Today vs 355 Days Ago

Today I watched an emergency vehicle roar

followed by a chorus of five more

the hymn they sang was not for me

but I found myself unable to breathe

I started to panic, filled with fear

as if they were suddenly going to stop here

I wear her shirts and her ashes

as if those would conjure her

breathe, ironically, life back to her

to us

to the moment in time where we were

all of we, together, being happily.

It was a feeling of holy

a feeling of communion

as we broke bread together

The laughter we shared

reciting our ancient tales

filled us faster than food

She just at fifty, me at 49

We’d spent a love-time of life

but never enough time

The chaplain at the hospital said,

on the day Bean really died,

Maybe you were the face of God

she had to see before she could

finally be at peace.”

It was the most comforting words

because I often think of them.

I often think of Bean’s face in that same way,

the face I needed see before she went home

Your friend for life, Bill

Bill Busing was a well respected man in Oak Ridge, TN. Heck, anywhere he went he was thought highly of because of his chemistry knowledge, his humanitarian efforts, and his advocacy for people with mental health issues. He was a positive ask-anyone-about-him type of fellow. Because of this, I don’t want to tell you about that. I’d like to tell you about my friendship with him.

Each Sunday at ORUUC (Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church), I would seek out and find those that needed hugs. It was my thing. Some people, like my dad, for instance, bring candy to church for the wee ones. I brought hugs in abundance. I hugged the old, the young, the feeble, the in-betweens, but I always sought out Bill. Not because I preferred him above others, but because he was born decades but days from my birthday. I felt a special bond with him that I can’t really explain.

When he didn’t show up for church, I’d miss him something awful. When he gave me his phone number so I wouldn’t worry about him, I felt like I’d been given the golden ticket. It wasn’t long before we decided to go for coffee. He seemed both pleased and genuinely surprised to discover that I really did seek his company.

We arranged and met at Starbucks on the Oak Ridge Turnpike. I got there first and I scored the corner seats with a table in between them. When he arrived he insisted on paying because he bought special fund raising cards from the church and he wanted to make sure they got used. I thought that very philanthropic, he thought it very practical.

Coffee in hand, we sat down in the corner and chatted for nearly two hours. We covered topics such as family, life events, careers (mine far shorter and less stellar than his), marriage and faith. He was not one for easy laughter, even with me. But when he did, it was rich and full-bodied and worth the effort to coax it from him. He was quite serious but not really; more like a human paradox (like we all are).

After that initial meeting, we met frequently at different venues around town. Sometimes we’d go to Panera Bread where he’d bring his close friend Cherie with him. It was always a delight to see the two of them interact because she was far more vibrant than he, but he seemed to find her antics amusing. Our conversations never stayed on one topic for very long. We’d cover a gamut of issues from politics to religion. He never shied away from anything. He was a brave conversationalist in that aspect.

Once, after I’d moved away, I had returned for a visit. After I walked him to his car, I hugged him extra tight, his hunched shoulders seemed to melt as he held me warmly.

“Bill, I’m so glad I got a chance to see you again. I want to make you a promise.”

“Oh, you don’t have to promise me anything. It’s okay.” He rebuffed me gently.

“No, really. I want to promise you that as long as I’m able, I’ll write to you every time I get a letter. I won’t forget you.” I said with earnest and sincerity.

“Oh, I thought you were getting serious on me.” He chuckled. “Then I will promise you the same thing. As long as I’m able, I will write you letters.”

From that day on, a card would arrive about once a week, most commonly bi-weekly. I replied as soon as I got one as did he. His favorite way to write letters was on the inside of various greeting cards. He talked about his daughter, Lesley, and his growing concern for her but also his joy that he could have dinner with her during the week. He told me about his adventures with Miss Cherie and the people he helped along the way.

During a particularly rough patch of grief, I wrote to Bill and lamented my despair. “I’m lost. I just feel like giving up some days. I miss my people. I miss my tribe. I miss my home.” Those aren’t the exact words, but they are close. His reply was gentle.

“Knowing grief is just a part of life. It comes and it goes. There is only one way to deal with it, just keep living. Being sad all the time isn’t going to make it better. You have to live. You have a new place to be with your husband and family. Don’t give up when there is life to live.” (again paraphrased).

At that time, I remember just crying harder because he, and people like him, are the very reason I was grieving in the first place. I held on to that March letter, in essence breaking my promise, pondering the words he’d written. By early April I’d decided he was right and I was not going to give up easily. I wrote him a letter telling him as much. I wrote the letter up and sent it out on Monday the 11th of April. He got the letter on the 12th. He passed on the 14th. No letter returned.

