Risk and Renewal

The waves crash up and onto the rocks, the sound of their roar a steady thrum that has become part of my heartbeat. When I write about something it is usually after the experience. I need time to fully digest a moment, an adventure, an event before I can fully realize it into words. I am not talking about journal writing that is something wholly separate. Journal writing is a conversation between God and I, where the rawness of who I am becomes my clarity.

No, today is different. I am writing while I am within this space and it feels right.

This adventure started because of a Top-Secret meeting.  A whirl of planning and thinking about the roadblocks. The roadblocks felt big, the most worrisome the wait for my test to come back. It did and I was negative. Next were my fears. The one looming over me, its shadow casting doubt on my decisions, was the idea of driving somewhere far.

“WHEN DID THAT START?” I yelled at myself.

I am shocked that I have had to grapple with this considering that I have driven great distances before. Not to mention the times that I have moved to towns far from anything I was accustomed and the fact that I knew no one. This shouldn’t have been a roadblock considering all the other things that needed considering –Money, Kids, Day Job Projects, chores. Life doesn’t make way for dreams and adventures.

I saw an Instagram story where an author was making fun of people who post inspirational quotes and title them with” THIS” (I am guilty of this and it hit home!) to which he added, …and then they do nothing to change their life.

I pulled the trigger and went for it. I want to certify within myself that I am willing to do what needs to be done to achieve my dreams. In order to do this, I must sacrifice, take chances, be silly, be willing to change, meet roadblocks with perseverance and courage, and have faith that this is God’s plan for me.

I went into high gear trying to ignore the fear. One of the first leaps of faith is that I needed to pack light. This is big for me. I usually pack for every occasion, trying to plan for it all. I didn’t do that this time. I went with my gut and hoped for the best recognizing that packing everything, including the kitchen and bathroom cabinets wasn’t going to amour me against mishap. Shit happens.

Each time the anxiety about my decision to go made my chest grow tight I reminded myself that the bills are paid and no matter my weekly syringe full of Amazon (I AM AN AMAZON ADDICT and I am on board to fight this addiction) our needs are met and I have been responsible.

As I pushed enter on the reservation, I thought of all the times that I settled for less because I had to or because I was too scared to spend more. OR because I was afraid of being disappointed and every time, I ended up with something disappointing.

SO, this time, I went for it. SOLD: Room with a view, spa tub, and breakfast delivered COVID-19 fashion to my door.

I stayed up late making sure I remembered all the important things: boots, laptop, book, chargers, manuscript, and my Adventure Journal ( soothe.com makes the best journals ever and no, I am not sponsored and paid to say that…it is the truth).

I woke before Smokey, whose ears appeared at the end of the bed peaked with astonishment at the idea that I would be awake without her persistently purring and walking all over me.

 I grabbed my down comforter, my pillows, and after the 6th trip up and down the stairs the car was loaded. I gave kisses and hugs, got in the car, and…

It.

Wouldn’t.

Start.

I sat behind the wheel, the lights of the dash giving mixed signals, looking through the windshield into the darkness. I had prayed right before hitting send on the reservation, Please God if this is not the right thing to do send me a message.

WAS THIS THE MESSAGE?

If it was, I was fucked. Too late to cancel the room, the meeting, everything.

This is just a roadblock; this is just a roadblock I repeated as I fiddled with the wires on the car battery and then attached the cables hoping it was that one wire that comes loose from the battery because of the bumpy back country roads. I had been on a lot of them this last week as I was out in the community doing my best to Car-Test our ESL students.  

After 4 tries, several prayers, and 45 minutes behind schedule the ignition turned over and the car roared to life. I was on my way.

 I met a wall of fog, impenetrable as far as the eye could see, which was about 2 feet…maybe. I drove slowly and stayed behind big trucks when I could. Thankful for their mass especially as the two-lane highway I was inching along made Head-On Collision headlines every other week.

Hope burned and brightened. I shied away from focusing on it directly. I didn’t want to jinx it into being swallowed by the dread. Rather, I let it blaze to cinders the doubts and dread, leaving a space for what was to come.

I had queued up my favorite podcast of late, #amwriting, and pressed play. Mile by mile, the landscape revealed itself. First the road, then the vehicle in front of me. The fields on either side made their appearance as the sun unfurled its gaze, making the fog translucent. By the time I reached the Wildlife Reserve just before Pacheco Pass, my faith had started to take root in the soil that had been rejuvenated by the burn-off.

I had stepped out and let go and now I was flying.

