How Tables Turn

“All I want is to have my family around me.”

I was giving my father a therapeutic touch treatment to help ease his pain.  His suffering was relentless in his last years.

“I guess they’re all too busy for their old Dad.”

“You didn’t exactly teach us how to be around you, Dad.”  I didn’t want to be unkind, but he needed to hear the truth.  When I was too young to understand about his ‘needs’, I thought we were an inconvenience to him.  Mom would whisk us off to bed before he got home from work, so we’d be out of the way.  Later, when his secret was out, we would have to call ahead to make sure it was okay to come home.  When I moved out and became a parent, Dad would visit for ten or fifteen minutes before he had to leave.

“I suppose that’s true.”  Were those tears in his eyes?  “I lived a very selfish existence.”

“Yes, you did. You just have to be patient with us, and give us time to see that you have changed.”

He caught my hand in mid-motion and gave it a squeeze.  “I always loved you, though.”

“I know that now, Dad.  But there were many times when I didn’t.  I could never compete with sports.”  Sports were Dad’s excuse for everything:  I can’t come see your play, because the game’s on; or:  I’d love to spend time with my grandchildren, but this is the deciding match.  Trouble is, there was always some sporting event on.

“Silly, isn’t it?”

“You missed out on a lot.”

“I know.  I know.”

My father had changed.  We never could have had this conversation years ago.  He was too intimidating, and never open to criticism.  Something in him had softened.  Mom said he cried regularly over all the things he had done to us throughout the years.  Still, I wasn’t totally convinced.

“It’s ironic how the tables have turned.  It was always Mom who suffered with so much pain, and now it’s you.”

Isn’t that the truth, Dad’s face said.  “I wasn’t very sympathetic either,”  he confessed.  “Serves me right, I guess.”

I didn’t say anything.  Dad had never understood Mom’s suffering; he couldn’t tolerate weakness.  Now he depended on oxygen to breathe, and didn’t go out much because his immune system was so compromised.  His life was reduced to pain medication and ointments.  Mom seldom left his side.

“I messed up, didn’t I Squeegie?”  It was his nickname for me when I was little.

“You certainly had your trials, Dad.  No one can imagine what it was like to be you.  I guess you did the best you knew how.”

He squeezed my hand again.  “You’re a good kid.”

“I wish I could take your pain away, Dad,” I responded.

In the back of my mind, I was remembering something my father had always preached:

You get out of life what you put into it. 

Racing Towards The Abyss

Ice, c’est Radio Canada.  Il est neuf heures quinze, et maintenant…..

“9:15!  If traffic goes my way I can be at work by 9:30, and with a half hour lunch, be done by 5:00”, I calculated while racing through the yellow light.  My day had started early with a brisk power walk to get me going, a quick shower, breakfast for the kids, then off to morning French class at the University.  Fortunately for me, my job offered flex time, so I could catch the early class before starting my shift.

I strained to catch the gist of the radio program.  Something about the funding of English schools in Quebec, and a debate about immersion.   A hole opened up in the line of traffic to my right and I weaved around the slow driver in front of me, just grabbing the tail end of a yellow to turn the corner and enter the parking lot.  I would make it to my desk with two minutes to spare.

“Bonjour!”  I greeted my co-worker on the other side of the cubicle.  I had been thinking in French since I left school, and forgot to switch back.  “When is my mind going to shut off?” I wondered.  It seemed like it was always racing these days, but I did have a lot to juggle.

I landed this job in early February, at a time when most corporations were not hiring.  I got lucky.  Just as the receptionist was turning me away, the Human Resources Manager was walking into the room and caught my eye.  “What are you looking for?” she asked.  “Can you speak French?”

“As a matter of fact, I can.”

“Follow me.”   She grabbed some papers off a nearby desk and led me into a conference room.  “Write these tests,” she said pushing the papers towards me.  “There is a job freeze on right now, but if you do well, I’ll keep your name on file.”

The call came that same afternoon asking me if I could come back for an interview.

“No one has ever scored so high on the tests”, she said.  “We’d like you to start right away.  There is an eight to ten week training program you’ll have to do first in Toronto.  We’ll put you up, all expenses paid.”

I was both excited and anxious.  I hadn’t worked full-time since the my first baby was born, and I while I was happy to be able to provide for the family again, I wasn’t sure how we’d all manage.  I’d made the promise to my husband though, that I would support the family while he took some time off to establish a new business.  He hadn’t been happy for some time, and so we decided to swap roles.

