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.

Wanting…

I woke this morning and watered the garden. I nurtured the trees. I walked around the house caring for the plants in every room. Even your old room, where plants never used to grow. There is one there now. It sits bravely in the corner where you hid out for years. I have changed this room. I have brightened it, opened it up to all. I have painted bookshelves and created a semi-circle of inclusion, arraying the furniture around the family portrait taken on that long-ago day.  The very same day that our son was born.

I sat in my chair, directly across from where your chair used to be. But now, instead of facing a dark corner, I am looking at the picture that was taken by a photo journalist on Easter morning.

Somehow, I had managed to get both the girls into their Easter dresses, white gloves, and hats at 5:30am. I had put on the prettiest dress I owned and a hat, despite the ache of our son’s weight bearing down on me.

I wanted us to be something we were not. The gloves, the hats, you wearing slacks at 6am. Was that one of the signs that you loved me? The slacks at 6am?  Instead of kissing me was that what you did instead?

The photographer froze my image mid contraction.  I am looking down, breathing through it, and our oldest has placed her hand on my stomach, on her brother. You are holding our youngest daughter; both of your faces are obscured. Only the blackened bottoms of her sandals show. And your hands, holding her firmly.

I have always loved your hands. Strong and capable and secure. The wedding ring that you have not worn for a long, long time shines from the tight grip you have on our daughter.

Our faces are obscured. Our sadness is hidden from view by hats and gloves and your wedding ring.

The picture had been posted on the front page of the newspaper the next day. We had no idea that we had been photographed. It was the next day that the nurses came in laughing, the front page of that section opened to our family. We looked at it over the head of our newborn and we smiled at the nurses. I remember wanting so badly for that picture to be a symbol that things would be better. That we would be, what I wanted us to be, and not what we had become.  

Later, that night, as the hospital slept, I picked up the paper and as it always goes, I saw clearly in the dark. I could see that the edges of the photo contained the fantasy and that outside those borders, lay the reality that I couldn’t understand. So, pushed it aside, and held our newborn, brushing my lips over his beautiful head, breathing in the scent of hope.

I got up and I watered the first plant to survive in your old room.  I moved onto the others in the next room. The orchids and the vines in the front window. The ferns and the rubber plants, their vibrancy filling me with their energy. Lastly, in the corner, tall and slender, her stalk too thin to keep her upright, is the first plant you ever bought me and I think the last.

I remember your small smile when I told you that her name was Stacy and feeling your eyes on me as I placed her on top of the TV cabinet you bought for me. That little apartment, the one I could barely afford as a single mom, looked so real to me with my first ever brand-new piece of furniture, and Stacy sitting proudly on top.

Now she sits on the floor, too tall for the top of anything. Stacy reaches for the sky though she is root bound. She is 19 years old. She bends and folds when it gets windy and I am afraid that when I do find the courage to replant her, that she will not come out of the pot, her soil so hardened. She has become used to making do with what she has. Will she die if I try to change that? Even, if what I am offering her is better and healthier and new?

This morning I wanted to go upstairs and lie in bed with you. Snuggle up to your back and whisper boo on that small mole on your back that looks like a ghost. I wanted to draw silent letters on your back like I used to, my breath a whisper on your neck, my breasts pushed against your broad back. I’d whisper, guess. Your deep voice would rumble out the right answer every time.  

I miss you.

I love you.

Why?

What happened?

Why wasn’t I enough?

I can’t do that, though. And I couldn’t have done that even when you were here because you slept in your chair or on the couch in your room downstairs. The space around you growing smaller each day until finally it held just a table, a TV, your remote, and you. The wall around you let no sunlight in. Or questions. Or concerns. The TV lights flickered on your face of stone. You sat, just under the portrait, turned away, your back to what we were. What we had.

I want my family back. The hope and the promise that is contained in that portrait from so long ago. I want to feel as if things will get better. That your bitter words and their definitions of me will change and that you will come, your strong hands knocking at the door that you once had a key to…and that I would open that door to a face full of remorse and longing for me. For our family. For us.

I want that so bad that my days scroll through the hours, my tasks, my conversations are all a montage and the song playing as my life rolls by makes me yearn for you.

But, the you I want, is not the you, that you are.

You tell me that you gave me your all and I ache so bad that I feel as if I will split open like rotted fruit and ooze out all my wasted flesh. 