I had gotten a miraculous 9am check-in and I had a meeting set for 10:30am, so I was anxious to get into my room and unpacked. I wanted to experience the day and come back to a room fully ready to greet me.

My hands were steady on the steering wheel as I raced up the pass, down the other side, and through the country side. Fields lay splayed out ready for planting, ramshackle houses, roadside stands, old machinery passed in a blur.

The sea air sailed through the window long before the ocean came into view. The houses dotted along the dunes hinted but only their back yards could be seen, the secret views saved for their personal use.

Two lanes gave way to racing traffic along multiple lanes with exit after exit until my own curved me into the cypress and down unfamiliar roads too tight for my Tahoe. A tricky left turn brought me onto the property where I prayed that my SUV would clear the garage and I backed in…if there was a repeat performance of this morning, I wanted the ovation to be face forward for the tow truck. I prayed hard that I would be spared this humiliation.

My mask hid my smile as I know it hid hers though I am sure my excitement sparked from my eyes as I processed through check in.

I huffed and puffed my way up two sets of stairs and I took stock. Warm light flooded the room and a fountain tinkled a welcome. Faux cobblestones led to a fire place and a wall of sliding glass doors covered in sheer curtains. I stepped onto the deck and took a deep breath, slowly expelling it into the sultry sea mist.

The horizon was a dusty blue and the surf was white against the rocks and shore. I just stood there trying to accept that this was my reality. I felt like I was dreaming and that I would wake up at any moment and find myself walking downstairs to do the dishes and load the washer.

I turned back into the room and suddenly I just wanted to lay down and sleep, stretching to the four corners of the king bed. The exhaustion from the week, work, people, and most of all—from being brave in combination with the serenity of this space made me want to curl up and fall asleep to the surf.

But bravery was still required.

Excitement rode just under the surface of my fatigue. It took 3 trips to unload the car. I changed my clothes and headed out to the meeting.

Here’s what I will ask of you. Wait, breathlessly. Pray hard that I will realize my dreams and that I will get my books published. Shall we leave the mystery in place for the moment? Let the mystery roil with promise and suspense and dreams come true.

Then next thing on my agenda was to go for a hike on a beach trail and my BFF who is staying in town had made us spectacular plans rife with trees and guided by my favorite dog. We met up and I kept ignoring the warning signs of pain, easy to do as it has such a big place in my life. But today it was my leg. It had been uncomfortable during the car ride and stiff when I got out of the car. I pushed the pain to the back of mind, used to the low ebb as part of my daily existence. But the throbbing slowly and steadily got stronger.

I don’t talk about this pain yet it is a part of my daily existence. Even my closest friends do not know how debilitating it is.

It started 22 years ago, two years after my oldest was born.  The doctors tested me for rheumatoid arthritis and several other things. They put me on a steroid that I took for two weeks and weaned off of just as quickly because the side effects were scarier than the pain. 

Joints swelling, sometimes chills, nerve pain. Over the years, it has gotten worse but in such a way that I just became accustomed to it and so I learned to deal with it like everything else. I learned to battle it with weightlifting, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, minimizing sugar and processed food, and lots of water. This really helped. But over the last couple of years with my job becoming prominent in my life, the time I could dedicate to my self-care diminished. Quick meals, missed exercise, and less water. Then the pandemic hit and there was no gym, no time, and the anxiety and fear really took its toll.

I won’t go any further on this. Just to say, I have missed out on a lot of my life because of this pain. I try to move through it as best as I can. Dealing with the nights and days when it is too bad to hide and then, I go to my bed and grit my teeth until it is gone.

How could this happen today? WHY? No amount of brain screaming is going to make this different nor will I be able to lie to her, for if I do, my friend will think there is something else afoot. Yet, I know with certainty that this is going to be one of the bad times and that I can’t go further.

I went to face her and told her the barest of facts. I stood there feeling a thousand pounds overweight, a thousand years old, a thousand times at fault for what was happening to my body.  

I mumbled and tried to keep the weight from my leg, each minute needed to be off my feet. Each second knowing that I needed to get some pain reliever in me. That I needed to get warm.

Saying this truth out loud, however the bare minimum was so damn hard. This took so much more courage than you may realize. Here I was on an adventure. And I felt like I was opting out as I so often did when this happened to me. Inside me I pointed the finger at my inadequacy and that voice derided me. My body felt so burdensome and ugly.

I hobbled to my car after my insufficient apologies, barely able to get into the car seat.  I mentally slapped myself once, twice tears welling. I wiped them roughly away, there was no time for a pity fest. With a heavy sigh, I started the car and drove back to my amazing room.

