And then, just like that,
The sky cracked open
And joy spilled out
And then, just like that,
The sky cracked open
And joy spilled out
One minute we were laughing. Young, hungover, late to the Superbowl party, totally free. Driving down a country road on New Year’s Day, we were heading towards our lives.
Must have hit a patch of black ice. Time stretched itself out like a taffy-pull. The car air filled with heartbeats and breath.
None us made a sound. Even the car, as it spun 360 degrees, was silent, seeming almost to hover above the ground.
I was in the back seat, on the hump between the seats. It felt like I was on the Teacups ride, facing the slow-whirling, hard-packed, icy snowland and barbed-wire fence as we spun. Katie’s red hair seemed to defy gravity, and you seemed set in plaster, both hands on the wheel.
It was surreal, those decades we turned together. Something transpired between us, unspoken, that would forever connect us.
When the car stopped, no one moved. The stillness seemed even more surreal than the spinning world, then, and I wasn’t sure if we’d died and this was heaven, or if somehow, miraculously, we had escaped what would surely have been a horrific and fatal crash.
More eons passed, until finally, as if on cue, we started laughing. Unbelievably, the car was even facing the right direction. We had literally completed a full two circles, and had stayed on the road.
We were whole. We were spared by the Angels.
We went on to the party, but didn’t tell anyone what had happened. Didn’t make into yet another college drinking story.
In fact, we never spoke of it again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dad and I at the civil ceremony of my marriage, 8 mo before he died.
Some might call my cat Miracle a “fraidy cat.”
I say she just has sensitive hearing and has a very vivid imagination.
When there is any kind of pitched alarm (door buzzer, oven timer, etc) she scampers away to the nearest place of safety and won’t come out again until she is good and ready.
Ceiling fans really create stress for her. The shadows made from their fins taunt her. I think she imagines a great flying creature is overhead, ready to swoop down for the kill at any moment.
Her movements walking through the room with one in it are strategically designed to avoid being directly beneath the “creature’s” view.
She hugs the edges of the room, and if she has to go beneath her enemy for some reason (the doorman buzzed and she has to get to the back bedroom to safety!) she runs low to the ground looking up as she passes as if a pterodactyl is overhead and death is imminent. Kitty armageddon!
I feel for her. I relate to moving through the world in fight or flight mode. I, too, have sensitive hearing and a very vivid imagination. I, too, can make monsters out of harmless things and people.
Miracle was given her name by the Wichita Falls, TX vet who saved her life. She’d been found, near death, having been abused by someone. He named her Miracle because it was a miracle she had survived.
Her back leg is still a bit wonky from whatever cruelty was inflicted on her as a baby. And she hates being handled.
She is a fierce survivor.
My brother John adopted her immediately upon meeting her, despite already having two cats. They bonded deeply: she would perch on his broad shoulders when he was at his computer, and sleep on his vast chest when he slept.
When my brother died suddenly, she and his other two cats were left for a day and a half alone in his apartment after the EMT took him away.
As my father, other brother and I packed up John’s apartment, Miracle was the only one who would come out from her hiding places now and then. When we were done after a few days and it was time to leave, I had to go in and capture all of the cats. John’s vet was taking the 2 older ones. We were driving Miracle across Texas to Houston.
Turns out a fourth cat was hiding under the bed with the other two. He was a stray John had sometimes fed on his porch. Somehow he got in, probably during the EMT situation.
This cat did not look well. I left him until last and then went ahead and gathered him up to take him to the vet too.
(We later found out that that cat was indeed very sick. The other two older cats were infected. Somehow, Miracle survived that too. It was such a relief that she’d escaped that. My brother would have been heartbroken at that whole sad situation.)
We drove Miracle down the 8 or so hours to Houston. I had offered her a home, but my cancer-fighting father insisted that he take care of her at his house there.
(My father, who had NEVER liked cats. He’d somehow fallen in love and then married a woman who had a huge heart and an enormous love of all animals. We always had cats and dogs growing up, much to his chagrin. He had begrudgingly tolerated them over the years.
Once, he suggested my mom just feed them all dry food, I guess he hated the smell of canned food. My mother asked him would he like to eat ceareal for dinner the rest of their marriage. That put that to rest.
But having lost his father, then his sweetheart of 54 years and now his son in a short period of time, I think his heart was so stretched out by grief that he was willing and able. And perhaps it was a last act of fatherhood he could give to John, to look after his favorite cat.)
Miracle and my Dad got along surprisingly well. I will never forget visiting and actually seeing him let her get on his lap! He said she was alright company. He just wished two things: that she’d not throw up or lick his arm. Otherwise, she was ok.
They were together about 7 months until my Dad died. Again, the EMT came, this time to take my Dad away. But luckily, my other brother was the one who found him, so he was there to help Miracle through the commotion this time.
Now, the plan was for me to bring her up to NYC to live with me. She was on her own for about a month in my Dad’s house until I could fly down. My brother visited her daily, but she grew very lonely.
I was getting married and moving all at the same time and needed to wait for a calm time to bring her up where I could help her integrate.
But she was getting restless alone, so it became clear we had to do something.
Fortunately, and quite miraculously, at my father’s memorial service, his first secretary happened to offer an interim place for her to stay. Turned out she fostered animals and was well set up to take in a cat shortterm. So Miracle was moved to her place, where she had an area in a finished basement. She was played with, and safe.
I finally got down as soon as I could after the move and flew her back home. Anyone who has traveled on a plane with a cat knows it is very stressful on them. She did pretty well, considering.
I carefully went about the process of adding her to my household, which already held two cats: a brother and sister who had been the apples of my eye and ruled my roost for 15 years.
Though I implemented all the plans I read about how to do this, it did not go well. The other two were not welcoming, and sort of forced Miracle into living in one room of the apartment. Suddenly there were war zones, and each cat had their own territory.
My visions of three cats piled together sleeping on the couch were dashed.
It wasn’t what I had hoped, but Miracle seemed happy enough in her zone, which was my husband and my shared office. She had her own litter box and food area.
And so we became a three cat household.
It turns out that this Miracle cat, who I thought I was saving by bringing her to my home, would end up saving mine.
Within a month after bringing her up, my beloved boy cat Pookie was diagnosed with an agressive bone cancer. He passed away within three months.
It was devastating. Shortly thereafter, his sister Sabrina was diagnosed with cancer. After a long illness, she too passed away the next year.
So for the first year and a half with us, Miracle was not only the third cat on the totem pole, but she was also sort of the backburner cat to the ill cats in terms of attention.
The day I lost Sabrina was extremely hard. For whatever reason, her loss held all the other major losses in it: my mother, brother, father and Pookie.
Thank God for Miracle.
If I’d had to come home to an empty-of-cats home, it would have been even more impossibly sad than it already was.
But fortunately, I came home to a little furry loved one who needed my attention. And boy, did I need her.
Today, Miracle has reign of the full apartment, as well as our full attention. It has taken time for her to expand her territory into formerly enemy regions. And though I think a part of her will always be looking over her shoulder, she seems to be fully owning being top cat, and flourishing under our undying love.
Yes, she is sensitive to sounds and she thinks ceiling fans are flying predators. But it has been several years without the EMT at the door, and we are pretty much now living in her apartment instead of her living in ours.
Just as it should be.