Showing Up.

Showing up is not an easy thing to do. I proved that by flaking out on myself for years.

 And, NO, that isn’t HIS fault.

 It is MINE.

I’ve been taking a long hard look at what showing up means. After listening and reading and scrolling I saw that showing up means a lot of different things, to a lot of different people. I knew I needed to figure this out for myself. How could I know that I had failed, if I didn’t know what I was failing at?

For me, showing up means showing up for yourself, your kids, your community…there’s a lot more to it than facials and bubble baths.

I forgive myself for not showing up for me for years.  I did the best I could, at the time. Was it my personal best? Nope. But it was the best I had. All those times that I RSVP-ed: NO to my life suck, but I can’t get a do-over.

Shanyn, I am sorry you let yourself down and fucked off some really important things.

 I forgive you.

Done.

The alternative is a lifetime of recrimination. Oh, wait. I’ve already done that for half my life.

 I forgive myself for that, too.

Done.

Here’s the thing, Showing Up is also about asking the hard questions and answering honestly.

NOT> EASY>TO>DO.

It means taking responsibility for my actions, my choices, and my lack of action despite how bad my life has been.

When I woke this morning, I felt too tired to get out of bed, so I lay there, and ignored the vibration that calls me to meet the sun as it rises.  My eyes were heavy and somewhere in me I knew the day was going to be too hard to hold.  I considered letting it hold itself. But, my orange planner had WRITING: BOOK 2, written just above my accountability homework.  

Showing Up means not letting yourself off the hook when you have important things to do.

I got up and fed Smokey Magic, who had stayed out all night, and was doing the rub of shame on the screen door. I let her in and asked her if she had a good time, because really– #yolo .

I took it slow and I left myself alone. I didn’t chide me for not wanting to go have coffee outside in my chair, facing the sun.

I boiled the water and ground the beans. Because, showing up for myself means making the best damn cup of coffee that I can. Every day, but most especially on the weekends.

I felt a heaviness in my chest and my heart beat a warning. Part of my unease, I confided to the orchids, is that Monday is my 18th anniversary.

Showing up means facing the hard shit. The kids are with their Dad and I am ripe for a cry fest. A 48-hour layover in MY BED and that would be OKAY, if that was one of the honest answers to the hard question. Unfortunately, if I did that it would be a cop out.  Showing up sucks.  

I had already let myself off the hook yesterday by laying on my bed, crying, and eating two too many pieces of chocolate cake. Instead of yoga and writing. Though, the bills written in bright orange in my planner, demanded that I wipe the ganache from the corners of my mouth and face my fears.

 I had reluctantly gotten my files and my budget and turned on my laptop. No matter how many times I run the numbers, I just don’t have enough. It has been truly daunting taking over all the bills and the overhead, all by myself. It means that I am budgeted down to the last 26 cents in my wallet.

July tried its personal best to kick my ass. A broken washing machine, glass in the garbage disposal, new rotors and brakes…FUCK ME. There were several days I wanted to crawl into bed like I used to and just stay there. Curtains drawn against the mail box and the overwhelming demands of the world.

I didn’t. I got up every day and went to work.

The stress feels like a weighted blanket that I can’t take off. I stopped myself and took a breath every time I wanted to yell at the kids and asked, where is this coming from? Okay. That’s a lie. There were several times I just yelled. Then, I took a breath and asked myself the hard question: Am I taking my stress out on them? The answer was obvious as most truth is and so, I apologized for my assholeness.  Then I asked them not to be assholes. Because both things can be true at the same time.

Two days of letting myself off the hook would mean that I am also not working toward my dream of finishing my second book and doing the work on selling the first one. I thought about the question I have written above my desk, copied from a friend—Where will you be in 10 years?

I drank my coffee and acknowledged my sadness. Then I went on my bike ride and didn’t go the extra mile that I had planned. I promised myself that I would do that tomorrow. And I will. Because I am gaining trust by following through.

When I got home my phone rang and when I answered it was my father. I have spoken to him twice in 18 years, counting this morning.

