i am subject

I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project http://www.iamsubject.com/the-iamsubject-project/. Here is my #iamsubject story:

It felt good to know who I was.  My job paid enough that I could live in Beverly Hills adjacent.  Just a one bedroom apartment but fine for a single, career woman.  I was ten minutes from work and in Southern California’s one to two-hour commutes, I was living easy.  My circle of friends from church and I went to movies, ate out and were there for each other.  I was loving it.

When I moved back to California, Mother wanted me to live and work near her and Daddy but my skills meant LA’s financial center and living near them in Pomona would have been a two-hour commute.  Still, weekend trips were doable.  I knew I had the best of both worlds.

I had lost weight, had a new wardrobe, learned which colors and hairstyles looked good on me, was taking voice lessons and singing regularly at church.  The new pianist and I were getting to know each other.  He had a red sports car.  Life was good, fun, exciting.

Mother was working on family genealogy when I got to the house that Friday night.  The dining room table held picture albums and family tree info.  She jumped up, piled things together and fretted and fussed about how she meant to have the table cleared for dinner.  In the study, Daddy was at his desk.  He gave me a warm smile, a kiss and a hug.

Mother made Daddy’s favorite meal of steak and baked potatoes.  As we ate, I asked Daddy about his work driving all over Southern California meeting with churches that wanted financing for new buildings.  The talk turned to genealogy and the history Mother was compiling.

I was content.  The old, Spanish house with craftsman hardwood trim was cluttered with pictures of my brothers and sister and all their kids, Mother’s plants and knick-knacks covered every space, her various projects were stacked around.  The book shelves were overflowing.  Cozy and lived in.

Daddy pushed his chair back, took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin.  Mother was still eating tiny bites.

“I found pictures of the house we lived in when you were born,” she said.  “I had two babies and a toddler, all in diapers.  Your father was out working all day.  We propped you up in the corner of the couch with your bottle,” she sipped her iced tea.

“Mama” she went on, “came out for the weekend and said, ‘That baby is failing; if you don’t want her, I’ll take her.’”

A knife-like pain hit my gut.  I couldn’t breathe.  I flushed hot.

“Well, it scared us to death, of course.  We never did that again.  We held you for every bottle,” Mother went on cutting and chewing.

Daddy smiled at me and stood and carried his plate to the kitchen sink.  My head was spinning.  I don’t remember the rest of the evening, but in the spare room, the twin bed tight against storage boxes, my sleep was flooded with old thoughts and feelings.  I didn’t fit in at school, was too afraid to take an art class or join in sport or school clubs.  I could never make Mother happy.  She never approved of my hair, what I wore, what I wanted to do.  I never felt pretty or useful.  I was worthless.  I jerked awake as bile rose and threatened suffocation.  The pain in my gut told me I finally understood.

The next day I limped back to Beverly Hills adjacent, wounded and scarred.  One part of me weighed the facts: she was a young mother, busy, overwhelmed, and tired.  Daddy was out working; they did the best they could.  The other part of me felt pain in my gut; ache in my heart; the need to know I was loved and valuable to Mother.  Life with Mother had always been about her, not me.  I felt weighted, drugged, my nose barely above the surface of heavy water, the swirling mists taking the shape of Mother.

I opened the door to my apartment and knew I had to choose.  I could drown in the nightmare of old memories, old programmed responses or I could embrace who I had become, be the new person I had learned to like.  There was only one way out.  It would take time, but I couldn’t go back.  I would have to forgive.  I pushed through the heavy funk that swirled around me, opened the drapes and let in the light.  The specter of Mother in the murk faded away.

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pain and love

Bing images

Bing images

We passed the KTLA5 News van just south of the exit to Isla Vista.  Apparently they were also headed back to L.A.

“Can’t see the water today,” Mother said, her head turned to her window as she looked to the south where the coast was hiding in a bank of clouds and moisture.

“No,” I said.  I looked left to check the fast lane, before moving into it to get around the car that was slowing us down, “but you can’t miss the fact it’s there with all this heavy marine layer.”

