Day 251 Careful and Carefree

Dreams have provided a source of personal revelation for me since I started recording, and subsequently learning about them, in 1986.  The poem “The Shadow of Shame” was based on the dreams of several nights, all bearing a similar theme – my ability (or rather inability) to form relationships.   By weaving together the images from those dreams and writing the poem I was able to recognize the underlying culprit.

Shame is insidious, silently spreading its menace, growing like a weed rooted in the soul.  It began for me the year I turned nine, when my teenage sister got pregnant.  While no one directly spoke to me about what was happening, I knew by the raised voices and frantically whispered arguments that something was dreadfully wrong.   A wedding was hastily arranged despite my father’s protests and my sister’s life was changed drastically.  That fall, when I started a new school, the shadow was already casting its pall over me – I felt myself on the outside of the circle looking in.  None of these kids, I was sure, was already an aunt or uncle.

Then, the summer of my eleventh birthday, my parents sat me down to tell me about my mother’s previous marriage and divorce.  Imagine my shock to learn that my sisters were half-sisters, and that two of my male ‘cousins’ were actually brothers.  “Divorce is a sin,” my mother told me, “So we don’t talk about it.  People would not approve.”  Marked by this new secret, I knew my hopes of belonging were shattered.

When we moved, mid semester, in the eighth grade, I was taken out of my gifted classroom and thrust into the mainstream.  Where previously being an oddball was celebrated, my new peers scoffed at my quirky abilities further fueling my growing awareness that I was fatally flawed.  When a boy I had latched onto and actually crushed on, publicly called me a dog, I learned how deep humiliation can run, as I then became the target of relentless bullying – everyone in our school took to barking at me at school and anywhere else I happened to be.

When we moved from that community, I had already learned the importance of caution around others.  I knew that making friends required careful observation and consideration, and demanded that I not reveal my true self.  There was little provision for letting one’s guard down, or being carefree.

And then my father dropped his bombshell – revealing to me the duplicity of his life – and any shame I might have felt before was now multiplied a thousand fold.  I was certain that others could tell by looking at me that my family was a total wreck, and furthermore, I knew they were justified in their judgments of me.  I shrank into myself, seeking dark corners, avoiding eye contact, or skipping school all together.  I tried running away, cutting, drinking, but nothing numbed the emotional pain, nor brought me closer to others.

When, at fifteen, I was abducted and raped, my family unwilling and unable to deal with the fact, just didn’t talk about it.  Called a whore by my father, I pushed the memory to the back of my consciousness and fixated instead on ways to end my life.

I thought I had put all that behind me.  I believed that through therapy, and just as a side effect of maturation, I had eluded the black cloud of my youth – and yet here it is -rearing it’s ugly head again, reminding me that I still struggle with getting close to anyone, certain that they will despise me if the truth comes out.

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Yet, I bet that we are all, in some degree, affected by this plague.  Shame builds walls where there are none, creates distorted images of superiority and inferiority, and takes personal blame where there is no fault to be had.

In the final dream, I am befriended by a troubled youth ( something that occurs regularly in my chosen occupation).  It is at the moment in which we both realize that we have shameful pasts that we are able to let down our guards and freely be with one another – just two humans being.

Maybe it is the very things that shame us that make us human, and the willingness to share our shadows that brings us connection.

I know that this heart longs to step out of the restrictions of careful interaction to experience carefree intimacy with another.

In the meantime, I will keep dreaming.

No Words

I have no words
that will change your plight.

I cannot undo the past
nor change the course of your life.

I am powerless to rescue,
fix, or uplift you in your time of need.

Please know that I see you,
know that in my heart I weep.

Know that while I empathize
I can never fully understand your pain.

There is no judgment here,
only heartfelt compassion.

When I reach out a hand to you,
wordlessly, it is out of respect.

I believe in you.
I believe in your strength and your courage.

In my silence, know that I bear witness
to the potential that lies within and before you.

I believe in the power of your own love to overcome.
There are no words to define what is possible in life.