Moving took all that I had and as with all the other times, I smudged my way through time and distance, my resolve the only thing keeping me going. I was almost to the bed when I remembered the complimentary Kimono and the SPA TUB with JETS. One of the ways to get the pain to go away quicker is to take a really really hot bath. I know, weird. But, if it works, it works.

I turned on the water and thanked God that I had brought my vanity into the bathroom. I had packed lotions, face treatments, oils because I had wanted to bask in the luxury as if I was at a spa resort. I pulled out the bare minimum and grabbed the dark wash cloth labeled Make-Up.  All the while my lips pulled, my jaw locked, my teeth gritting I lifted my leg into the steaming water.

Jets on, I whispered my prayers of thanks with each sigh. I stretched my leg out in the water letting the heat work into my core.

 I got out and took stock, I was at an 11 down from a 20. Defiantly I pulled on the  kimono, determined to keep the experience going.  The big windows overlooked the bed and I just lay there for a long while continuing to breath in and out, hoping to expel this bad fortune. My eye lids dropped, my body relaxed into the bed, and I slept.


I woke and the pain felt like an 8 and I was famished. I would order dinner delivered to my door. YES> I> WOULD. I wouldn’t worry about the cost.

Spinach, a lovely Sole in lemon, and a chocolate cake. MmmmHmmm I would conjure my way back into the magic of my adventure.

I went out on the balcony to await my dinner. The glory as the sun slowly set, the colors changing the shore line’s clarity to an artist’s charcoal thumb stroke. The trees and buildings, silhouettes against the ocean’s slate of blues and greys, its surface as smooth and taut as fresh linen.

The decent into the horizon felt like a movie premier. The sky put on a show that made me weep. The burnished hues of an oil painting mixed with lavenders from Monet’s own box. The clouds moving like a sonata into the vastness of sky, melding with the azure until all was one. I sat there in my kimono thanking God for every single breath. Each minute a miracle leading to the next. This was magic but not mine. This was a power beyond mine, beyond comprehension and I felt the magnitude fill me with the light of healing and renewal.

A discreet knock, and abracadabra, there sat my dinner. I pulled out the Burrata, the Fish Special, and the cake.

“It is very good tonight. “, he had said over the phone.

 “Yes, that. Please” was my quick reply.

Each mouthful felt like my first, a luscious experience of living. My tongue sparking as the capers melded with the lemon and the white fish cooked to perfection. Seasoned, exactly right. The spinach left to its glory was a perfect companion bite.

Oh, I scraped those boxes. The Burrata and the tapenade silky on the crusty, oiled bread.

A dreaminess came over me and satiation took a large bite out of the pain and the disappointment.

I pushed the cake aside, pretending I could wait. Nevertheless, I took it to the bedside table to wait while I lay reading. Yet, interspersed between paragraphs the siren song of the cake drifted its seduction song.  I rolled over, propped my leg, and took the first glossy spoonful.

LOOK. I am no stranger to chocolate. In fact, I am super picky. So, I rarely order it from restaurants. But the man from the restaurant who took my order responded with such certitude

“Should I have the lemon tart or the chocolate cake?”

Without pause, “No, I like my chocolate cake”. His confidence was persuasive.

 “Okay. Give it to me.” Without preamble, without question.

I have NEVER TASTED CAKE THAT GOOD. I mean this. Succulent mousse, some sort of subtle crunch, and a chocolate glaze. Most restaurants use such vile syrup that I always avoid so I wasn’t expecting much. Yet here I was swiping each bite and swirling it onto the cake, a tender swirl on my tongue.  UUUUMMMHMMM.

 Yes. That good.

I read after dinner, classical music blending with the sounds of the surf. My book, Snow by John Banville, a lovely surprise.

Banville unfurls his prose with a mundane beauty that belies its power unless you look closely. And you will feel compelled to look closer. It is a mystery set in the harsh winter of Ireland. Death, intrigue, secrets. A really good way to avoid thinking about pain.

I fell asleep reading. Is there any other way?

I awoke thinking I was late for work. I sat up and the present moment patted me on the shoulder, its okay. AND as with the way this thing I have works, the pain was gone. My body felt ravished but rested and I gingerly rose from them bed, each movement questioning. Is it really gone? Each step a blessing, the steadiness of my stance a gift.

I washed my face with warm water, my face a mask of the night’s travails, sweat gleaming from the exertion of finding peace.

I went out on the balcony after getting the coffee going. Excitement welling within me. Carmel Valley Roasters is one of my favorites when I visit and I had bought cream to prepare. I dragged my comforter out on the balcony, the dark alive with the sound of the waves rushing at the shore.

