Guilt’s Games

Guilt’s a child –
nonsensical in actions –
attempts to hide,
shame-faced, lies –

Guilt is but a child
holds me hostage –
adult self, emotionally
captive, plays along.

(For Willow Poetry’s challenge: What Do You See – featured image)

Complexity of Freedom

Freedom is four hundred and fifty square feet of moveable tin, wheeling down the highway, destination unknown.  It is long walks through exotic forests, where focus lasts only as long as it takes to capture an image.  It is the privilege of sleeping and waking according to whim, routine an estranged concept.  It is the breeding ground for creativity – passion unleashed – and it is tainted by the hue of loneliness, the stark awareness that ties are strained, and those left behind feel abandoned.

Freedom’s highway calls –
hearts follow, passions flow, flee
guilt’s far-reaching pull.

(Written for DVerse’s Halibun Monday:  Complexity of Freedom prompt.)

Too Far Gone

Been taking inventory,
gathering essentials,
craving nourishment,
coming up lacking –
cartoon version of a former self.

Spirituality, once fiery
now looms over me,
a stilted attempt to uplift –
redefinition of self –
grossly overstated.

I have been locked up,
misread, am unkempt,
a dishevelled mess –
childish demonstrations
proclaiming innocence.

All the while mouthing
nothingness – exaggerated
exuberance, tiring even me –
have destroyed compassion
with carelessness

I would embrace Spirit,
be comforted by that old familiar
warmth, declare faith
and be absolved of guilt,
but I am too far gone.

Bad Birthday

I would celebrate the day,
enjoy the spoils of my work,
receive abundance of blessings

but guilt showed up, floated in
wearing a sexy red overcoat,
and I couldn’t turn her away.

Camouflaged by fiery passion,
she tried to force feed me pearls
of wisdom, passed her gems

like bestowing an inheritance;
I choked, then resisted, invited
paranoia to join the party fray;

ducked accusations of treachery,
projectiles of blame targeting
unwitting intentions – employed

only to serve – was villainized
when I refused to take part,
openly defied her nonsensical

attacks, realized that dubious
mismanagement makes a poor
companion; guides my tainted

conscience with manipulation,
marries me to scrambled ideals,
births chirping perfection, (talent

undeniable), I am hopeful till
guilt chimes in, catching me off-
guard, forcefully convincing;

appealing to a death wish;
suspicion arrives, interrogates,
deflects responsibility, denies

truth – how did it all turn out
so wrong, this day that was
meant to celebrate my birth?

 

Losing My Sister’s Daughter

I was nineteen, and just newly married, when my sister
was diagnosed with cancer – and given one month to live.
She had a daughter, then eleven, that she’d dragged around
from man to man, sleeping on couches, never knowing where
tomorrow’s meal would come from or if they’d be on the run.

Take care of her, my sister asked, I know I can count on you.
I’ll take care of her, I promised, but then my sister survived,
fought the cancer, defied the ravaging effects of chemotherapy
and found more men to carry her through, became mistress,
housewife, and continued her legacy of heart-break drama.

I brought her daughter into my home, loved her, as best I could –
a long way from being a mother myself – ineffectually addressing
the needs of a child born into misfortune, destined for worse.
She rebelled, pulled away from the inadequacy of the adults
around her, and sought chemicals as her parent of choice.

Her father took her in, a man whose short-lived existence
in her life spanned only two years, and who had moved on,
married, secured a pension, and had a wife and more children.
She delighted in the discovery of sisters, idolized this sudden
father-figure and projected suppressed rage at the stepmom.

By fifteen, the streets became her home, and when intervention
threatened, she ran, took up residence in the big city,  where
she met a man with money, and a penchant for young woman
and cocaine, and when his seed took hold, he married her,
and she had hopes for a brighter tomorrow, made promises

neither would keep – she returned home in a blizzard,
bought a ticket with borrowed money, arrived with no shoes,
no coat, and a body full of bruises – he’d beaten her in a drug –
induced furor – she was six months pregnant.  We cried,
held her to us, and delighted in the birth of her baby girl.

My sister’s health slipped again, and I, now a mother myself,
reached out to the young woman, my niece, and her child,
but she kept me at arm’s length – You are not my mother,
she’d say, and reluctantly let me in to her run-down rented
shack littered with over-sized dogs and burnt out men.

While her mother lay dying, she found a man willing,  loving,
and she returned to school, and finished her high school
and went on to gain further job worthy skills, and we all
breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated the future and
forgot – perhaps too quickly – her ravaged past;  believed.

I’ll look after her, my final words to my sister’s final breath;
a vow I could not keep.  My niece stopped answering my calls,
and by the time her man saviour threw up his arms, declared
he was done, my own house was burning, and I had no
ladder that would save us all, and so we lost one another.