As I sit here on the first of January 2017, I think about how many times I’ve cried about giving up in this past year as I’ve battled a scary bout of depression. Even with people I love cheering me on, how he signed his letters is one of the key elements that keep me going. He really did teach me something better than chemistry.

Your friend for life, Bill.

 

Mem’ries

monopolytennessee

The crescent moon tilts slightly

against the indigo sky

through the shadows, I move spritely

with unbidden tears I cry

I trudge the road less traveled

My warmest sweater unraveled

So I shiver in the gath’ring storm,

grief overwhelming, I MUST mourn

As daylight breaks the night

I allow my feet quick purchase in the light

A haven ahead affords me rest

I am given respite at my behest

Home is where I’m going to be

If only my mem’ries weren’t in Tennessee.

Aleppo, Syria

Omran Daqneesh
There is a little child in Aleppo born
Exploding waves of violent storm
Raging fires silently call harm
Yet the tiny child raises no alarm.
Ali Daqneesh
This is our child. Our daughter or our son
Our children have now become only one
Innocence bombed in a dawn of mourning
We heard the cries, refused the warnings.
Now we witness our barren crops dead
Help them! Somebody!
We are not what we said.

The 46 and 1,600

Face Palm

Face Palm

Did you hear my brothers and sisters crying?

Why didn’t you help them when they were dying?

Why did you hand your loyalty to the master?

Why did you close your eyes so much faster?

You are saddened by the forty-six which I get,

But 1,600, abused by power, doesn’t bother you yet?

You carry a weapon, a gun to protect and serve,

I respect that, understand that it’s life you try to preserve.

I do not hate you. I do not wish that misconstrued.

I’m not even angry with you when you don your black and blue.

Did you hear your brothers and sisters crying?

Can you turn your back on unarmed humans dying?

Are you still willing to obey that Master?

Or are you awaiting orders during confrontational disasters?

I am saddened by the forty-six deaths legit,

But I’m more disturbed that 1,600 doesn’t bother you yet.

You carry a weapon, to protect your brothers in blue

I thought it was to protect civilians, people like me, too.

I respect the courage it takes to head out into the streets

Never knowing if your loved ones again you’ll ever meet.

I do not hate you. I do not wish this misconstrued.

I just wish you’d seen my human siblings, like your brothers in the blue.

My Mother’s Day

I used to have a son. He didn’t die nor get physically ill lingering in a hospital. He just walked away. The story of how he came to be in my life is as intense now as when he first appeared 21 years ago next month in a phone call from a liar.

Matt winning awards for his academics and a scholarship

Matt winning awards for his academics and a scholarship

I hear the words, “Keep a stiff upper lip” ringing in my ears, maintaining my distance from the heartbreak I feel and felt.

Before he was born, I longed for him to come home to me. I created the “perfect” nursery in Looney Tunes theme. I filled the dresser and changing table with all the necessities. I made curtains, blankets, and diapers. I can’t sew, but I did because those were straight lines. I put up soft lighting, filled the room with whimsical pictures and loving thoughts.

I’d done the chlomid and pergonal to no avail. I’d taken my temperature faithfully every morning. I’d resolved to adopt a child. I resolved to adopt THIS child. I went to every doctor’s appointment with his birth mother, my step-sister (sister=same difference). When she was about 5-6 months along she was burned out of her apartment by her neighbor’s murderers. My church, at the time, put together a care package of clothes and cash which I brought to her to help her rebuild. She got really sick towards the end of her January due date. The plan was for me to stay with her until the baby was born.

Lies were told to she and I which kept us distanced just far enough to not realize it. A week before my “son” was to be born, my sister called me as I walked in the door from picking up the temporary custody with intention to adopt papers up from our attorney.

“Hey, uh, we need to talk but I don’t know how to say this.” She sadly said.

“Whatever it is, just say it and we’ll work through it together.” I commented as I unloaded my purse, my coat, my manila folder holding the precious promise. “Hold on a second while I finish getting in the door.” My intention was to finish loading up the car and head from Northern Indiana in Lake Station to drive to Knoxville, TN.

“Mare, I don’t know what to do.”

“It’s okay. Really, we’ll work through it. What’s on your mind?” I asked as I prepared to sit down on my couch.

“I’ve decided to keep the baby.” She whispered but the words I heard were deafening.
“What?” I asked as I held the phone away from my ear.