(Image: imgarcade.com)

Day 227 “Life is Love”

It is nap time and I am lying on the bed with my three-year-old granddaughter who pushes her rosebud lips up against my face, squishing my cheeks with her chubby baby hands.  She snuggles so close and with such intensity, it is as if she wants to merge her little body with mine.

I adjust her position so that she is now cradled in my arm, her head resting on my shoulder.  Taking slow, deep breaths, I close my eyes.  I can feel her intense blue eyes staring at me, and then she too starts to breathe deeply and I peek to see she has succumbed to sleep.

We will lie like this for two hours, her baby hair matting as she sweats in her slumber, and I marvelling at this little soul who has brought so much love into my life.

Earlier, she and her two-year-old cousin collected fallen leaves in the backyard and I pressed them so we could make Thanksgiving collages.  The world, through their eyes, is wondrous and new, and all the leaves are beautiful no matter how torn or blemished.  The enthusiasm is contagious.

After nap, we will all sit down to a traditional meal and the babies will chatter non-stop, and giggle at their own nonsensical language.

Then both granddaughters will scramble to sit on Grandma’s lap whilst I read a book and we discuss its content as if its the most important thing in the world.  (Really, I will do anything to prolong the scent of their baby hair and the feel of their sloppy kisses.)

Hours after they leave, I will lie in the dark and replay each delectable moment over and over in my head, and Grandpa and I will talk about all the little developments and beam with pride.

There is no mistaking the fullness in my heart after time spent with my “babies”:  life is love!

 

Day 221 “The Soft Overcomes the Hard”

I learned about love from movies, and novels, and my parents’ marriage.

Love Story etched in my heart the message that true love endures hardship, and illness, and even death.

Wuthering Heights taught me that love can be dark and punishing, but it is inevitable: not to be ignored.

These were stories of passion and romance, and I yearned for that feeling from the age of eleven.

My parents taught me about the kind of love I wanted to avoid: love born of convenience, fraught with oppression, fear, and denial. “He loves me in his own way,” my mother would say, and I despised her for being weak.

“You are waiting for your white knight to come and rescue you,” one of my high school friends told me. “It’s never going to happen.” Her words stung. I was too young to see the faults in my own brand of idealism.

I married the first chance I got. He was classically handsome, loved to dance, and girls flocked to be around him. I couldn’t believe he was mine. We were nineteen. When the pale pinks and blues of our wedding day faded, reality set in. Unable to hold down a job, my charmer slept till two o’clock each afternoon, then moved from bed to couch, where he consumed packs of cigarettes and watched television. He seldom came to the marital bed, but when he did, he made it clear that it was my fault he stayed away – he despised me. “Life is so easy for you,” he would lament. Working two jobs and running our household did not feel easy to me, and I told him so. The marriage was over before our second wedding anniversary.

“You couldn’t keep it up,” my friend told me. “You were burning out.”

My second husband swept me off my feet with sweet talk and limousine rides. “I don’t want to just live with somebody,” he told me. I interpreted that as a proposal, although he never actually said the words: Marry Me. We’d stay awake for hours and talk about our dreams, and before I could blink we were living together, then married, and having children. He was in a hurry, you see, to ‘have it all’ before he turned thirty. I didn’t see just how convenient I was.

The courtship ended once we were married, and I soon felt very alone, tending house and children. “At least he’s not abusive,” I’d tell myself. “Could be worse.” Even though I couldn’t see it, I was doing the dance my mother taught me, denying that something was missing. I wanted so much for love to work, to be a real thing, that I was a part of, and he played on that, telling me how “if I’d been more loving”, I would be something that I was not. In the end, when he left me, I was convinced that I was not good enough for love.

“You were dying inside,” my friend kindly told me. “I watched your spirit dwindle away.”

I grieved, then raged, but eventually found level ground, where, for the first time in my life I considered loving myself. It was a broken relationship, for sure, and I had to start with simple things, such as: What did I like to eat?

Through therapy, I realized that in trying to avoid my parents relationship, I had actually just recreated a different version. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck!