I completed the course in five weeks, wanting to reduce my time away as much as possible.  A year of training on-the-job proceeded the initial training.  I was exceeding all expectations within months and at the approval of my manager enrolled in a fourth year French course to be paid for by the company.  A pay increase followed as I was now their bilingual representative.  I was moving up in the world.

My husband was not having the same success.  Caring for the house and children turned out to be harder than he thought, and he finally admitted that it just wasn’t “his thing”.  I found a sitter, resumed the cooking, housework, shopping, and laundry. He bought himself a race car. He was looking into starting a mail order business.  Worrying that my income wasn’t enough, I picked up a job working weekends at a restaurant.

Sometime in the middle of all this, my oldest sister’s health took a turn for the worse.  The doctor’s wanted to hospitalize her, but she refused, saying she wanted to die at home.  A nurse was assigned for eight hours a day, but she needed around the clock care.  In the beginning, the family rallied around, and we all did our part, but that was waning.  Now it was only my mother and I who were committed to seeing her through.

“Can I see you in my office?”  My boss’s voice brought me back to the moment.  I followed her brisk walk down the hall.  “I have been reviewing your work and there are a few areas for improvement.”

I couldn’t believe it.  “I don’t understand,” I protested.  “I thought I was meeting all the quotas.”

“You are,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “There is always room for improvement.”

Driving home from work that night, I felt particularly exhausted.  What more could I do?  I arrived home to realize I had forgotten to pick up the kids.  It was Wednesday night.  Stuart wouldn’t be home till late.  He was meeting with the car club.

Don’t ask me what happened next; the night, like many others, passed in a blur of cooking dinner, trying to keep the kids from killing each other or themselves, completing homework, baths, and then bed.  Then when my husband got home, I’d grabbed my schoolwork and headed to my sister’s for the night shift.

I don’t remember Thursday at all.

Friday, Stuart headed off to the racetrack for the weekend.  He’d be gone five days.  It was the Thanksgiving long weekend.  Even though he had a cell phone, he didn’t anticipate it would work where he was going, and the track did not have a contact number.  I would not hear from him again till Tuesday evening.

It was later than usual before I got all the kids to bed that night, and even though I still had work to do, I just couldn’t face it.  I decided to go to bed early.  I was asleep within minutes, but not for long.  I was jolted out of my sleep by an all too familiar image – myself alone with the children, living in a townhouse complex.  Although I had dreamt of this place many times, with no emotional attachment, this time I woke up crying.  What was wrong with me?  The tears just wouldn’t stop.

Saturday was recreation day, and each of the children were enrolled in different programs.  Marie was taking art, Ester dance, and John was attending some sports clinic, all held in the same building.  This had been our Saturday morning routine for two months now, but somehow after I loaded us all in the car, and set out on our way, I could not remember where we were going.  I drove up one street and down another, and with each miss, grew more and more anxious.  Ester began to scream in the back seat.  Marie asked me what was wrong.  I didn’t know.  I started to tremble.  The tears started to come again.  I turned the car around and headed for home.  Our street ran off a main road, and all I had to do was turn left and we’d be there, but suddenly, I froze, mid-intersection:  mind, body, and emotions no longer under my control.  Ester screamed louder and the other two began to cry.  A siren flashed behind me and a police officer stepped up to the driver’s side.

“Is there a problem, Ma’am?”

I looked at him through a flood of tears.  “I don’t know where I am.”  I handed him my license.  He was young, and I could just tell he hadn’t expected this.

“Ma’am, your license says you live just down this street.  Do you want me to follow you there?”

“Yes, please.”  I don’t think I’d ever felt so humiliated.   We crawled down the street and into the driveway.

“Is there anybody you can call?” he asked.

“I don’t think so.  My husband’s away, and my sister’s dying, so my parents aren’t available.”

“Well, you need to call somebody.”

“Thank you, officer.  I will.  I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

In the end, I called my Dad.  Between choking sobs, I told him I needed help.  He came right away.

That was the day I discovered that I have limits.  In those days we called it a breakdown, but in retrospect it was a breakthrough:  the beginning of a new way of being, one that took me out of the rat race.

(Image: fineartamerica.com)

The Fourth Bun

The significance of the fourth bun comes from a story about a fool, who upon discovering it takes four buns to satisfy hunger, thinks that she can skip the first three and just eat the fourth with the same result.

I have been that fool.

* * * * *

“Why are you here?”

We are an eclectic group of first year psychology students:  ten of us that have been appointed to this group facilitator.  Meeting twice a week and doing “group therapy” is a requirement of the course.

“Because we have to be?”  one student jests.  Nervous giggles all around.

“No, really.  Think about it?  Are you here to fulfill your destiny, or are you here because that is what expected of you?  Are you pleasing your parents?”