My father, who I have been estranged from for most of my life, is dying of cancer. About a year ago my estranged half siblings called to tell me the horrible news, along with the rules and regulations regarding how they wanted to control my talking and seeing my Dad. They are a great example of letting your kids be assholes and then they grow up and become adult assholes. They tried to co-opt my Dad’s diagnosis into their drama and drag me right along with them.

I explained to them calmly and clearly. NO. I won’t go pay homage to my father knowing he regrets nothing and no I won’t come over there so you all can take your unhappy lives and fear and anger out on me.

I took a week and let myself grieve for the fact that my father would not be calling someday to say he was sorry, that he loved me, and the he would love to see me. No, my father wanted my attention and my body so he could reassure himself that he wasn’t the asshole who fucked up his kids lives on a grand scale.

Showing up for myself meant that I gave myself permission not to go see my Dad and to opt out of dealing with his kids. It also meant ignoring their bullshit regulations and calling my Dad, anyway. I listened to him that day, as he went through all that he was going through, without saying one mean thing. After he was done telling me the horror of his experience, I wished him well and got off the phone.

I cried for two days and then went on with my already fucked up life.

Today, he called to tell me that he is much worse. His voice was older than I remembered and when he called himself my Dad, another piece of my heart tore off. He was matter of fact, running through his cancer experience. Each day that he lives is a miracle and he is thankful to Jesus for that. He has help and people are caring for him. It is, what it is, he repeated so many times that I realized he was trying to convince himself, not me.

I waited for him to finish and then I told him what I have never said. Speaking of Jesus, I began. At the end of what I told him, which I will not share here, I told him that I forgave him and that I loved him and that I am so sorry that he is going through this. My voice shook as I have not told my father that I love him in at least 30 years.  

That is when the heaviness on my chest lifted. Tears slid down my face as he responded to my words and we got off the phone promising to talk soon.

I showed up for my Dad. That was hard.

As I sat there, the silence of my house surrounding me, I realized that I needed to face another hard thing. Something that I have not wanted to really bring out and look at in the light. That is, how the relationship with my Dad has affected my relationship with my husband. This is especially difficult because Monday is coming, a looming reminder of the destruction of my hopes and dreams.

Showing up for myself means examining my marriage for the ways that I let it down. The ways I let Him down. It also means that I am working toward forgiving myself for letting him and our marriage down. For letting myself down.

It means that I must sit in this pain, accept it, and then move through it until I get to the other side– no matter what that looks like.

 And I am fucking scared to take my marriage out and examine it honestly. I am sure to see things that I know I could have done better. I am sure to be shamed by things that I have said. It is so much easier to make him the villain. After all, he is such a fabulous villain.

But, many years ago, when I was in a yearlong women’s shelter for abused women, they asked me some question when I first got there. They told me not to answer them but to think about it, and answer myself.

Why did you love him? Why did you choose him? Why did you choose to stay? This was by no means an excuse for what that past man did to me. Nor is this an excuse for the things that my husband has said and done to me.

What it is, is asking the hard questions and answering honestly. This is about healing and forgiving. This is about taking account of my own heart and becoming connected with my soul.

I choose to believe that this portion of my path needs to be lived. It is the lesson I am learning. I spent so much time living for someday. I want to live today.

Even if it means that today is about crying.

For my Dad.

For my marriage.

It also means that I will let myself have two pieces of my most excellent Chocolate Ganache Cake, while I lay indolently on my lonely bed, and watch Swedish noir.

The Powerful Women in My Corner

I want to talk about the women who have “long been in my corner”. Women who have always been a phone call or one hug away. These women gave me the strength to continue to the next breath.

One of them reached out to me this morning and shared how hurt she was that I made it sound like I didn’t have anyone in my corner. I felt awful. I had typed out this post prior to hearing from her because I wanted to address the very complicated subject of what NO ONE and NOTHING feels like when you are in the kind of relationship I was in and why, despite the wonderful women in my life, it doesn’t lessen that feeling.

Feeling alone is all about perspective. And Monday was a day in which I felt there was no way forward, no way out, and that I was powerless against a fate that I had been told would be mine for a long time.