I want to howl. If your all was the words that you have left me, the silences, the curl of disgust on your lips when your hand or hip accidentally brushed mine. If your all, was the wall that you built around your corner in the family room, just under the portrait–if that was your all, then I built a whole life based on a dream destination and now I am left with a mirage.

Wanting your love, hoping for your love, begging for your love with each packed lunch and hot dinner. I thought, that someday would come. So, I ignored so much of our every day.

I lay on the couch that you used as a bed and your smell is gone.  I am trying to find the signs, the gestures, the lights at the horizon to find my way. But I am drowning in a sea of sorrow and regret.

I want to wake up with you next to me. The promise of the day like shafts of sunlight on my face and I want to roll over and write on your back…

Come back.

My heart doesn’t know how to let go of my hopes and dreams and goals for our future. My heart doesn’t know how to stop loving you. It never understood how to do that no matter how cruel you were. Instead, my heart stopped loving me, so it could conserve all its energy to continue loving and hoping and withstanding you.

My heart has made-do for so long that I am not sure it can survive this replanting.

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.

.

Thank you, Jennifer Garner and Friends.

The thing is, that when you live a very long time with someone that you have given your power and trust and love to and they use that power and love and trust to diminish you—well you strop trusting in everything and everyone becomes a stranger.

It begins slowly. I remember the first time I realized that I had changed. It was many, many years ago and I was talking to someone at the coffee shop I used to love.

Serrano’s was this magical space that I went where I wasn’t HIS wife. I was just Shanyn and whatever anybody thought of me was based on what I presented and how I acted. Most of the time, I went there and just sat, sometimes writing, but most of the time I would watch and listen to people. They all seemed so confident and happy and everyone look so well put together. Most everyone. And by well put together I mean they all wore clothes that represented who they were and who they wanted to be and this made them look good.

It was here that I would steal away for a few moments here, a few moments there. Sometimes, I would bring the kids because I wanted them to feel this vibe. It was the closest I could get to raising them in a diverse environment because this is THE VALLEY and things here are locked down. It is conservative at its core and I never did feel really at home here. But, in seeking places that would allow me to feel a little bit of solace I found Serrano’s with its crazy art on the walls, its excellent coffee, and its multicultural vibe. It was here that I felt closest to my roots and that was as I was going to get.

It was also here that I realized the person I thought I was, the person that I thought existed when I got married had either disappeared or she was missing in the deepest sense of the word.

I would talk to people and I had made quite a few friends. My definition of friends at that time and for a long time was probably not theirs or yours. Friends were people that I presented a carefully drawn picture and it was rare that I let anyone past that façade. When the mirage wavered because the reality was too much too bear that day because the trauma was too hard to hold. I would seek anyway possible to regain stasis by going to a place or a person to find the image that I had crafted and carefully try to don it. Sometimes it worked, a lot of times it didn’t, so more and more I just didn’t go anywhere and I stopped reaching out.

Anyway, one day on a regular day I was talking to someone and amid saying whatever thing I was saying, I stopped talking. Right in the middle of my sentence. I then stuttered out an apology begging their forgiveness for overtalking, taking up too much space, just basically apologizing for being alive.

In my head I was writhing. I had made the unforgivable mistake of thinking someone thought what I had to say was interesting or important. I was off kilter. They had been looking at my face, into my eyes, and I wasn’t used to that kind of interest in me.

You see. I was used to someone never looking at me when I spoke. I was used to someone cutting me off or just ignoring me, the wall of silence impenetrable, my voice bouncing off and coming back to me unheard, unwanted. I am not sure how long it had been happening to me at that point but long enough that it had changed me.

I left a bewildered person in my wake, practically running for the safety of my car. Feeling each extra pound, my careful outfit now a clown costume.

It was that day that I realized deep inside me I had come to believe that everyone, everywhere forever was a stranger because I was a stranger to myself.  

Many people consider me outgoing. I can talk to anyone and I will always reach out to help anyone in need. Always. It is easy to think that I am extrovert. I’m not.  I often wonder if I was once, long ago when I was known to myself but I can’t remember that person anymore.

When I posted on Jennifer Garner’s cute picture montage that spur of the moment reveal of my inner raw, I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t calculating or measuring my words. It was simply an impulse. It was another really day. I was dealing with the fact that my kids and I had been exposed to someone with Covid and that I had some worrying symptoms. I was also dealing with HIM. I am not going to say his name. I am just going to refer to him as HIM.

 After 18 years of marriage I had told him to leave. The hardest thing I had ever done. I don’t even remember my exact words. I just remember that I had said them out loud and that I meant every single syllable.