I heard the swiftness of seagull wings as their calls ebbed and flowed with the waves. They circled a tree as the dawn of a new day expanded, putting the stars to rest. Dawn unfurled her robe of lilac and denim blue. She stretched and opened her arms revealing the orange and yellow of the sun. I felt as if my mother’s hands were laid upon me. Her fingers combing through my hair, stroking my brow. She held me softly as the sun filled my eyes and my heart.

The sunrise cradled me for a long while and I lay in her embrace watching the seagulls go from shadow to clearly defined. Their feathers brisk against the pale blue sky. Wings outstretched, soaring over and under the newly birthed skyline. Alighting slowly, they would sit in the trees or the roof tops to watch and plan.

I let myself fill up with the wonder of this life. I will hold it close and try not to spill any as the demands of the day come about. I will drink in the pleasure slowly. A sip here, gulp there—when I can’t help myself.

I will try my best to seek the places that renew me and remind me that every time I rise, I breath, I walk, or I cry is a gift.

I am grateful for today.

I am grateful for my courage.

For the risk,

the folly,

and the Wonder.

Time to Wonder

“Can I schedule a time to wonder?” I wondered this morning as I finally sat down to write.

I had a hard time falling asleep last night.

I was excited about getting 5 WHOLE DAYS OFF.

In my head I can see time stretching before me. No deadlines or emails. The garage was cleaned last weekend. The laundry is almost caught up. Just the thought of me doing me got my heart racing.

I lay in bed trying to sleep but it was NOT HAPPENING.  I wanted so badly to wake bright eyed and ready to have an amazing and unfettered and creatively wondrous day. Instead of sleeping I watched datelines until my eyelids drooped heavy and the last thing, I remember hearing was about some ex-hockey player getting life for killing his wife.  

As a result of my bad decisions in the face of my insomnia I woke sluggish. My eyes opened reluctantly at the time they do every morning which is somewhere between 4:30 and 5. Smokey Magic started walking all over me, her purring getting louder and louder the longer I stayed under the covers.  

The smell of coffee walked me downstairs and the anticipation of drinking a hot cup of coffee without the drums of work in the distance, woke me.

I turned on the Christmas tree lights their seductive wink masking the chaos. As I heated Smokey’s breakfast. Yes. You read that correctly. I pop her wet food into the micro for 7 seconds so it is like eating a fresh kill, or so I imagine. She rubbed all over my legs in anticipation. Smokey contentedly ate her “fresh killed” chicken and I stalked down my favorite mug and created the perfect concoction of raw sugar and cream mixed until the coffee was a dark caramel.

Steam swirled around as I bent over to unlatch Smokey’s door and I sipped perfection as I took the stairs back to my snow-white comforter.

One of my favorite things to do is to watch a movie very early in the morning, before anyone else is up, sipping coffee, snuggled into my blankets.

I started to unwind despite the guilt and unease and I let myself get enfolded into Midnight Sky on Netflix. I just finished the book and have been eagerly awaiting its premier. It did not disappoint. I found myself crying with so many questions running through my head…

What kind of American am I? Was one of the questions that popped into my head as I watched the credits roll. What kind of woman? Are Humans essentially good? What will happen to us? Can we save the planet? Just as I was getting up to write what I was thinking the sound of the kids calling out to one another from their beds wafted down the hallway.

Outside my window it was still densely gray but here and there the outline of a branch peeked around the fraying edges of a fog still reluctant to make way for sunrise.

With a sigh, I reversed course and headed back downstairs to prep the Prime Rib for tomorrow. Just a little bit longer, I promised myself.

Prime Rib scored and salted and dry aging in the fridge I headed back upstairs. You’d think with all this stair climbing I would be as lithe as a gazelle. I wish.

The kids were still in bed ,half asleep. I knew I had to hurry if I wanted to have some private time for prayer and writing. But just as soon as I was done praying, the kids were up, and it was time for breakfast. Resentment kept time with my heartbeat.

I wanted to fight the resentment off and keep the calm that had filled me after praying so I grabbed Mary Oliver’s Devotions. I let the kids choose and they chose While I Am Standing Here and I read it out loud as the they ate. The words rose and fell in a steady motion matching the gentle sway of her thoughts. Mary takes ordinary actions and turns them into a melody.

That poem asks what prayer is and invites you to answer—privately. She conjures images of stillness and I could see it resonate with the kids.

After reading I realized that my pleasure at sharing poetry over breakfast was partially derived from my idea of what it looked like to others. The picture I had created was for some invisible audience that would approve. GOOD MOM. I could hear them say.