Last week, I started to miss HIM and I felt deeply ashamed. This was not something I would share with my friends. This feeling of panic, that I had gone too far, and that his threats about what was going to happen once I wasn’t in control anymore rang ominous bells and made my stomach ache.

He had been calm for a few days, HIS voice even and amiable, and we had a few conversations that felt real. As if he was contemplating the things that had gone wrong as was taking responsibility. These have always been bread crumbs for me and I have always followed onto the same old path, where sooner than later, the same landmarks led me back to the very same cage. The cage that I would voluntarily walk into and turn the lock myself. I felt this pull as strongly as the tides adhere to the moon and the Earth gravitates around the Sun.

 For many years I called no one because there was no one to call. For many more years I would call no one because I didn’t want anyone to know. But then, about 6 years ago, I allowed myself to become close to a woman who, despite all my attempts to avoid an honest relationship, was insistent that we should be friends. She wooed me with her smile, her willingness to use the F word as a noun and a verb all in the same sentence, and I started to trust her. Enough that I knew I could call her when things got really bad. She was always there when I called. She responded with humor and undying love. Her willingness to listen and then give me sage advice. She didn’t use empty platitudes and always kept it real. She was confident enough to tell me what I didn’t want to hear and she gave the kind advice that takes guts to share. Because it was real and honest.  

Not that I took it. I would let her strength and brashness soothe me and then I would get off the phone, emboldened for a little while and then the fear would seep back in and I would do whatever it took to get things back to our really fucked up kind of normal.

Then I wouldn’t call her for a while. I didn’t want her to know that I wasn’t as brave or strong or smart as she was and most certainly couldn’t live up to what she thought I could be. I could never lie to her so my silence did the work for me.

Soon, I met another close friend of hers and that close friend became a close friend of mine. We shared a very memorable time in Pittsburgh and that cemented the friendship. It also gave birth to our Bad Ass Bitches Text Thread, The BABTT Line for short. A funny and salty text thread that has endured to this day.

I used it to get away from what was happening to me but often I didn’t share the full reality. A text here, a text there and they would say wonderful things that I can’t disclose here—irreverent, every single word.

So, I bet you’re wondering why on earth I am so lonely and sad. With these powerful women in my corner how could I possibly need to reach out to strangers?

I wish I could give you a simple answer but nothing about living through what I have lived through is simple. Just as missing the person that treated me so bad is crazy. It is also possible to feel regularly that I didn’t deserve these women. That what they said, in their strong and thoughtful way, wasn’t true about me and I didn’t have the heart to break it to them. How they would despise my weakest moments. How they would cringe if they knew how I begged, borrowed, and stole to keep HIM. Their anger if they found out just how much of myself, I sacrificed to try to make HIM happy.

No one knew about the early mornings when I was sobbed on the kitchen floor, avocado from the spinach wraps smeared on my hands, my back against my worn-out cupboards, as I tried to process the crushing things HE would say right before he left for work. The sound of his car would wake the kids and I’d get up, wash my hands, and finish their healthy lunches. I’d slip into the groove, my smile in place as I drove them to school, counting the minutes under my breath. One more mile. One more drop- off. Then I could shut all the curtains and get back in bed. I would lay there hiding and crying all day. Until it was time to get up, brush my hair, and paint on the fake smile. I would pick up the kids and help with homework, the routine smoothing the edges until it was easy to believe that all I needed was to get a little bit more “thick skinned”.  Learn to keep my mouth shut. Then everything would be okay.

Making things even worse was my belief that I would never measure up to their success and contentment. Because, let me tell you, the women that I chose to confide in are really fucking awesome. I lack in a lot of areas but my taste in friends in not one of them. The few that I let into my inner circle are strong and smart. Which made it all the harder to really be open with them. Because, I knew that I wasn’t, and that his predictions would come true and I would disappoint them and that if they only knew what HE knew, they wouldn’t like me.

But, their influence. Their persistence seeped in passed all the bullshit and I started to make some serious headway. I started to believe that maybe I could make some plans.  I kept a lot of secrets but with each passing year, I kept less from them. When I started a new career path, they were the first people I called. When I needed advice, I went to the BABTT Line. Slowly but surely their love hacked into HIS program and there were glitches. Promotions. Awards. Diplomas.