Yesterday, the trip north meant short sleeves, air conditioning and sun glasses against the bright sun and beautiful blue sky and water, but today was a long sleeve day, with the A/C turned off and vent air warmed up to 73 degrees.  It was overcast and cool out, 60 degrees at 9:45 a.m.

The Isla Vista murder/suicide tragedy was three days ago.  The town was probably still reeling.  Families decimated and shocked.  People would need jackets or sweatshirts when they took flowers to mark the spot of the tragedies.   And anyway, overcast, cloudy skies made more sense for mourning than a bright, sunny day at the beach, right?  Or maybe the gray sky matched the gray in people’s minds and kept them away from the scene and that was why the News Van was headed back to L.A.

“We never spent time at the beach,” Mother said, her head still turned towards the coast, “I was busy with all you kids, your father needed the car for work, and there was no money or time for trips to the beach.”  She sounded a little wistful at the missed opportunity.

“And when you did get away,” I said, checking the review mirror for a CHP as my speed increased down a hill, “you went to the mountains?”

“Of course,” Mother said in a tone that meant, why would they go anywhere else?  “Your father and I loved the mountains.”

I checked the rear view mirror to see if my visiting brother had anything to add to this trip down memory lane, but he was asleep, his white haired head against the head rest of the back seat, cell phone in his hand, the radio classical music his lullaby.

His week-long visit with his son, daughter-in-law and three grandkids in Lompoc gave me an excuse to talk Mother into taking a trip north.  What a trip of contrasts.  We’d gone from L.A. County to Santa Barbara County, from high rises, acres of concrete, bumper to bumper traffic, houses and small businesses as far as the eye could see, interspersed with strip malls and large shopping complexes, past ocean views, bougainvillea blanketed cliffs and para-sailing and beyond, to rolling green hills sprayed with yellow mustard blooms like dancing sprites over hills and vales that sloped down to the winding ribbon that is Highway 1.

It felt like another world.  It felt like the back of beyond where nothing lived except grasses and hills and dense undergrowth.  It felt hushed and beautiful, fresh and alive.  It felt like another place in time.

It felt nothing like the tragedy and blood and suffering of Isla Vista, where a rampaging, mentally stressed college student had planned for his pain to erupt leaving six dead and thirteen wounded.

Rather, it felt happy.  We found a busy and content family of two school teachers, their two teenagers, a ten year old and a Mother-in-law who just had one lung lobe removed in an effort to eradicate cancer.

They act like they are aware they have each other.   They act like they know who they are.  They act like they understand their place in life.  They act like they will take care of each other.  They act like they will be there for the recovery after cancer surgery; they will be there for each other after my nephew has back surgery this summer; they will be there for my beautiful, seventeen year old great niece as she makes a college choice, they will be there in encouraging my nephew’s wife as she finishes her masters and her doctorate, they will be there to support my nephew as he finishes his seminary work.  It isn’t that their life doesn’t have challenges.  It’s that they are determined to keep their lives simple, hang on to their faith and believe in each other.

How easily that tragic college student with long term self-esteem and mental health issues could have been me, or my brother, or his son, or his daughter-in-law or one of his grandchildren.  I think of the poor choices I made when I was young, that student’s age.  I cringe when I think of how some things turned out. I, too, was a failure.  I’m grateful I learned to move beyond.  I’m grateful there was healing.

I’m grateful, this gray morning, that life has given me time to get it right.  And I’m sad for the destroyed families of those six dead and thirteen wounded.  I pray there will be a way for them to recover; that there will be time for their lives to get it right.  Other than just screaming about guns.  Or knives.  It’s a deeper issue than a tool used for destruction.  It’s about value at the very core of our being.  It’s about compassion and forgiveness.  It’s about finding help when damage eats away at the soul.  It’s about love.

“I saw a whale,” Mother said, her eyes glued to the water, as the fog began to lift.

“Where?”  My brother woke, stretched and turned to his window.

We craned our necks to see the beauty of life that continues on.

Bloom

Bing images

Bing images

Pretty color.
I reach out, entranced.
The thorns prick.
My blood disappears into
the scarlet Bougainvillea blossoms.
I’m not fond of blood.

