Titanic

The voices begin, gremlin whispers at first, that become more insistent and convincing quickly, overtaking the lightness inside.

She feels her heart grip in her chest, stops breathing as if to quell them by denying them air. But they are unstoppable, somewhere inside she knows this.

The anxiety snaking through her muscles and the panic in her gut signal new chords of thought that join in with the voices. A cacophony within, compelling her to go home, get safe, now.

But there’s more than just the forceful compelling dark boom. There are silvery threads of sadness, an ache, as she looks out on the day. It is beautiful, pulsing, but the vibrant life feels separate from her somehow.

She’s torn between wanting to live in the world, to take her place in the throng, fulfill her purpose, and needing to heed the voices and the pull of the force within that wants her home.

The internal battle is ugly and choking. The warring sides are not equal. One is made stronger by the other’s resistance; the other, depleted.

Headed for the iceberg, there’s no turning back.

Just as the darkness crescendos, the lightness, the life force inside, gives up. Like giving in to the pull of an undertow, that part of her goes limp and releases to the strength of other forces. Releases into the dark of the ocean.

It is a familiar dark place, a quiet void, from which she will be spit back to shore again, at some point.

Spent, beleaguered, dazed, she will crawl back to civilization, to piece herself together, and begin again.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: crescendo

Going Postal

One of the longest and most satisfying relationships I have had in NYC has been with Phillip, my postal delivery person.

I have lived in NYC since 1987, thirty years the past July. (Wow!)

Since 1995, I’ve had a rental apartment in the West Village, near Bleecker and Christopher Streets.

Over those 22 years, I have gotten to know many of the “lifers” in the building by face. Watched them (and myself) grow older as our stabilized rents slowly rise.

I just know two of them by name, probably only from necessity. My neighbor Orlando, who, in times of unexpected need has helped me over the years in countless ways (and vice versa.) And my super, Sam, who has also helped me greatly in times of need. I have not reciprocated Sam’s help (due to the nature of our relationship,) but I do tip him generously, and I treat him with kindness and respect. I appreciate both of these men.

The neighborhood I live in has changed dramatically over these 22 years. When I moved in, the West Village was iconic: an eclectic, character-filled neighborhood filled with history, grit, spice, color, and diversity. Real New Yorkers lived there. There were grocery stores, corner delis, “Mom and Pop” businesses populating the streets.

Then things started changing in the late ’90s. Many of us blame “Sex and The City” and those damn cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery for the neighborhood’s demise.

Slowly, but surely, high-end fashion stores began taking over leases on Bleecker. Rents started rising, often astronomically. The “Mom and Pops” couldn’t afford them and were pushed out. The people who serviced these businesses with whom I’d developed working relationships disappeared with the neighborhood’s uniqueness.

In the last 17 or so years I’ve seen an ever-changing sea of young people who seem to be fairly affluent come in and out of the landscape of my building. We are now a mainly transitory residential building. The “lifers” have started to die off of move to supportive care.

There are some of us still there, adapting, as we humans do, to the changes in our environment. Holding out, and on, to our apartments.

We grumble about missing the West Village From Before. It had authenticity. It felt alive, pulsing, slightly dangerous, but in a good way.

We curse under our breath at the hordes of people who now walk on the Bleecker of today that looks just like Madison Ave. (At least before the tourists who came were interesting.) Fork out bucks for Starbucks or French coffees and steer clear of the obnoxious lines that still form in front of that damn bakery thanks to food and “Sex and the City” tours.

But one thing has withstood this tsunami of development.

Philip, my mailman.

He initiated our relationship years ago. I’d be out and about running an errand in the ‘hood and hear my name and a friendly hello. There he was. Philip.

I learned his name, and over the years grew to really appreciate him. Not just for his warmth. He always puts the mail in my box in a very organized way: no cramming or stuffing items willy-nilly.

When I go out of town, without me having to do anything, he holds the mail for me, leaving a test item to see when I am back.

He is an excellent mailman who goes above and beyond, and I reward that as best I can at holiday time.

But the best part is running into him in the ‘hood or in the vestibule. Something fills me when I see his welcoming face.

I don’t think I am alone. I sense that we both cherish the personal, familiar connection, the moment of old neighborly warmth, as we navigate the changed waters of our West Village surroundings.

When I hear my name and that “Hello!” or when I see him and call out “Philip! How are you?!” I am flooded with something I can’t quite name.

When I walk away, I feel lighter and happier.

Philip matters to me. I am so grateful I am on his route.

Together, maybe we can keep the spirit of the Old West Village alive, as best we can.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”

Thank you, Philip, for being not just the greatest postman in the world, but my neighbor.

I need you now more than ever.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: delivery

That Man Behind the Curtain

So what? So what if I am not up to “par?” What if I am “substandard?”