I sat there with this other audience observing the dining table disarray.  It was missing its special Christmas cloth as one of the kids had spilled milk all over it the night before. Two chairs do not match the other two chairs. Pencils, tape, scissors, wrapping paper share space with the butter dish and jar of jam. The tally of what was wrong with me and this moment rolled through my thoughts like a ticker tape at the bottom of a newscast.

Maybe there won’t be presents next year….

You won’t get all your projects done for your job and your boss will be disappointed…

The kids are fucked up and it’s your fault…

The house is crumbling around your ears…

I wish I could make a magic potion that I could drink and then presto…I would be free.

I pulled myself together thinking of the peace of my meditation before my prayers.  Of the sounds of birds chirping as they fluttered through the tree. The sparkle of dew on the plant I had watered. The dried orchid blossom inside the hand carved wooden box on my writing desk. The soft feel of the polished stones of my rosary. The silence as I plugged into the universe and felt its vibrancy and light.

I mopped up the yolk of my eggs and savored the last bite of my bacon and with my mouth half full suggested that the kids open one of their presents.

They smiled and joked as they unwrapped their gift from Smokey. Smokey is bad at gift wrapping, I explained to the audience.

And then the ticker tape started back up. So much to clean…I haven’t written yet…I am wasting my free time…my room is dirty

I marched myself to my office and pushed myself into my writing chair. Sit down. Shut up. Just write.

There is never going to be a day that everything is done at the office. There will always be cobwebs on the Haunted Nativity that was set up 11 years ago and hasn’t been dusted since. Someone will most likely spill milk on the special Christmas Table Cloth again.  There is always going to be chaos and a long list of chores.

The wonders in my life can be found in the choices I make with the time I am given.

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.

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.

From My Mat

I looked up at my feet. They looked tired, my toe nail polish older than my first-born child, dead skin scaling my arches, and a scratching scab revealed the fungi problem my doctor can’t solve without some weird pill that causes way too many side effects.

My eyes welled up as I shifted into the next pose. Head to knee, breath out, head back, breath in, and my shame all over me—inside. Tears flowed down into my ears and hairline and I cried out once—a sharp keening.

I’m sorry I wept, my mind’s tide rolling the images, one after the other—all of my mistakes.

I’m sorry for not coming here, to my sacred place, because it is what heals me and what scares me most.

For the Blackberry Chocolate Chip Talenti Gelato that I was sure “I will have only 5 spoonful’s…each day. “ Savoring it judiciously, the prize for being such a circumspect and whole-fully in control person. I am so sorry that, instead, despite having put it back in the freezer, that the thought of it crept into each and every moment and that finally, I consumed it and even licked the spoon like the unrepentant whore that I am. While I am at it, I am sorry for the extra mashed potatoes with the mushroom sauxe on Sunday. And the two lollipops at last week’s evening class. And for not going to the gym and oh wait…there is some other stuff too. I’m sorry for the many days I didn’t ride my bike and when I did on Sunday, for getting M to pick me up rather than ride home in the rain. I am sorry for not recycling the garbanzo beans can and for throwing the snail across the yard rather than placing it lovingly in its special snail preserve WELL AWAY FROM MY SQUASH PLANT.

My tears coursed out my shame and guilt. Through bleary eyes I saw my bare legs rough with stubble and thought about how I had considered taking pictures of my yoga routine so IG could see what a virtuous yogi I was and felt my cheeks flame at the need for such affirmation.  Then, I felt shame for the shame I felt, when I thought about why I didn’t want to take pictures of my body. Because I didn’t want anyone to think the horrible thoughts that I did, about me.

All the while I continued the flow, my breath slowing with my tears, eyes closed focusing within. Listening to my muscles. My lower back tight with sedentary sediment, my neck and shoulders stiff with money burdens, my waist tired and bloated from holding sadness. I receive each dispatch, open to the truth of each confidence. The empathy came welling up from somewhere raw and new, replying with love and care.

I slowed, moving without judgement, with patience, discarding the lofty goals and high expectations that had been set by ego. In this empty space there was light from my soul, so much wiser than my big-mouth mind.

Finishing, I rocked to seated crisscrossed position and crossed my thumbs over one another, pointing my index fingers down—assuming Ksepani Mudra also know as Uttara Bodhi. The Mudra for Letting Go. I expelled the torrent of shame, slow and steady, the current mild but not meandering.

I was left empty of all but my gratitude. Hands to heart, I thanked God and myself for being there-here-everywhere.