Sing songs with a splitting headache on the 45-minute drive to our rendezvous exit, blowing goodbye kisses in the air, then popping pain pills, releasing guttural sobs on the weary drive home.

Tonight my tears were different, my heart somehow even more intensely full than when I’d given birth. Caroline had won the Trentini, but I felt I’d won the ultimate Merit Badge.