What the hell does that even really mean?

When I dissect the judgements I have revolved my life around, it is as if I pulled the curtain back to reveal the sweaty, little man who is the voice of the Great Wizard of Oz.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

There is a Them I have made into a kind of God.

Others against whom I have constantly measured my worth, my performance, my right to be here.

Others who often know no better than what they’ve been taught to believe by the Them that they also believed was The Great Oz.

I’ve pulled the curtain back, and I see what I have been buying into.

It is time to ask different questions. Instead of “What’s wrong with me?” “What can’t I be more like that?” I now ask:

“Less than” …less than what?
“Unworthy of” …as decided by whom?
“Inferior” …to who’s idea of superior?

The standard. Who’s standard? Who sets the standard? The industry? Who is that exactly?

What if in trying too hard to live up to The Standard I overlook or even destroy something that could be truly extraordinary?

Pardon my French, but it has all been one big mind fuck if you ask me.

Well, the fuck stops here.

I belong where I say I belong.

I determine my own value.

I’ve been using the wrong gauge.

I’ve been using the wrong measuring stick, and I’ve been measuring myself against the wrong things. Random ideas I either imagine or have had impressed upon me by others.

No more.

I have another gauge within, one that runs truer than any other, and just like Dorothy’s power to go home again ended up being with her all along, it has been with me all along.

It is my own heart. It is my own unique blend of desire, creativity, will, love, joy, bliss, determination, work, craft and passion.

I belong because I am. And I am. Worthy.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word prompt: substandard

Dormant Child

I hear you now

From within, so deeply hidden you had no chance of being heard until now

I thought maybe you’d flown away with the night and my innocence

Or maybe you’d been crushed by the weight of his body on mine

I held a funeral for you inside and accepted the loss

And then, one day, there you were; and at first

I could not recognize you through the warp and woof that my soul became

 

Here you are now

And I found you, and though you were unrecognizable to me

I knew and loved you at first sight with every fiber of my being

I’d never seen anything more heart-breakingly beautiful in my life

I drew your little burned body into my arms, your flesh black and peeling

Raw, red skin angering through the seared pain of the past

I loved you until the dead flesh fell away, until you pinked up and began to flourish

In the fore of my heart I let you pick your own room and decorate it pink and kitty cats

Let the other girls invite you to play and read you stories

I gave you hot baths and fed you warm milk and cookies, told you I was putting you first now

And I realized that you were more me than any me I had ever been before or would ever be

 

Now you are here

And you are my everything, you are the key, finally – the center of us all

You carry my truth, my play, my freedom, my deepest self-song

 

Now I am here

The parent who will protect you from that kind of hurt ever happening again

The mother who will love you like you are my everything

The woman who sings a self-song so beautiful it makes me cry to hear it

 

I hear you now

 

For Suzanne, with Thanks & Love

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: dormant

 

 

 

 

True Grit

My Dad and I had a very complicated relationship.

There were years we barely spoke, by my choice.

Our relationship was damaged in my early childhood, and afterwards, it was always in one phase or another of dysfunction.

I reached a point in my adulthood where I decided that it was best for my health to remove myself from the dynamic. And I thought that would pretty much be it for the remainder of my life, and I was OK with that decision.

Until, that is, my mother’s cancer.

Life is funny that way. You can think that a part of your life is beyond repair, and then lo and behold, Life brings you the only exact set of circumstances under which you would ever come together again.

In 2005, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She underwent radiation therapy (two rounds) and then chemotherapies (2.) I traveled down to Texas to visit often to be with her, me tersely tolerating my father, and he giving me a wide berth out of hurt respect of my former choice. (I also always took my then-boyfriend with me as buffer.)

Then in 2006, after the family gathering at Christmas, which was more uncomfortable than usual, my parents called to tell me that they had been informed by my mother’s oncologist that no more could be done for her. (I will never forget the agony of that call.)

Just like that, all bets were off.

It had been decided that she would be having home hospice care to make her as comfortable as possible. As happens in such situations, we were still hopeful that she could live for some time. No one can predict how things will really go, you tell yourself.

I started going to Houston weekly to be with her. My father and I, out of necessity and shared concern, began to interact more and more, all having to do with her and her health needs.

We found our way to something new, something beyond the pain of the past, for her sake. And later, after the inevitable happened, for ours.

In the weeks following my mother’s death, my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Now, my father had been a strapping, big and tall and healthy man his entire life. Never much more than allergies. But I think the stress of losing his beloved sweetheart of 54 years created the perfect storm in his system, and the cancer that might have lain dormant for years just took over the weakened man.