To be clear he had left me about 286,132 times. OF course, that number is fictitious but I want to give the sense of just how many times he had put his stuff in garbage bags and walked out the door, vowing to never come back. Never to see the kids. To disappear. That I would suffer and that I would finally find out someday, that I was in fact a piece of shit, and that my kids would understand that, and know that and would finally have the courage to tell me that.

Yeah. All that and more. Always. It was a pattern I did not see. I didn’t understand why he left only that he wanted to get away from me and that it was all my fault and that if only I could be quieter or thinner or smarter, he wouldn’t leave.

I would always beg him to come back. Every. SINGLE. Time. For many reasons that people will never understand. In fact, I think I will continue the rest of my life counting sorting through those reasons and try to figure out why they had so much more value than my life or my kids lives. I will spend the rest of my life trying to forgive myself for those reasons.

He taught me that just because he didn’t drink at the bar every night, he was a good guy. That even though he stopped sleeping in the same bed with me when my son was born (he had actually started doing this way before but it became concrete right after the birth of my last child who is now 13.) he taught me that I was not wanted. He taught me that fight meant me talking back or disagreeing. That having a different point of view or just being silent or having a too civil tone or standing up for myself or acting like I knew more than he did was a fight. Period.

If I had a problem and went to him with said problem, I was bothering him. If I persisted in continuing the conversation about the problem, I was instigating a fight. If, while continuing to “badger” him he thought of something as an answer and that answer wasn’t immediately THE answer then what he said and did after that was my own fault. Because you see, he would say later, and to this day…what he says and does when he is mad doesn’t count.

When HE says, “you are a bulldog, you look like a bull dog.” Or “No wonder your ex beat you up”. When he lowered his tone to a calm and calculating cadence, “Your own father and family don’t want you.” And followed up with his favorite, “I will never love you. Ever. “and then went back to watching tv…none of that really counted.

I began to understand what he wanted me to understand and I began to believe what he wanted me to believe. I was all alone. Everyone thought these things about me and I just wasn’t important enough or I was too argumentative for them to tell me. Everything was strange and the whole world was filled with strangers.

So, the other day when I wrote that little bit of my soul on Jennifer Garner’s sweet picture I did so as I received one ugly text after another from HIM. Even though he is gone, he finds a way to reach into me and remind me of all that he has taught me. It is in every word, it is the subtext, it is the world. His tone and a few simple words to anyone else is nothing. But I have been trained to detect what he means and why he means it.

And there I was on Instagram trying to forget that my world had ended and that I really have nothing and he has everything. Jennifer’s post was bright and pretty and fun. I recalled her marriage and its break up. Blazed across papers and the internet for all to read and misunderstand and yet here was this amazing woman. Posting cute photo of her quarantine pictures and I thought of all the wonderful things she was doing. Acting, her business, her donations, and her positive presence online. BUT most important to me was that she had survived and she was thriving.

She loves herself and her family and her life. (Now, I know things aren’t perfect and that she poops and farts and has bad days like all the rest of us)

Here’s the thing.  I suddenly realized that I was never going to reach this point. There was no beauty or happily ever after. For me.

That right now, all I could see was endings. All I could envision is me old and ugly in some horrible tiny apartment that smelled of old cabbage, distrust marking my face with wrinkles and big warts with hairs sticking out. Daily feeding and bathing 100 cats. And birds. And dogs. Maybe geese and even a mountain lion. (recently the news had flashed headlines about some poor mountain lion lost here in Modesto and that they couldn’t find it. I knew that if he showed up at my door, I would take him in and take care of him. Because I am the finder of lost things.) I could picture me sitting in an old ratty chair, faded, and scratched from the animals. I’d be wearing some old bathrobe under which I would be huge panties whose elastic had given out.

That was when I revealed this rawness never even thinking about what anyone would think because I didn’t really think anyone would care.  

Much later, I remembered that post and I went online to delete it…cringing at how stupid I must have sounded had anyone, and I hoped to God no one had, seen it.

Imagine my surprise when I opened Instagram and I saw that hundreds of people had reached out to me. Sharing their stories, their faith, their love, and their kindness.

I was stunned.

 I cried for a long time.

Strangers.

People who don’t know me, who don’t owe me anything took the time to reach out and care for a total stranger.

As I scrolled, reading each thoughtful sometimes heartbreaking share I wept some more.  And just like something in a movie something shifted drastically inside of me and I realized that I wasn’t alone.