I don’t want to forget to mention the fact that there is another wise woman in my life. She has been through so much in her own life.  She watched from afar. She saw him pack his garbage bags in his car when he would leave and saw him when he would unpack them when he would come back and not once did, she condemn me. She just said I love you. That’s it. AND she can always be depended upon for a cup of mayo or a surprise plate of cookies. She is simply the best. Really.

There are other women in my life who have never been given the chance to be there for me because I have a hard time trusting people. Though, they are no less amazing. Like I said before, I always choose woman I can look up to so my life is surrounded by some real kick ass, ball busters.

 I was not alone on that Friday morning when I stood in the bathroom, the shards of glass from the mirror HE smashed, reflecting a million of me. I watched ME tell HIM to go but really it was all the women who stood by me that gave power to my words. It was their unwavering belief in me, all their answered phone calls, thoughtful guidance, and the fact that they lived their lives with such courage that gave me mine.

After he left, I confided in another friend. It took so much courage to tell her what had been happening to me. After that  she texted me every single morning asking if I was okay and if there was anything she could do to help me that day. Each time I told her that being my friend was the most wonderful gift of all.

It is hard to break habits. It is even harder to see things for what they are because it is so much easier to see them for what you want them to be. I believed that I was alone because my reality didn’t look like what I thought it was supposed to look like. I had dreamed of someday for so long, that I had stopped seeing today.

The day I wrote on Jennifer Garner’s post about my desolation and then got that response was the epiphany I needed but not the one I was expecting.

You see, when Jennifer Garner gave her advice and all those women shared their heartbreaking stories. Their success stories. I suddenly realized that many women had experienced what I had.

I also realized that the reason I felt like I had no one and nothing is because I was looking at my life through HIS eyes. I was looking at the way he had defined me.

What I realized is that though my friends aren’t my family, that though I do not have parents or a place to run to where I feel safe– have something far greater than that.

I have powerful women in my corner.

How sad is that it took me so long to realize this?

As soon as I finished my thank you to all the wonderful people who reached out to me, I knew what I needed to do next.

Thank you BABTT for being my ride or die bitches.

Thank you, Sister Friend.

Thank you, Writer Friend.

Thank you to all the friends who smiled when they saw my tears and I didn’t explain. Thank you to all the friends that continued to be my friend no matter all the last-minute canceled plans.

Thank you for always being there for me even when I wasn’t there for you. Most especially, when I wasn’t there for myself.

Thank you, Jennifer Garner. AGAIN. For helping me to see what was right in front of my face.

Unfortunately, I didn’t post this as soon as I should have because I had one more thing to do…

 I went to each of my children’s rooms. I stroked their hair and smoothed their sweaty foreheads as I whispered my Thank You in their ears.

.

Morning Ride

When I was about 10 my father surprised me with a new bike.  It was replacing my old trusty companion.  A blue banana-seated partner who could tell many a tales about cold blooded games of chicken,  races down the steep hill by Little Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and the many times I secretly went farther than the corner. I had ridden old blue into extinction and my long legs had certainly outgrown it.

I had forgotten about that that Saturday morning. Likely, the last time I really had a birthday gift from my father. He had found a used ten speed, fixed it up with new parts, and painted it a deep ruby red that had gold glints that shimmered in the sun. My father was a paint salesman and the paint he had chosen was car paint and it was perfect for my new bike.

I ran to the bike and threw my leg over, quickly balancing on my tiptoes, my hands resting on the handlebars. Electricity sparked my fingers and wrists and shot through my body, forever connecting me to every bike I would ever own. My secret rides would become much farther and the speed that I could catch would have me believe I was flying.  I set out on my maiden voyage, bumping down the ridged part of the driveway, the seat much smaller and a little more invasive than my old banana seat. I turned once, my father’s face looked radiant. He seemed so proud. I didn’t realize that I had a memory of my father in a favorable light. For so long he has been mired in a murky cloud of hurt, pain, resentment, and loss. Yet, this morning, as I flew down the creek trail,  a bit of wild in the middle of Modesto, I caught the shimmer of my red bike. The cobwebs blew away from the lock box of memories, all that is left of my brief childhood. There stood my father.