In the midst of undergoing tremendous grief (he’d also lost his father the year before,) my father had to make decisions regarding his own illness, which was acute and generally swift-moving. The standard treatment available was quite harsh. He decided to go an alternative route in order to potentially benefit others by entering into an clinical trial at MD Anderson Hospital to receive experimental drugs instead of the standard approach, which was tough to survive in and of itself.

So I continued my visits. My remaining brother lived in Houston, so he became the primary caregiver, which I was grateful for. But I went down as often as possible and our new relationship began to grow into a new chapter, slowly, carefully.

And in the year following, when one of my two brothers also died, unexpectedly, again, all bets were off.

I watched this man who was so complicated for me, who had hurt me in such far-reaching ways, suffer the loss of his lifelong love and his son. These losses broke him apart. He went through pain that I would not have wished on my worst enemy.

(And he was my worst enemy.)

Somewhere there in the midst of it all, after a lifetime of seeing no way to ever being able to forgive this man, I suddenly was able to see that he was worthy of my forgiveness. That I had been given forgiveness in my life, and that he, too, should be given that as well. That he was not beyond forgiveness, in some separate category unlike anyone else on the planet.

I guess I was finally able to see him just as a flawed man, finally, and not as the monster I had experienced and protected my heart from for all those years. (Perhaps justifiably, one might argue. But things had changed. And those changes had allowed for a shift of my perception. And that shift allowed yet a new phase of our new relationship.)

In the remaining time of his life, we found our way to a loving father-daughter relationship.

How did this miracle happen?

I think for me, part of it was seeing the sacrifice and the bravery with which he committed himself to surviving his cancer for those of us who remained and loved him.

I know that in his heart he was grief-stricken and lost without my mother and would have loved nothing better than to close his eyes and just let go, to die and be with her. But he fought on, for us.

And after my brother died, that grief was multiplied by 30, and yet still he fought on, for my remaining brother and I. My then-boyfriend-turned-fiance after my mother died, and in the midst of it all we were planning a wedding: a wedding my mother and my father had always wanted for me. He was fighting to walk me down the aisle. And to carry her memory on for his two young grandchildren.

He withstood grueling chemo treatments and daily hospital trips where he sat for hours going through the process required of his treatment. Hours spent sitting and waiting and getting tests and giving blood and getting chemo. Medications at home. The affect the treatment had on his body and spirit. His diminishing physical strength.

This big and tall, towering Texas man became a thin wisp of his former self, eventually walking with a cane.

And through it all, he never once complained.

Three months before my wedding date, he got a virus caught during one of the daily hospital visits. I went home on my usual trip but this time visited him in the hospital, where he had to be in a protected environment.

There, I could see that he was truly exhausted. Spiritually. Emotionally.

That the true grit that had been getting him through, that amazing reserve within that he had been tapping into for so long for our sake, was nearing empty. He had been fighting to give me these last acts of fatherhood, this time of repair, this time of untainted love. I knew this and I was so very grateful for it all. I knew that this time had been a supreme gift that would change the quality of my remaining time on the planet for the better. That my whole relationship to life had shifted for the better.

And so I gave him the last gift I could give him as a daughter. I gave him my permission to let go of the fight.

There are times when life provides you with an open door, and if you are paying attention, you see it and you walk through, somehow knowing that it is what you should do.

When a moment arose in the conversation that invited such a thing to say, I took it.

I told him we loved him and were thankful for everything he had been doing. For how hard he had been fighting for us, to be there for the wedding and for the kids. But that I would never want him to stay on if he truly no longer wanted to. That he had done it all, he had fathered through like a warrior, but that if, at any point, he was ready, that we would want him to let go. That we would be OK. That I would be OK. That he and I were OK.

It was just a few sentences. He knew and I knew what we were saying to each other. He said he wasn’t at that point quite yet but he could understand a time of coming to that point.

When it was time to leave, I told him I loved him, and meant it. I thanked him for being my father, and I meant that too. And I thanked him for fighting so hard to be there for me.

He passed away the next week, after returning home, having come through the virus. My brother found him laying alongside the bed, as if he’d gotten up in the night and collapsed.

I hope he felt at peace when the moment came. Perhaps he was walking towards the sound of my mother’s voice. I like to think so.

My love for him is complicted, yes. But it is true. As true as the grit that he was made of.

2009-07-24-15-22-58-e1499812592237.jpg Dad and I at the civil ceremony of my marriage, 8 mo before he died.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: grit

 

 

Cutting the Cord

I am on a quest.

A quest to trust myself more. Especially in the arena of decision-making.

It sounds easy enough, right? I mean, I am me. So it makes sense that I should be able to make decisions and act on them. Easy-peasy.

I have thoughts and feelings. I reference the information stored in my brain and body that I have gained through experiences in my lifetime until now.