Loving myself, I decided would be the opening for true love to enter my life. So I played a game with myself, a game I called: What would it feel like?
I bought myself flowers, and allowed myself to feel the simple pleasure that such a gesture offered. When responsibility and obligation started to wear me down, I’d draw a bubble bath and pour myself a glass of wine, imagining that this is what love would do: offer solace rather than complaints. I even went as far as to visualize what it would feel like to be truly loved, not for what I could do for another, but because I am.

Accepting myself, just the way I am, and my life along with it, brought a sense of inner peace and I stopped longing for more. Maybe, I thought, this was the love I was looking for all along.

When Thor showed up in my life, it was already full, and his presence threw me off balance. I allowed the excitement for a couple of weeks, and then, to quote him, ” I kicked him to the curb.” I didn’t need this.

And yet I did.

Curiousity got the better of me, and so I invited him back in.

“These are the ground rules,” I told him at the beginning. “We will hang out for a year and see how it goes. There will be no talk of ‘us’, and no plans for the future. After a year, we’ll see how it goes.”

“What you see, is what you get.” Thor shrugged. “I am afraid I’m pretty vanilla.”

With Thor’s compliance, a friendship began to take shape, as well as a genuine, mutual, fondness. Most importantly, with Thor, I felt appreciated and acknowledged.

We married in a small, personal ceremony, exchanging our own, heartfelt vows. And on our honeymoon night, as I crawled into his open arms, he uttered the words that summed up all my years of searching:

“Let me be your soft place to land. No matter what life throws at you, or how harsh life can be, know that coming home will always be safe.”

Best Laid Plans

The man seated across the table pried me with questions.

“Who played Wendy?”  he asked.  “Was it you?”

I nodded.

“And who played the Hooker?”

“Also me.”

“Really,”  he drew the word out as if chewing on it.  “Both you?”

We were celebrating closing night at a local eatery.   My questioner was not a familiar face amongst our usual theatre crowd, but I could tell by the way others were addressing him that he held some position of esteem.

“Have you done a lot of acting?”  he persisted.

“High school, mostly.”  I loved acting, and had contemplated pursuing it at University.  Just recently, I had purchased a ticket to travel to Great Britain.  It was my plan to investigate theatre school there, hopefully Shakespearean.

“I am currently writing a play that you would be perfect for, if you are interested. You have heard of me?”

I recognized him now – playwright and critic.  He was well-known in our area, although this was my first meeting.

“I’m flattered,”  and I was.  “I am leaving for England shortly.”

“Of course you are.  It would be a shame to waste that talent locally.  If you have a change of mind, look me up, will you?”

The play had gone well.  Even though I had bit parts, apparently I had made an impression.  Maybe there was hope for me.  I looked forward to the future.

The date of my departure was fast approaching.  Disillusioned with life in my hometown, I was anxious to explore the world and embrace adventure.  To celebrate my move, my sisters threw a party.

Seven years older than me, Mae is a classic beauty with dark eyes, and a perfectly sculpted face draped with beautiful flowing brunette hair.  She stands 5′ 8″ and has curves in all the right places.  I was used to being eclipsed by Mae’s presence, but she made up for it in sweetness.

My other sister, Lily, was eleven years my senior.  Also a brunette, she was a fireball, who commanded attention and rivaled Mae for attention.

I shrank into a corner and disappeared into my dreams.  This was not my crowd.  Apart from a fellow I had been casually dating and a mutual friend of my sisters, I really didn’t know these people.  Just when I thought the night was a total loss, I heard a knock at the door.

I opened it to find Stewart at the door.  Stewart was one of Mae’s many suitors, and I knew he’d be disappointed.  Mae’s current boyfriend was also here.  I offered him a drink and some friendly conversation.  I felt bad for him.

“I’m headed to England,”  I offered.  Stewart had a very distinct British accent.

“When?”

“In three weeks.”

“Really?  I’m headed to England in three weeks.  Where are you flying into?”

“Heathrow.”

“Me too!”

“What date?”

“What date are you going?”

“The 19th.”

“Me too!”

“No way!  You are flying to England on the 19th!”

“Yes, I am.  We might be on the same flight.”

I have to admit, he had me going.  Turned out he was just playing with me.  Always fun to tease the little sister.