I felt the start of something. For the first time the world wasn’t quite as bleak and scary as I had thought. That maybe HE wasn’t the right one, the wise one, the calm one, the strong one. That maybe he didn’t harness the power to my world.

I read every single one. I read the private messages and the notes on my own Instagram page. Each dispatch reached me right there on my battle field.

When I saw Jennifer Garner’s note to me, I was floored.  To take a moment and share her kindness and well wishes and message of hope –. I was and continue to be GRATEFUL.

I looked down the infinite list of people who had taken the time to share their stories and who had only wanted to comfort me and I wondered how on earth I would thank each person.  

Here it is. THANK YOU> THANK YOU>THANK YOU>

 From the bottom of my heart, from the depths of my soul.

I wish I could tell you that now everything is all better. It is NOT. The fatigue and sadness I felt yesterday is only rivaled by todays.

The difference, though, is that I know that I am not alone. I never will be again. There are millions of people who have experienced what I am experiencing. It has allowed me to take one deep cleansing breath and realize that my direction is not hopeless.

It is entirely possible that I will be bathing 1000 cats and gingerly learning to feed a mountain lion in my tiny little apartment with its threadbare carpet. But, dear God, I hope not. I do NOT want to be caught wearing big ugly panties.

It is also possible that I will have a wonderful cottage in the mountains by a sparkling river where I will talk to river otters and have fish friends. Where the view will be of the redwoods as I feed and care for the lost things that I find.

 I do know that I have myself back, for better or for worse. That I am going to slowly find out who this woman is and I am going to be as nice to myself as you all were to me in those comments.

I am going to lay down and rest. I am going to accept weakest moments and mistakes and I am going to try to forgive to forgive myself.

Thank you, Friends of Jennifer Garner.

Thank you, Jennifer Garner.

Thank you, new and wonderful friends for taking a moment from your day and reaching out to me.

Your words made a difference.

Your actions changed a moment in my life that will last me a lifetime.

I believe the theory that the flutter of butterfly wings can create a gale force wind on another continent.

Just as I believe each loving post that was shared came together as one voice and that voice had the power to reach me in the dark cave that I had been living in for a very long time.

Open to The Vortex

I now work in a place where silence has settled into the bedrock, seeped into the wood, and seamed solace like gossamer nestling into the distance between exhale and inhale. The quiet is its own kind of beauty, painted time that has been stilled.  And this, I am sure… is exactly where Grace resides.

As I sit here, waiting to finish the forms and filings of a new hire, I study my new land. The smell soothes me, reminding me of every Church I have ever loved.

It seems to me that this room should be called The Great Room. Like the grand rooms of a lost era, the cavernous space a voluptuous call for whimsy.

A trio of couches create a pocket conversation corner in no way intruding on the secret rendezvous between the two chairs in front of the old stone fireplace. I am seated an echo away, at a dining room table—a bird’s eye view of the door, that is one open moment away from this new section of my path.

A conversation is taking place there, without break, an easy indication that I may be here awhile. I straighten the paperwork I have completed and paper clipped with my driver’s license and social security card. Smooth the table cloth, its mauve flowers melding with the ivory and sage of the room. I am starting to feel nervous and wonder if this is the right way to go. It will be more work and more time in addition to my other job. But it will be more money, too. My heart beats a little faster, the doubt creeps into my decisiveness, challenging the paperclip and the newly inked schedule in my planner.

Then I glance up, noticing the picture hanging above the table, for the first time. A path leading to a snow fed lake is lit by golden light, its rays lapping at the rocks and the forest, that hug its winding journey. A message —telling me that the diligent inking and paper clipping was confidence and surety, not avarice.

God has pushed away the darkness and shown me that I am where I am supposed to be. The church bells start to ring, the reverberation slowing my heartbeat.

I crack my new read and wait for the door to open.

Class of 2019 a.k.a It Only Took Me 30 Years.

I graduate from Come Back Kids Charter High School tonight. I started about 2 ½ years ago with an 8th grade education. Actually, that is a little misleading. I went to college first. I took the placement tests at Modesto Junior College and attained a little under (approx.) 100 units (I went a little crazy) and transferred to California State University Stanislaus . I’ve had a few setbacks which I won’t get into here. Those are stories for another day.

If any of you have seen the movie, Night School, you will remember a scene from the beginning where Teddy, the main character, is looking into getting his GED. He meets up with the night school teacher and she hands him a text book and he looks at it astonished and tells her that he thought it would be more pamphlet in size. Well, that sums up what I thought going to high school was going to be like. Because, hey, I had already been to college. Piece of cake.