I slide off
the dizzying height;
past white striations on grey slate
that run southward and meld
with dark cave holes.
Grotesque shaped arms reach
out towards me.

I pick up speed and fly on.
Stop. Ahead.
Where sky
merges with Terra.

“Are you watching?”
She said as she
stirred the gumdrops
into the batter.

Instead of the
promised soar
I lie broken,
my bed a dry creek,
with pillows of brown dust
that billow and settle
into my cracks.
I turn invisible.

Whiffs of orange blossoms
stir the dust, tickle my nose,
and carry me back
to cool spring nights
under the backyard stars
where tiny pebbles in the ground
under the blanket
get on my last nerve.

“Be careful, or you’ll
end up burned,” she
worried.

“I believe in you,”
he smiled.

I was torn.
Caught in the middle.
I couldn’t believe
either of them.

In stops and starts
I ventured out,
flitted and floundered;
afraid to soar.

You’re not promotion
material,
he justified,
ticking off his boxes,
unless you can play
the politics game.

I gripped the ink pen
so tight it bent.
Not willing to
go so far as to
mortally finish
him or me,
I smiled.

A smile that never
reached my eyes.

Open up to the
decay, the
putrid slime
and drink in.
Smile the grin
of the damned
with Bougainvillea red
dripping teeth.

To accept
or not to accept
such an invitation?

I try.
Come on in,
the water’s fine,
they call as they
go down for the
third time.

Why is it not
that simple?
Just finish it.
Just do it.

Some primal urge
to survive wells up,
and drags me back from
the precipice.

Scarred fingers
pull against ragged
crags. Hands reach
out and pull me up.

At last I stand
on the jagged mount,
love healed,
my Bougainvillea bracelet
a scarlet reminder.

The End

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

I was sure this was it. I’d been expecting it and here it was. Finally. It had to come in-spite of all the global warming deniers and those right-wing nuts who can’t see the inherent damage fracking will do, plus the war mongers who want to spend and spend and spend building up a surplus of war machines and train innocent young people to sacrifice themselves as soldiers in some unauthorized invasion of a third world country.

At last reality and sanity have been pushed over the edge of the survival cliff. I knew it would happen. This had to be the end. I mean, really, how much more could the natural world take? The fragile ecology is being murdered, stripped bare, decimated by the ugly plundering of big companies. Is it any wonder the world is imploding in on itself?

I wanted to scream: I TOLD YOU SO. At least that was my thought the split second the sky went black. It was 9:03 a.m. and hot. Over 100 degrees yesterday and was headed there today. Until it got dark. Then the temperature went mild. Like it does after a summer rain storm in the New Mexico mountains.

The dark only lasted about a minute or so, which I suppose meant that if you were in a windowless room or in a corridor in the center of an office building, you wouldn’t even know the sun was gone. You couldn’t miss the next bit, though.

It was a like a lightning bolt that lit up the entire atmosphere in bright gold. It was too bright to look at. It glowed from everywhere. As if the light came from inside the room to meet the light outside. And the noise was like a trumpet sound that would hit the guys in the seats in the nosebleed section at the same time and with the same impact as the guys in the front row seats. Everyone heard every word. It was a sound that would wake the dead.

It was loud, but it was also a whisper that seeped down into my ears and jagged at my heart.

“Holy, Holy, Holy.”

I didn’t know who or what was holy. Wasn’t that like some religious thing that people in big old mausoleums of dead religions were always saying?  Maybe I was having a stroke. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die and I was remembering things I’d done and said that I hadn’t thought of in years. I was seeing dead people, like Grandpa Joe and Aunt Lizzy and my buddy, Larry, who crashed off the pier when we were in tenth grade.

The sky was full of these flying men. They looked beautiful, like the statues of Greek Gods, and they were all saying the same thing,

“Bow down before the King of Kings.”

How could this be? Was the world really coming to an end because of some religious hype? All that stuff that my grandparents and that weird old guy down on the corner tried to tell me?

How could anyone really believe in a vindictive supreme being who liked giving kids cancer? Or who stood by and watched while Tsunamis destroyed entire countries?