I knew I wasn’t pleasing my parents, well, at least not my mother.  She didn’t see the point in women having an education.  I was interested in psychology, but not yet sure that was the path I wanted to follow.  Why was I here?

The question haunted me.  What was I looking for?  What did I hope to achieve?

The answers had nothing to do with education.  On my own since seventeen, I had an intangible hunger that I sought to satisfy.  I felt as if I was swimming in murky waters,  unaware of the dangers beneath the surface, and just treading water on top.  Trying to achieve my education, while having to work full-time to support myself was not easy.  At some level, I knew that education held promise for the future, but the immediacy of my hunger overshadowed any rationality.

I wanted security:  the kind of security offered by a stable home.  I wanted to feel loved and supported, and not like I was clawing my way through life in order to survive.  I wanted to not always have to be so strong and independent, and I wanted an end to this feeling of being so alone.

The first bun would have been to finish my education; two, to find a career; three would have given me time to establish my independence; and four to marry and create a family.  Young and impulsive, I skipped to four.

Now I understand why I never found the satisfaction I was looking for.  It took a long time for the hunger to subside.

(Image:  leitesculinaria.com)

Creativity and Self Definition

I dream that I am walking across an open field.  The landscape is barren, and dry, and a wind storm is whipping up, with low menacing clouds.  I am headed to the farm, where I raised my children, and where my ex-husband still lives.  I am living in the city, in the basement of  a raised ranch with hand-me-down furniture.  While the apartment is bright, because of the high windows, it is still a basement.  I am walking against the weather, despite the weather, because I want to finally settle something with my ex; call a truce.  He is processing wood – putting it through a machine and creating little piles of wood chips and lots of sawdust in his large open shop.  He keeps working and ignores my presence.  My mother arrives in a car and has a present for him.  My older sisters show up also.  They are in the main house primping, and trying to show me how to make myself more attractive.  I just want to clear the air, but there are too many distractions.

I always say that creativity is the process by which we define and then express ourself.   In the dream, I am influenced by the women in my family, the inclement weather, and an ex-spouse who is preoccupied.  I chuckle at the dream’s image of my older sisters preening, as growing up it was impossible to find a mirror that was not taken over by one of my sisters.  It was part of the reason I chose to be a tomboy; it was easier than trying to get bathroom time for grooming.

In my family, women were expected to be pretty, under educated, and submissive to men.  My older sisters were both beautiful, and took secretarial skills at school, leaving after grade 11, so they could get a job and find a man.  I did not fit this mold.  Taking after my father in looks,  I had a receding chin, and wore glasses.  I was also ‘gifted’ and aspired towards a university degree.  I was outspoken and pro women’s lib.  My mother told me daily that no one would ever love me; she worried about my future.  I felt my mother’s legacy fulfilling itself, when my second, and former husband told me he had never loved me after seventeen years together.  I left that marriage believing that I was unlovable.

I thought I had worked through all that.  I am in a relationship now with a husband who constantly demonstrates his love for me.  So why, in my dreams am I going over old territory?  And what does this have to do with creativity?

Maybe the dream is reminding me that if we define ourselves within the context of our environment, then we are limited.  If we are to expand our sense of self, we must be able to see beyond the landscape of our past.  In terms of health, my mother has had numerous issues, including three rounds of cancer; my oldest sister suffered illness all her life; and my next older sister is debilitated by schizophrenia.  None of them escaped the limitations of victimhood to experience either successful careers or relationships.

I believe that the purpose of dreams is always to bring positive movement in our lives.  This one left me feeling hopeless, unwanted, unseen or heard – much like my childhood.  I need to envision a new reality for myself.  I need to create new possibilities instead of searching and re-searching the experiences that will never serve to define me as anything less than inadequate.

(Image:  wallpapers-kid.com)

Relief

The verdict is in:  there is no cancer!

Relief is immediate.  I find myself breathing easier.  I feel lighter.

So, what was that about?   Months of uncertainty, unknowing, like a cloud hovering over each day.  Dare we plan….?  What if…..?  What about…..?  The questions were there, but unanswerable.  Just as quickly as it arrived, the cloud is gone.  The sky is clear again; life is back to normal.

But I am not the same.  I am more aware.  I more aware of how important my love ones are to me, and that I let them know.  I am more aware of how fortunate I am to be working at a job I love, but that my health and well-being comes first.  I must look after myself.  I am more aware that as I grow older my body is less forgiving, and it needs my care.  Health is not a given, nor a promise; it requires work and commitment.

I was lucky.  Not everyone is.  I have been given another chance.  I’ve got some personal work to do.