WRONG!

High School was hard. I did get some credit for my junior college courses but only the remedial courses—the ones that didn’t count as credit toward my University transfer. I had tested into Kindergarten math (not really but close),so I had quite a few units I could use. However, as I had tested into College level English I was in for the surprise of my life. I had to take 4 years of English.  And just for the record.

I.HATE. SHAKESPEARE.

It turns out, I love Marine Science and Economics. I am pretty sure I am graduating with all A’s*. Which is a first because I am a solid B student in college. That story isn’t over yet. We shall see how well I do on the rest of my academic journey as I go for my BS in Psychology with a minor in Political Science.

But I digress from my main point. Perhaps, I am trying to hide my fear of vulnerability with stats– the minutia protecting me from this very difficult subject. You see, I kept this a secret from almost everyone in my life. There are a few people that know I was going to high school. And up to now, no one other than this close group knew that I was slated to graduate. Because, I felt such shame. I still do to some extent. There is a voice inside me that reminds me that I should have gotten my shit together a long, long time ago. However, there is a new voice that sounds suspiciously like Brene Brown’s.  This new voice is telling that old voice to shut up and sit the fuck down.

I am being brave announcing this to the world…or for the few people that will read my blog—lol.

I went to college for me. To prove that I could do it. That I wasn’t dumb and to stop the lies. I had lied for so many years, to so many people, on so many job applications. I needed to prove to myself that I was smart. College taught me how to be consistent and to show up even on the bad days. Something you don’t learn when you are homeless and living from crisis to crisis. As I tell my kids, intelligence gets you only so far. You also need perseverance, diligence, integrity, and kindness.

If I thought College was hard, I had another thing coming.

High School was a pain in my ass. There were many, many late nights after dinners, teaching, laundry… that I considered getting my GED. But, I was never good at giving up. I AM good at procrastinating. I wish I wasn’t.

My 15-year-old daughter started calling me High School Mommy and it stuck. In fact, without Tyva, I couldn’t have done it. Our Homework Club, which included my son Constantine, would start right after they got home from school and on the weekends. We would post up in the living room, small tables under our books and devices, with the tv switched to the Hallmark Channel. Mysteries, Love Stories, Christmas Movies. We watched them all while we bent over our homework. Sometimes, we would sit out on the grass if the weather was fine. No matter, we did it together. What motivated me most was watching my daughter complete Honors courses in Middle School and this year, Pre-AP and AP courses. She had hours of homework. Hours. Yet, she pushed herself and is a straight A student. I think she is the most amazing person and when I grow up I want to be just like her. Constantine is just as diligent. His course load isn’t as strenuous as Tyva’s as of yet. In elementary school he was in GATE classes which were pretty difficult. Now that he is in junior high his has honors courses and they are no joke. Yet, he maintains good grades just like his sister. With them to look up to there was no way that I could allow myself to fail.

It took me awhile to understand that there was something else that pushed me to the starting line and that kept me going to the finish. I realized mid way through this part of my journey that it was my mother that was at the heart of what I wanted to accomplish.

Her name is Julie Anne

By the time my mother was 19 she had 3 kids. I was the first. She never went past 8th grade either. She died on August 12, 1990. She never got the chance to reach her goals or attain her dreams. I went to high school because my mother couldn’t. I am graduating for my Mom. She was an ass kicker despite the fact that life had never stopped kicking her ass—right up to the night she died in a horrible car accident.

My last conversation with her was a phone call. She had just written a new song and was beyond excited because she had finally gotten the courage to leave the abusive marriage that she was in. She was going to sell her songs. She was going to make something of herself. The next night she died. My next phone call was the one telling me that she was gone-forever. I hold tightly to the memory of the last time I spent with her. We were flying through the foothills in the fall. A sea of green flashed by my window as she played two songs over and over and over again. IF I Could Walk On Water by Eddie Money and If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher. I had never been to the mountains. I had never seen the house she had bought in Twain Harte with the money from her day care business. I remember the wind blowing her hair across her face. Hair just like mine. She would glance at me and smile. I wasn’t really listening to the words to the songs that she kept replaying. I was just looking at her. I hadn’t seen her in a very long time. It was a magical ride.

Today, I listened to the songs and paid attention to the lyrics. I can’t stop crying. Because I can finally hear what she was trying to say that day.

Mom.  I forgive you. I love you.

 Today is for you.