I would not give in to this delusion, this hype, this fear mongering.

Why wouldn’t the flashes of my life stop? I was still breathing, so I wasn’t dead. I stood still in the middle of the room. A room that I like dark with heavy drapes. This light, this bright gold was everywhere. I couldn’t see shadows under the trees outside or under the carport next door. Just bright gold everywhere.

The noise of those voices and a rushing sound like thousands of bird wings kept on. My ears hurt and my heart felt pressure like it was trying to leave my body. A heart attack. That’s what this was.

I wiped the sweat out of my eyes. The sky was getting crowded. I swear I could see something like people of all sizes in long robes floating up from the ground.

I blinked. I was nine years old again and sitting next to Grandma in church. The guy down front was saying, “the dead in Christ shall rise first.”

It was like a door opened and truth came rushing out. For the first time in my life, I got it. God was real. He was pure and couldn’t look at selfishness or murder or anger or all the ways we try to hurt ourselves and others. He gave up his own son, Jesus, to handle all the mean, evil stuff in the world. All the things people had done, like mass murderers and despots who killed their own people, and babies slaughtered while still in the womb, I finally understood. God gave me a choice and I decided to be my own god. Most people I knew had decided to be their own god. The whole world was living with the end result.

What was this new feeling? Love? Flashes of blue light swirled around me. It was a pulsing thing that rubbed against my ears and made the hair on my arms stand up. If I’d had any hair left on my head, it would have stood up. My scalp vibrated.

What was the voice saying now? “I never knew you.” Just like that, the pulsing, swirling power around me floated away, as if I had a personal shield that kept the light and the love from moving through me. My heart lurched again and I knew the awful truth. I lived in the black, dark, selfish part of life and I had missed the light. I wouldn’t know the love. I had been dead to truth. Truth was dead to me.

The gold everywhere was being swallowed up by black waves of pain that lived in heavy dark clouds with a smell like a burning garbage pit. Black, ugly monsters flew through the air towards me.

“No!” I jerked and flung my arms up to fight against the black creatures. The thud when I hit the floor and the pain in my hip woke me. The night stand was on its side next to me and the digital clock was on the floor. I picked up the clock. 6:57 a.m.

Oh, my God. What a nightmare. I rubbed my sore hip and dragged myself off the floor. I shook my head, but it wouldn’t clear.

Jake. I tolerated him at work because he was good at the job. I hated the joy and love he always seemed to have. I never let him get any further when he’d offer to pray for me. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe there was still time for me to get it right. Jake. Jake would know if God would still give me a chance. I moved to the heavy drapes and opened them to let in the morning light.

The Hole Inside

Bing Images

Bing Images

Couldn’t branch out at tender age
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t risk a verge to the unknown
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t risk propriety’s dress parade
were it not for the hole inside.

Painted on eyes,
colored up lips,
feather soft cheeks
façade for drab,
shriek out for worth.

Couldn’t learn to twirl debris
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t dance in battered sighs
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t sink beneath life’s heft,
were it not for the hole inside.

Painted on eyes,
colored up lips,
feather soft cheeks
façade for drab,
shriek out for worth.

Couldn’t embrace my solitary
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t reach life’s reason
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t find solace in the crush
were it not for the hole inside.

Painted on eyes,
colored up lips,
feather soft cheeks
façade for drab,
shriek out for worth.

Couldn’t escape the putrid pit
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t seek deep healing lift
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t evade death’s cold rattle
were it not for the hole inside.

Painted on eyes,
colored up lips,
feather soft cheeks
façade for drab,
shriek out for worth.

Couldn’t have a far view
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t have found solace,
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t have met the cure,
were it not for the hole inside;

Couldn’t fly on joy’s wings
were it not for the hole inside;
Couldn’t learn love’s embrace
were it not for the hole inside.
Couldn’t have known my soul’s lover
were it not for the hole inside.

Shining eyes clear,
smiling lips and crinkled cheeks,
love and beauty merge at last
with wisdom’s perfect love;
my hole is day by day healed.