Living with Ghosts – Finding My Spirit

I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project http://www.iamsubject.com/the-iamsubject-project/. Here is my #iamsubject story.

 

“You live with too many ghosts.”

That’s what he said to me one night after seeing the title of the book, Motherless Daughters.  I was reading it in an attempt to begin processing what had been kept hidden inside for over 25 years. So I put the book away, just as I had done with several other attempts to find out exactly who I was.

On the outside, there was the confident, organized college administrator who received glowing evaluations and loved helping anyone she could, especially those who seemed to need that extra push or vote of confidence. Her door was always open, yet, on the rides home, she secretly longed for her own advisor to help make sense of everything and to tell her she was on the right track.   There was the “coach’s wife,” who attended every game and stood (literally) on the sidelines, filming her husband’s rise to fame during a winning season.  No one ever knew her name or even cared to, for that matter – she was simply “coach’s wife.”  And at a showing of the video she had created, his only acknowledgement of her efforts were, “Oh, yeah.  This is just a little hobby she has.”

I began to feel a slow grating at the base of my gut each time everything I said or did was interrupted by a better, bigger story or altogether ignored. I was important, and although I had allowed myself to focus on who I was externally – defining myself based on what I did for others – inside, my spirit was withering.

It took something extremely personal, extremely physical, for me to realize that things needed to change.  That I was an individual who had a name, a body, and a spirit who deserved to be recognized and appreciated.  Most importantly, I needed to learn how to appreciate myself. In 2005, after suffering through years of painful menstrual cycles and noticing (but not addressing) a growing abdomen, I found the courage to face one of my biggest fears and have a hysterectomy.  Since Momma died, I had always had this deep terror of hospitals, knowing they were the places “where you went to and never came out of.” I also feared the simple act of going to doctors because they “could always discover some horrible disease that would end up killing you.”

Something was different this time.  For once, I didn’t feel like the terrified eleven-year-old.  I knew I was taking care of me for the first time. So, in the quiet hours of the first night after surgery, listening to my husband grumble about “having his sleep interrupted by the nurse coming in to check vitals,” I began to heal – on several levels.

He wasn’t there the morning I was released.  No, he had decided to spend the remaining time of my hospital stay at home, studying for his teaching boards.  Eventually, I decided to leave the marriage.

Jokingly, I comment to my girlfriends that I received a “two-for-one” deal when I went to the hospital – not only did I have my uterus removed, they helped me remove an a**hole as well.

Nine years later, I can’t say that I’ve completely healed from the scars of mother loss or the hysterectomy, nor have I fully discovered who, at 47, I truly am.  But I can tell you that I’ve taken some amazing steps in the journey so far.

The man I married three years ago understands that I am on a journey toward self.  Although I have the outward challenges of trying to learn how to be a good wife, stepmother, survive menopause, etc., he also respects that I have some “me work” to continue.

Hubs and I met through our love for music.  About two years ago, we formed a vintage blues band that (very surprisingly) won a competition that sent us to Beale Street, Memphis.  In the past, my voice was stifled by, “No, you can’t join a band. Why would you want to, anyway?”  Now, when I sing, I feel alive.  Powerful. Sexy. Like a woman who’s beginning to take control of her life.

"Coming out of My Box" by Bob Powell
“Coming out of My Box” by Bob Powell

One day, while having a less-than-powerful moment on the journey, I was searching for another self-help book on “taking chances.”  That’s when I came across You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. The author, Jen Sincero, exemplified to me the type of woman I was seeking to become – strong, opinionated, in-charge, creative.  I read it like a college textbook, making notes in the margins and highlighting just about every other paragraph.  I needed to come out of my protective little shell, admit and face up to my challenges, and “get the hell on with” my life.  The author sent out a request for video clips from readers, sharing why they felt they should be selected for her 8-week course.  I submitted…and was selected.  In fact, I’m finishing up the final week right now.  I’ve learned how to maintain focus on what desires and goals I want and to step out of that comfortable little box I’ve lived in for so long.  I am close to earning my B.A. in “B-A.” Heh.

That book that I hid away years ago? Well, funny how things happen.  One night, Hubs showed me a book that had been recommended by someone.  He was trying to understand and support me in my healing over Momma’s death. It was the same book – Motherless Daughters.  That loving gesture started a crazy chain of events.  I joined the author’s fan page.  She sent out a call for stories of mother loss.  I took a huge leap of faith and submitted one.  A few weeks later, she contacted me for permission to use the story in her 20th Anniversary edition of Letters from Motherless Daughters (by the way, my story is on page 162 under a fictitious name).  In March 2014, I attended my first meeting of the Triangle Motherless Daughters Group.  For the first time in 36 years, I was among sisters.  I was able to express grief, challenges, and successes and be listened to and valued. The book’s author, Hope Edelman, was also there. She signed a copy of the book and gave it to me.  Hope's NoteOn May 10, 2014, I wrote a feature story in the Greensboro News & Record about life as a motherless daughter and shared that I was starting a support group for other motherless daughters in the area.  I’ve been contacted by numerous women (and supportive men) who thanked me for helping them and who want to join the group. I hope to hold the first meeting at the end of June. Visit my website http://momlesslife.wordpress.com for more information.