I know my values. I have my goals, my aspirations. My action plan. I have one, five and ten year plans in place just like experts tell you to. These are supposed to be the touchstone from which you make decisions. Check in with what they are, and if the thing is in alignment with them, voila, you have your decision. What’s not to trust?

But the process above is not the way it goes for me. I agonize over decisions, major and minor. Whether it be deciding what restaurant to go to for dinner or if I should buy a new apartment.

In my decision-making process, I am riddled with doubt at every turn. There is a constant loop of second-guessing that plays in my head. What “should” I do? What are other people doing? What if I pick the wrong thing and ruin my life forever? What if I regret my choice? What if I could have made a better choice? I torture myself.

I used to explain this away as a Libran “ism.” As a Libra, I am prone to weigh the different sides of things. I can see the value in opposing sides. Fairness is of high importance to me. I can see the good in the bad and the bad in the good. It makes decision-making a tedious mess. I end up feeling torn.

I have also pointed to my being an actress, a storyteller, as part of the issue. When posed with a scenario, my mind naturally starts to put together paths of logic that stem from every possibility. I have a vibrant and active imagination and can envision potential outcomes in great detail. This does not necessarily make for easy decisions.

I have even thought that my difficulty making decisions had to do with being the youngest. Often, as the youngest, you grow up doing what others want you to do and going where you are told to go. You learn to follow your older siblings’ lead. You want to do what they do. You want to be where the action is. You don’t know there is any other way than how the family treats you: as the littlest: you are usually just told what to feel, think and do.

I also come from a Protestant people who I think are quite fear-based, so it is in my genes to be cautious and to fear bad things happening as a result of one’s own actions. Don’t rock the boat. Go with the flow. Don’t make waves. This desire to fit in and to protect myself by blending in is often at war with my other desires and impulses, making decision-making all the more tricky.

I also know that due to traumatic events at a pivotal time in my early childhood, I learned to discount my own experience and sense of truth. To doubt my inner truth in favor of what others’ think. That certainly has messed with my ability to reach within, make a decision and trust it.

Though all of these may indeed and probably do contribute to the problem, they aren’t the root cause of my decision-making difficulties. The root, I have come to learn, is satellite thinking.

Satellite thinking/living occurs when a person makes other people’s ideas and opinions and actions have more meaning than one’s own. To be constantly seeking outside evidence, clues and advice as to what to do.

I didn’t even know that is what I was doing for many years. That I was always looking outside of myself to decide what to do.  It is incredibly painful to live that way. It’s exhausting!

I know it now, and I am so grateful.

There’s no fulfillment in that way of living. Ever.

It has been quite an awakening to realize this and to shift into my own core. It has been perhaps the most amazing healing work I have ever done in my life. It has taken patience and tremendous love. I have had to learn to really listen to my own voice within and to discern it apart from those other voices inside my head that have worn their groove into my neuropaths.

And I now feel that I am at the last phase of becoming core-centered. I am at the phase where I actually jump off the psychic edge of the familiarity of looking to the outside to guide me. Where I willingly fall into the unknown abyss that core-centered living feels like.

It is flat-out terrifying. And exciting.

When I think about truly entering into this relationship with myself: asking myself alone what is the next right action; when I think about asking questions of myself such as how do I really want to lively life, and what does a meaningful, well-lived look like to me; what will I feel was a “worthy” life when I am on my deathbed…when I begin to live with these questions, really listening for the answers within underneath the cacophony of those loops, I feel dizzy and disoriented, literally.

It feels like I will become like the astronaut in 2001 A Space Odyssey who is disconnected from the mothership, floating away into black nothingness…

A terrifying image. That is truly how scary it feels. My entire relationship to life is changing. Scary, to be sure. And yet.

It also feels like finally coming home to roost. Like the Eagle has finally landed.

Like I have finally found what I have been looking for and missing my whole life.

Can I ever truly erase that ever-playing loop of doubt in my head? That constant tendency to look to see what is happening “over there,” to ask what are “they” doing in order to decide what I want to do? To question my own sense of reality and defer to what others say is the truth or what I think others would do or what I imagine they want me to do. Can I halt that loop?

Maybe not. But I know it for what it is now. It is just old static. I can brush it away, like a stray hair that is tickling my face.

I can tune the knob and find my own frequency inside. Sometimes it takes awhile to find, but it is always there.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz discovering the power to go home again, I find I’ve had it in me all along.

Turns out, I am my own mothership.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: loop

 

Lasting Impressions

Relieved to find you gone

I relish the space you’ve left

I wander around, plumping out indents your body left behind

Quiet echoes through the house

Bouncing off the boulders of residual angerhurt, weighting the air

And defensive arguments play at high volume on a loop in my head

Maybe someday I will breathe deeply again

And I will hear what my own heart has to say

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: relieved