He was long legged, his hands in the pockets of his Levis, a pack of Marbolo Reds peeking out of the front pocket of his button up shirt. He wasn’t a broad man, he was lithe. His skin, tanned to rugged mahogany in the summer, darker than the olive skin tone of the rest of us. His sharp cheekbones were reminiscent of a Native American man. In fact, now that I think about it, his skin color was similar as well. I am married to a Mi-Wuk man and they share the same skin color. Though, part of my family is from Sicily, far from the Native American genes that make up my husband and children’s DNA. The most remarkable part of this clear picture of my father is that morning he looked proud. His face was filled with love and youth and joy. The kind smile that played on his supple lips is in stark contrast to the cold cruelty that I have come to associate with him.

He was a stranger to me then and still is now. There are flashes of riding on his shoulders when I was little, his laughter as I squealed, and my pig tails bounced. He was 16 when I was born, my mother 14. They were babies themselves. My father had aspirations to be a baseball player and he was very good if anecdotes and my memories are accurate. However, the birth of me crushed that dream and my sisters, one a year later, and another 3 years after that- put an end to anything other than bills and long work weeks.

My parents fought so loud and so long that there is no way to mark the beginning of any one fight and the end of their marriage. The sounds and fury of those fights wove a patchwork quilt of fear that has covered my whole existence.  Their finale came when I was 5, after a particularly nasty fight involving a paycheck being flushed down the toilet and the smell of my Mother’s clothes burning in the fireplace. My forever memory of my mother will be of her back as she walked down the hot summer sidewalk and the fact that she never glanced back.

My sisters, my dad, and I moved in with my grandparents and my father became a shadow. There were impressions of where he had been and the imprint of him at night, his silhouette blotting out the hallway light. He was fleshed out by the words that grandma and grandma traded in the morning, their voices just loud enough to carry phrases over the big band music playing on the radio. New woman now. No bra. South Oakland. More money.

Grandma would say, “Wait till your father gets home. When he hears about this he is going to spank you.” And she would point to the belt that hung off the door leading into the kitchen, the one that resembled a whip because it had no buckle. That’s when Dad became color, his weariness breathing life into his existence as he dutifully grabbed the belt and spanked us for the myriad of things that we would get up to that invariably made Grandma’s life harder. His lips, a straight line and his eyes far away, he carried out his duty. And then he would leave again. And again. And again. Until one day, he left us far behind, and never came back.

But this morning as the cold air pushed through my under armor and left goosebumps on my skin, I remembered that he had given me a gift that has lasted a lifetime. Cavalcare e essere liberi. To ride is to be free. I rode everywhere. Miles and miles of riding. I rode along the bay, the smell of seaweed and salt spray playing with my long hair. I rode through the bad parts of town, and down to the shell sharp beaches of Alameda, and to rocky shore of the San Leandro Marina. I would rarely stay anywhere long, preferring the blur of the scenery, the way my thoughts skittered here and there, and far from the wreckage of my childhood.

This morning’s ride was no different. Well, my fitness level is very different. My breath coming hard and fast as I tried to attain the smooth flow that comes with hitting that sweet spot where my breath and pedaling jive. A stasis of becoming one-me, my bike, the sky, and the road.

That’s when the words come, the ideas, and the memories. It is also how I heal. The wind from my forward motion pushing the tears back into my hairline and then drying them until they are gone. This leaves space that I fill with the sight of birds in flight, the sway of tree branches, and the velvet color that green becomes on a tangle of verdant vegetation. The feel of the sun on my face, filling me up with its shine.

I stopped short of the trail end. My lack of consistent riding marked by my inability to complete the full length. I drank and the cold water gave me the shivers. Then I turned around. I was left with just enough reserve to make it back to my car. My return journey was against the wind. I was ready for it. I pushed back, digging deeper, and coasting when I needed the respite. The end of the trail is all uphill with a bridge at midpoint. I usually come up off my seat in a hallelujah to finish strong. But today, I stopped on the bridge to take a picture, and catch my breath. I thought of my Dad’s smile that birthday morning and for the first time in many, many years– I loved him.