Do I live with ghosts?  Of course, I do, and I’m proud of it.  They stay by my side constantly, gently coaxing me along the way.  They sit quietly by me in the evenings when I feel compelled to write.  They give me the “thumbs up” as I click “enter” and submit yet another story for consideration.  They see that I am beginning to cut those spectral apron strings and come into my own self. If I listen closely enough, I can hear them say, “Atta girl!”

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Tending the Roots (of the Family Tree)

I have this jasmine plant that has entwined itself around the posts of the pergola on the back deck.  For over five years, I spent time carefully guiding and gently securing the vines up and around the 9-foot post until they began to crawl on their own across the top beams.  The deep green leaves were beautiful, and the tiny white flowers provided me with calming, intoxicating scents when the right breeze passed through the yard in the summer months.

But this past winter was particularly harsh – on many levels.  As we experienced the most snow and coldest temperatures since I planted it, my life seemed equally as cold and bleak, as I was dealing with some physical and emotional issues that continued to nip at my body, mind, and spirit.  So, as my beautiful jasmine plant began to wither away… it seemed that I was doing the same thing.

Over the past few years, I’ve gradually lost connection with a family member who was, from the time I was eleven, the closest thing to a mother-figure that I had.  The details aren’t necessary to relate here – but they are such that our ability to spend time with each other the way we used to is forever changed.  This has affected me deeply – as I grew older and began to recall things about my life that had been kept “hidden” as a way of protecting myself and others, I began to realize that acknowledging and sharing those memories – especially with her – was an essential step in the healing process.  Unfortunately, sometimes one’s healing may cause discomfort and hurt in others. It was a tough, but necessary, decision.

The phone calls and weekend visits spent talking about meaningless things (and sometimes serious things), the updates on house projects driving us crazy, and the exercise walks on the boardwalk, interrupted by a “rest break” (cocktail stop)  – they were now a thing of the past.  I felt uncomfortable with the thought of calling her on a Saturday morning, for fear I wouldn’t know quite what to say to my own aunt — the sister who had shared her childhood bedroom with my mother and who had promised my mom near the end of her life that she would help take care of me.

Last week, I received a text message that asked if we were “still family.”  I must’ve looked at it at least ten times, wondering how our relationship had come to this – the occasional cryptic “Hello, I’m fine” that was supposed to make up for not talking for a month.  We were both guilty of it.

So I sent a note back to her (still hesitant to pick up the phone).

We started talking about the plants on our deck.  That was safe conversation after such a long time.  I mentioned the jasmine that had finally met its match this winter and said I was going to get a new one and start over.  Then she told me to look at it closely – saying that “when you think it’s dead, new growth will appear at the base, near the roots.”  I went over to the plant, brushed away the dead leaves and vines…

and found this.

jasmine

Beautiful little green leaves sprouting up from the roots.

In that moment, I discovered more than the fact that my gardening skills (and vision) were obviously lacking.  I realized that the moment when you’re withered to the point of giving up is the moment when you must push aside the old, dead stuff and take a real close look at things.  Chances are you’ll find that you weren’t really in as bad shape as you thought.  With a little tending, your branches will begin to grow again, and before long, you’ll be winding your way toward the top of the pergola and the sunshine.

So it is with jasmine… and with family — if you’re willing to spend the time tending them.

I think I will give her a call this weekend. It’ll be nice to chat over a long-distance cup of coffee.

Throwback Thursday — Life in the “Ghetto”

Everyone seems to enjoy sharing their best “Throwback Thursday” photos on the Internet. I do, too, but this time, I wanted to do something a little different — dig in a box of old photos not yet organized (shame on me!), pull out a random one, and write the next post about it.

Well, the first random photo was so badly deteriorated, I decided to cheat a bit and flip through a few more.  Then, these little jewels appeared… from life on Mosby Drive in Greensboro, NC.

Me and Lloyd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s me and my friend, Lloyd, whose last name escapes me right now. I’m guessing we’re somewhere between 4 and 5 — about 43 years ago. We had this thing about getting into costume and doing impromptu parades around the complex.  That costume I had on, along with the boots, were my Momma’s.  The costume she wore when she was probably the same age, and the majorette boots she wore in high school.  I loved them and really wish I had them now.  They made the best “clomping” sounds when I marched, and it made the performance all the more convincing — we were serious marchers.

Oh, and any of you hard-core Hardee’s fans from the early 1970s recognize Lloyd’s Speedy McGreedy t-shirt?  Killer.