I busied myself in the kitchen, playing hostess.  Stewart made his move on Mae.

Last to arrive was the last to leave.  Mae had already left with her beau, and Lily was nowhere in sight.  I escorted Stewart to the door, where he paused before stepping out and turning around to face me, leaning in for a kiss.

“Good night,”  he whispered leaving me alone and slightly stunned.

What had just happened?

“Don’t pay it any mind,”  Mae told me the next day.  “He has a crush on me.”

I knew she was right, but it was me that Stewart invited out later that day.

Our courtship was a whirlwind race against the ticking of the clock and my imminent departure.  Stewart made me laugh, and caused my heart to flutter.  I couldn’t sleep, didn’t care to eat, and was certain that this was love.

He was all I could think of while in England, and I wrote to him everyday – long, lengthy letters oozing with mush.  When I’d received no reply, I finally called him.  He hadn’t received one letter.  I had sent them care of Mae, and she had forgotten to check the mail.  I couldn’t stand the emotional turmoil.

I came home.

Stewart and I would later marry and have three children, ending a seventeen year relationship in a bitter divorce.

I always wonder what might have happened, had I stayed in Britain, but I have never regretted the gift of my three children.

Isn’t it miraculous that life turns out the way it does, despite our plans to the contrary?

(Image:  afadedromantic.wordpress.com)

Conned

The man across from me was weathered and tanned, with a dark mop of curls, and shocking blue eyes.  “What bothers me most,” he was saying, “is spouses that cheat.  It’s the worst thing you can do to another person.”  I was warming up to him rapidly.

“What happened to you?”  I asked.  No ring.  New to town.

“Girlfriend decided it wasn’t working for her.  Threw me out.  We had a business together too.  I lost everything.”

“I can relate to that.”

We began to see each other.  It was a bit unnerving for me, this dating thing.  I felt like an adolescent all over again, swept up in an emotional whirlwind.

“I feel so vulnerable,”  I told him.

“Give it time,”  he responded.  “Don’t rush anything.”

Good answer, I thought.  He seemed so much more self-assured than me.

I noticed that I was becoming distracted, and forgetful.  I forgot to return phone calls, and missed appointments.  My bank book showed me making more withdrawals then I remembered.   I misplaced a paycheck.  I started to feel out of control.  When I told him, he suggested we slow down, take some time.  I trusted his judgment.

One lazy afternoon, he fell asleep on the sofa while I was doing my laundry.  His gym bag was in the hall, and I thought I would offer to wash his things with mine.  Not wanting to wake him, I opened his bag to remove the dirty clothes.  On top was his wallet.  I don’t know what possessed me, but I opened it.  His driver’s license checked out…his health card…..debit…..credit….the same as mine…..they were mine!  My cards were in his wallet!

Removing the cards, I put the wallet back.  A friend of mine was RCMP.  I called him from an upstairs phone and gave him the name and birth date.  He called back and said there was nothing in the files.   I was afraid.  I didn’t want to confront him alone.  I decided to wait until he was gone.

Checking with the bank, the credit card company, and my employer, I found out that he had been using my cards all along, and cashed my paycheck using my identification.  I called the police.

While he may not have had a record with the feds, he was wanted on dozens of charges with the police.  Once I reported, former girlfriends called with similar stories.  I felt so foolish.  The officer assured me that this happens to nice people all the time.  Con men count on good people like me to be unsuspecting.  I was an easy target.

I don’t know who I felt more victimized by, him or me.  I chastised myself for being so stupid.  What was I thinking?  I felt sickened, and full of shame.  But, more than all that I needed to take stock of my history with relationships.    My track record was poor.  By all accounts life had taught me not to trust in love.  Giving up seemed the only sensible option.

Yet, closing my heart seemed so cold and final.  Surely, this was not God’s intent.  I needed to look at this from a different perspective.

“Your picker is broken,”  a friend told me.  “Until you fix it, it’s not safe for you to love.”

She was right.  I had no discernment.  Loving in nature, I always look for the best in others.  I forget to watch out for red flags.

Closing my heart was not the solution, but guarding it responsibly was.

(Image: acountryroseflorist.blogspot.com)