I was positive the phone had turned into a cobra that was striking viciously at me. I couldn’t hear anything but the tremendous amount of grief that broke me in two. I fell to the ground with my hands held above my head in complete surrender. Every pore of my body screamed the words of my soul to the Universe. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t take anything into my body. I couldn’t accept anything with any clarity because it was all nonsense. It was absolute void as everything I’d ever tried to become collapsed upon itself in a tumble of hopes, dreams, ambitions, goals, promises, vows, and possibilities vanished in six words. Poof. Absence.

Less then three months later, my good friend Jamie K Haley was murdered. I was completely lost in the bottom of a bottle. I couldn’t find my way out. I couldn’t drown the feelings fast enough or deep enough to have any success which, of course, didn’t stop me from trying. My friends intervened, forcing me to choose them or death. I opted to live. For the longest time, I had no idea why I made that choice. When I say that, I mean twelve years of bad choices and horrible decisions that continuously punished me for my failure.

Thanksgiving 2004, after the death of my father’s wife (Truthfully a horrid person, judge me if you want to about that, but it is not only my perception), I was passing through to pick up my best friend’s boyfriend to return him to her in Arizona where I resided with my husband. I stopped off in Tennessee to visit.

My father explained that he was getting too old to take care of a twelve year old boy. He wanted to know if I’d consider moving closer to build a relationship with the boy because, “My health isn’t all that great and he’ll need someone to take care of him that he knows when I die.” That sounded fair and logical. I said I’d consider it.

That twelve year old boy (nearly 13 at that point) was the same child that had been denied me in 1995. That was the same child that I’d dreamed of holding, comforting, crying over, teaching, feeding, healing, reading to, guiding, exploring the world with. That child was the manifestation of my heart. Okay, that sounds like I may have romanticized it a tad (YES! I know, a LOT!) but before I go any farther in the story, go ahead and guess what my choice was…I didn’t even finish that sentence before you knew. Yes. I did in fact go back and talk to my husband about moving to Tennessee.

Plans were made. My job as a radio DJ/personality/head copy writer got more complicated then it had ever been before, everything in my Arizona life pushed me towards a new life. I complied. In February of 2005, right after the boy’s 13th birthday, my best friend, her boyfriend, and myself were driven across the country by Charles Tupper and his son to live at my father’s house. My husband was supposed to join us later (which is a whole different story).

It didn’t take long before things were found to be amiss. The boy didn’t fit very well. He was skittish. Time passed, I divorced my Arizona husband, moved about finally landing in Oak Ridge with my joyfriend/current husband. In March of 2010, the young man came to live with me by court order because of the neglect and violent abuse he’d suffered at the hands of my father and his new girlfriend.

This is his story told to me by him, written by me to create a more gentle version of a vicious life:

Becoming Human

I was born abandoned. According to legend, I was either brought to my grandparent’s tattered life. Or I was saved from the state by them as a last resort; rescued from the hospital.

I had a brother, also known as God to Jack who was my grandfather. My brother was his everything but he was taken away by the courts. My uncle was murdered by fringe family members and my grandmother who died of Cancer. They were all gone by the time I was eleven, except for the worst one, Jack.

I didn’t get to say any goodbyes. The pain became my normal. It was the only thing that was real and tangible. I had nowhere to go and that’s right where I thought I was going.

Nobody heard me. Nobody stopped me. Nobody recognized me. Caine was gone and I was all that was left.

I became, over time, a non-entity. Nobody cared to listen to what I thought or felt.

My house was never silent. Rage filled the air with compulsive shrieks and blistering names that still sting. Jack and I had no quiet conversations at the dinner table. There were no jokes told. The questions that I had, of my losses, went unanswered.

Three weeks after my grandmother died, Jack moved Val into our house. Things became very different. At night, Jack gave me vodka and Val gave me beer to put me to sleep. It wasn’t long before Val started sneaking into my room and the nightly abuse began. In an attempt to protect myself, I slept in a bed of knives and swords that I’d collected. It didn’t work.

I screamed out to be saved, but Jack never came. I tried fighting against her, but my drunken youthful self wasn’t yet strong enough. I told myself it was all a dream. Nobody heard me. Nobody stopped what was happening to me. Nobody saw me. My family was gone and I was all that was left.

Boys I called my friends began to ask me to do things that I didn’t understand but soon learned. I became an object to be used.