Marcy and Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next one is of me and Marcy.  She lived in that building directly behind her. The greatest thing about the “Ghetto” was that it had a super cool playground and a huge yard.  It had a couple of see-saws, this climbing bar, and a swingset with a slide that must’ve been about 12 feet tall.  You know, the kind that, when it was the middle of summer, would stick to and burn the back of your legs when you tried to slide down it?   Marcy had a younger brother who everyone called “Bubba.”  Actually, his name was Stoney. I remember that he used to come barreling out of his front door, wearing nothing but a diaper. I’ll bet he grew up to be a biker dude.  Or a pro-wrestler.

Life in “the Ghetto” was great.  I always remember my parents referring to the complex that way.  Back then, it was a relatively safe neighborhood.  People from all walks of life lived there — attorneys, nurses, hippies, semi-pro golfers, cemetery managers (my Dad), and all my friends — we were white, black, Native American, mixed-race, but the great thing was, back then, none of that mattered.  We’d gather out on the front stoop in the early evenings, put some charcoal in the Hibachi, pull out the lawnchairs, and have jam sessions.  The only bad times I remember were when someone was arrested for driving drunk around the complex and the day that Marcy and Bubba’s dog had the mange and their parents washed him in creosote to get rid of it (somehow, I just don’t believe that was safe).  The dog got loose and took off through the complex, stopping at each door to shake off that awful stuff.  I remember my Momma trying to corral us all inside and shut the door before he was able to get inside the apartment.  We thought it was funny.  The adults didn’t seem to see it the same way.  To this day, it escapes me whether that dog was finally caught or how many front doors had to be scrubbed down.

We moved from Mosby when I was about seven — to a nice new neighborhood about 5 miles away.  The really neat thing was that several of my friends’ parents moved to the same place. Made for a much easier transition.  Years later, the neighborhood deteriorated, and crime around the surrounding area increased.  As much as I wanted to check in on how it looked, I never could force myself to go there.

The Internet can be a wonderful tool for those of us who are nostalgic but a bit “chicken.”  I looked up the address on Google Maps… and there it was…  Mosby Drive

This photo was taken about two years ago, and I’m amazed at how good it looks, given its age.  Still looks the same — our apartment was in that middle building (can’t remember exactly which one it was).

Looking at this photo immediately takes me back to those carefree times, and I wonder where Lloyd and Marcy are these days.  Does Bubba still have the urge to run wild and free in his tighty-whities?  Did that poor dog ever recover from the trauma of the creosote bath and everyone running away from him? It’s getting close to a half-century since those days (gulp).

Although it now has a sign, labeling it as “Mosby Oaks,” it will always be my beloved “Ghetto.”

 

Rockin’ My World This Week

photo (1) Okay, so those of you who know me well know that my “happy place” is sitting in Momma’s old wicker rocker.  The corner of the front porch where I placed it is the perfect location to soak up all the action — a little bird watching, counting the number of neighbors who are (unlike me) taking their regular exercise walks, and watching the goofy kids see who can skateboard on our lovely pot-holed roads without killing themselves.  Great fun to be had here.

But it’s also a place where I go to clear the old noggin’ of the day’s trials and tribulations long enough to focus on those things that really inspire me.  Haven’t really talked about it much, but I’ve been taking the “You Are a Badass – 8 Weeks to Awesomeness Workshop” with author/coach Jen Sincero… and I’ll have to say, that damned thing has ROCKED (I know, I know… bad timing for a pun) MY WORLD in so many ways. When the course started, I worried that I had gotten myself involved in something for which I really wasn’t deserving.  Our mission was to set… and ACHIEVE a goal in eight week’s time.  I had no set plan of action to achieve this goal that had been crammed in the back of my cluttered little personal “file cabinet of dreams and wishes,” and listening to and reading the incredible progress and enthusiasm of the other participants, I was starting to sink down into my comfortable little closed-off box.

Lately, along with the terrible bouts of anxiety that seem to come out of nowhere, I’ve been having these unexplainable little “jolts” of ass-kickery (that’s what Jen calls them).  You know, that gut message that comes so loudly that you turn your head to see if there was someone else in the room? This past week, the message was, “Let’s DO this sh*t, already!”  It came loudly and clearly… and I had to listen.

I sat down at my awesome new laptop and let the thoughts flow.  Sent a story off to a publisher-friend who has an author looking for story submissions about dealing with menopause. Since that stuff has been making a total MESS of my life of late, I thought this would be a good way to give it an old slap-in-the-face and show it who’s boss.  The next day, I received an email that the author was really impressed with the story… chances are, it may included in her anthology!

Then, I really threw myself out there and sent a note to the local paper, asking how I could promote the group I was in the process of starting.  I’m gonna save the rest of this story for another post. Let’s just say I’ll earn an “A+” in my Badass class! 🙂

Louise Hay says on one of her affirmation cards: “There are people looking for exactly what I have to offer, and we are being brought together on the checkerboard of life.”

Ain’t it the truth, Louise… ain’t it the truth?