When Children’s Aid found me, I was trying to rebuild,
mothering six teenagers – three of my own, three his –
she’d told them I’d help; take in her child, now adolescent,
and give her a good home.  This great-niece arrived,
underweight, malnourished, with big doe eyes
reminiscent of her mother’s and her mother before her.

The fragility of my family structure crumbled under the weight
of yet another, frequently abandoned, now distraught child,
and while our foundation shattered, she was swept up
by the capable arms of another mother, and adopted,
and my sister’s daughter – the one I let get away –

she lives on the streets, exchanges flesh for heroine.
has been rescued twice, but always returns, her sanity
tarnished, paranoia replacing common sense, she
exists between highs, no longer reaches out – she’s
robbed us of her trust – forever we are broken.

If I could do it again, would I bind her to me,
take her in my arms and not let go, until she understood
the truth of her existence, the neglect at the arms of her
mother – never emotionally stable – and the failure
of her aunt, ignorant and judgmental, a pretender?

Could I have saved her from herself, from temptation,
educated her about poor choices when it’s all she’d
ever known – all I’ve ever known – women as victims.
Our life was a carnival ride; we the side-show freaks,
captivated by the lights, drawn in by the crowds

and the smell of cotton candy – how we longed
for the sweetness of caramel, the taste of sugar
on our tongues to erase the bitter that lingered
from all the lies, deceptions that entombed us,
smothered good intentions, buried us alive.

There is no going back, rationality tells me
and yet the past thrives within, and I, sometimes
functional, oft times paralyzed, stumble through
the guilt wrought memories, crying with impotence
for a life lost at my own hands – an oath broken.

 

A Case for Moderation

“Before illness,”  I tell my therapist, “I had things I was working on – I was engaged with life.  Now I can’t do any of that.  I feel useless.”

She nods.  “Yes, that is what illness does.”

I’d had two days of feeling better.  Two days of being able to sit up and actually do a bit of housework.  “I felt so good that I actually started to allow myself to make plans,”  I tell her, choking up.

“That is the trouble with this disease,”  she explains.  “Patients have good days, and they do things, and it sets them back.  You need to learn to enjoy the days you are feeling better, without increasing your activity.  Your body needs rest; rest is what is going to get you well again.”

I look away.  How can I tell her about the messages that have been haunting me these past days?

“I feel stripped of all purpose,”  I manage to confess.

“Ah,” she says knowingly.  “One of the things that we are able to do when we are well is avoid the voices in our head; without all that busyness we are alone with our demons.”

“Exactly!”  I love this woman!  “It sounds crazy, but I keep hearing my father’s voice.”

“What is he saying?”  She leans forward.

You don’t have any problems!  You don’t even know what problems are! ”  There were more too:  Time is money.  Waste not, want not.    I tell her about how he never allowed us to sleep in, made us get up and do drills on Saturday morning before cleaning the house.

th-1.jpeg“Your father wanted you to be strong, able to face whatever life threw at you.  What is missing from that picture is the message that home is the soft place to land.”

Her words strike a chord.  “That concept was foreign to me for most of my life,” I tell her.  “I never even conceived of it until I met Ric.  Isn’t that awful?”

She gives me a sad smile.  “The trouble with growing up in a family where work ethic is everything is that you are always living up to someone else’s expectations.  Your father set the bar high and to get there, you had negate all natural instincts.  You weren’t allowed to feel tired, sad, angry, etc.  All that would be pushed aside in order not to disappoint him.”

Even as she speaks, I see myself going to my room, disheartened by my feelings, wanting to hide – out of sorts.  Emotions were not welcome in our house; weakness was abhorred.

“Then you found yourself alone as a single mom with three kids.  There was no time for your needs.  No time to be sick, or rest, so you carried on out of necessity.”

“And I had my own business,”  I add to the list in my head.  “No possibility of taking time off there.”   To my therapist, I add:  “I don’t know how to banish the guilt.”

“Journal the messages when they pop up,”  she suggests.  “That way you can get them out of your head and onto paper where you can see how useless they are.  Tell yourself that by resting you are doing exactly what you need to be doing.  Getting better is all about listening to your body.”

“And when others ask me what I’ve done with my day…….?”

“Their questions are triggering you childhood demons.  You are hearing your father’s voice behind them.  Tell them you are doing exactly what you need to be doing to get well.  Leave it at that.”

I sigh.  For months now, I have felt like I have to justify my existence to everyone.  I have felt like such a failure.

“I have done the same thing to my children,”  I blurt out.

“Likely,”  she smiles.  “It’s all you’ve known.”

“Oh God,”  I moan.

“There is nothing wrong with a good work ethic as long as it’s balanced with proper rest.  It’s all about moderation.”

I have missed the moderation piece of life’s puzzle.

Will I ever learn?