Huffhead was the worst offender. He called me his friend and I called him mine. But I always returned to him. Even knowing that nothing I did for him was ever good enough, I returned. He always demanded more and more from me. No matter how he abused me, I accepted it. The abuse was normal. I’d learned my lessons well. I was so desperate for his “friendship” that I returned to him time and again. I didn’t deserve to feel good. I didn’t feel worthy of kindness or love. I didn’t know this wasn’t okay. How I was living was my normal.

The threat of losing another person was too much. I had no choice. I lost my identity and gave up control of myself. I deserved it. I no longer smiled because I didn’t deserve to feel good. I felt guilty about my basic needs. I felt shame for eating, drinking, using the bathroom, smiling, laughing, joking. In other words, the thought of me being considered a human was enough to make me cringe. Everything and anything I did was constantly criticized. I was never good enough. I wasn’t my brother and Jack reminded me of this daily. Jack called me so many bad names that it caught me off guard, sounded alien, when he said the name given to me at my birth.

I developed into an isolated zombie. Not the kind you see in the movies, but just as much of a non-human. I was an object who didn’t object to the abuse. I lived to serve in any capacity.                                                                                                     I screamed, “I HATE YOU!” in my mind. Nobody heard me. Nobody stopped me. Nobody recognized me. I was gone. Yet I was all that was left.

I started hearing voices after my brother was taken. Sometimes they’d get so loud that my mouth would speak their words. My body was no longer my own. The voices became people that walked, talked, and acted differently while using my body. That’s when the forgotten times began.

I woke up in the strangest of places; in a driveway during a winter storm, in a shed, in a storm drain, in a different state all together. I began to lose hours and days worth of time. People would come up to me on the street acting like they knew me, calling me by different names. I didn’t let on that I had no idea who they were. Time no longer had meaning because I lost so much of it so often.

I didn’t realize I was a human being. I was so detached from reality that nothing seemed real. I tried sleeping for a year so I wouldn’t have to feel what little seeped through the drugs I’d started doing. I’d mastered, as I was taught, to turn pain off like a light switch that kept turning itself back on.

When I turned fifteen, my screams were loud enough to be heard by the courts. I got in trouble with the law twice in two months. I went to court to accept my fate with Jack and his daughter. She was a woman that Jack called a lying, controlling, bulldozer that ripped him off. I despised her at his word. After all was said and done, I was placed in Jack’s daughter’s custody.

In the three years that I’ve been with her, I’ve learned what it’s like to be happy. I am grateful that the courts finally heard me. I’m glad the judge stopped what was happening to me. I’m glad that they finally saw me. I finally earned my freedom and another life to learn. Somebody heard me. Somebody helped me. Somebody recognized me. My success is all that’s left.

2014

In August of 2014, he disappeared. My husband and I went to work, came home, and he was gone. He didn’t say goodbye. He didn’t say anything. Like the phone call so many years before, he’d decided to keep the baby.

I see Facebook flooded with wishes of goodwill towards mothers. I do not resent or feel anger towards anyone who is a mother. I do not feel jealousy or unkind thoughts towards that are successful. I feel like a liar and outsider when it is wished to me. That chapter of my life is the most painful I’ve ever endured of which I have no control or power over in any way shape or form. It is my deepest grief and my truest human moment that I cherish because at least I got to understand, be, and for a short while, know the joy a parent feels.

NaPoWriMo: Day 30, carte blanche

Dear Universe

I sit here in my PJ’s with tear stained cheeks

I wonder out loud after I got kicked again

If maybe you’d forgotten me

If there was a reason you took my best friend.

Hold on, I have to blow my nose once more

I yelled at you because you took him away

My heart is still grieving, I continue to mourn

So if you don’t mind, I’ll cry, okay?

Oh, while you’re at it, thanks for halting that career

The one I needed to stave off poverty

So we could make it through the year?

That one that would really have been good for me?

Be patient because I don’t think I’m done hurting

I know you’re sending me the big guns, tomorrow

What real issues are we skirting?

Will they be able to help me ease my grief and sorrow?

I’ll trust in you even though I’m struggling to believe

Because I’m seeing so many people who are suffering like me

Because I hear their voices crying out in riots, beds, and songs

Because I know that you can hear them, please come right the wrongs.

This world is getting harder with each day that goes by

And I’m having trouble talking to my ceiling or looking to the sky

But I’ll believe because I know that you’ve graced me in many ways

But for now, I’ll sit here crying, eating chips while sobbing in my old PJ’s.

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