- The Biker Wizard, the Blizzard, and the School Teacher (shannonleigh60.wordpress.com)
When I was about fourteen, maybe fifteen, my very intelligent, often witty and joyful, yet sometimes deeply depressed and distantly aloof mother attempted to leave the life she had created for herself–a divorced mother of two adolescents who had opted to leave her and live with their career driven but kind father across town…
At that juncture in my young life, I had no idea looking into the glazed almost lifeless eyes of my overdosed suicidal– barely aborted at the last possible moment by a silently hysterical teen daughter– Momma, my friend, my first editor, my first love, that I would in fact in less than a dozen years from that date, finally have to let her go on her path to death alone, unattended in yet another exhaust filled small garage –this time filled with the fumes of a small cherry red Chevette four door compact. This week a colleague of mine at the small high school where I work has lost her beloved mom to the infirmaries of old age. I mourn for her. It is not ever pleasant to loose one’s mother, no matter what the circumstances. I feel my heart lurching at the thoughts of losing a mom, my mother, a friend’s mother, even an acquaintance’s mother. My heart crunches in my chest, and tears pop to the corner of my eyes, and sting me again from a place of experience that only those who have struggled to keep someone they love here instead of letting go can know. I see the struggle in my students at times, because teens are raw, as I was once a teen and once raw, but my rawness was muted with the knowledge that it was and is all too easy to allow one’s temporary emotional pit to take over.
Mom never allowed hereself to speak about her blackest moments to me, but her eyes never lied. Her presentation to the world was one of very “put together” and “proper” Presbyterian southern lady, not much make up, proper and conservative clothes, Chanel No. 5 perfume, and Ivory soap. She smelled like an angel, and her prematurely grey hair was covered by a soft auburn dye, which she managed at home by herself. She was independent, a mechanically sound woman able to work on her own lawn mower and car to a great extent, a linguistic genious, a grammatically perfected lady of the 1950’s and 19560’s. No muss and no fuss, but perfect. Always speaking and laughing in perfectly modulated tones, unless the chemicals became unbalanced in her exceedingly quick brain, and only on those occasions could screams and shouts be intuitied or even possibly heard by neighbors– evilly scary occasions. Rarely did the facade of calm break in public or in any place that could be considered not private. She broke glasses, plates, and our hearts. My brother grew up resenting her, resenting our father, and simply resenting the lack of “guidance” in life that most kids from “normal” families have and can count on daily. I was –only two and hald years older –the one who roused him for the school bus some mornings when our mom could not. I was the one who ended up driving him to school after we abandoned her dark, moody, 70’s custom built, lake view home to the cheery yet mildly decripid rental slump of our father’s tiny remodeled 50’s downtown home. I remember my little brother’s smelly socks, my inadequate laundrying and absent coooking abilities, and the puppy that Dad had bought us to ease the pain of our mother’s rejection. I ran away from her, and David got kicked out of Mom’s prestine presence. The new tiny cocker spaniel puppy peed all over the floor, carpet, our feet whenever we petted her. She was a sad puppy, starved for proper attention, as we were as teens. We were starved for attention, but we had food. We had clothing. We had a car for transport. Dad kept the house neat as possible, but frankly, the home was trashed by two teens who had never learned the art of housekeeping, laundry, or even proper showers from their mom.
So I mourn my mom, to this day. I don’t mourn growing up and getting out of the chaos of my childhood. I don’t mourn the mistake of my first 25 year marriage to the young man whom I thought of more as a friend than a lover, and I don’t mourn the fact he cheated on me for years as an answer to the loopsided love. I don’t mourn the joy of rasing my own children without my mom. I don’t mourn –now–my own divorce. I mourn the loss of my mom’s potential. I was only 27 when she passed. I feel like the loss of her thwarted my potential in many ways, for many years. Moms are supposed to grow old with their daughters and sons. Moms are supposed to become worrisome, burdensome, old, fragile, frail, and funny. Moms are supposed to see grandchildren and great grandchildren appear. Moms are to be the angels on earth for 90 plus years if possible. To my mom, I say, thank you for lasting as long as you could, and I remember your Chanel No.5 and your terry cloth robes, your laughter and your strong coffee. I am your daughter, and I know you would be proud.
“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Havelock Ellis
I have held on a long time to slipping back into the comfort of my lack of self-worth, self-esteem, confidence, whatever name one would wish to call this black hole I allow inside me to grow slowly then slowly ebb away on an off for the past half century. I do remember a time as a toddler where I knew I was connected to God or Creator. I knew in my bones, my cells, my tiny fine hairs on my head and arms that I was an electrical current full of Light. That feeling of connection and light has visited me again in the past eight years, on and off–and that current flowed through me when I was a young mother. The Black Hole has also visited me. Why? How can I be filled with such light and feeling of connectedness at one moment and then be overpowered with the Black Hole in the next moment? My counselors have told me what a strong personal journey I have experienced as a woman, and how strong I am at the core. I know this. I survived my mother’s suicide. I have seen my beloved father die. I witnessed my beloved mother-in-law struggle for her life with cancer and die in the arms of her family, and I saw my first cousin, a man of strength and pure love and artistry in his soul, die before my eyes, another victim of cancer. I am not unfamiliar with the “longing” to pass. I am not unfamiliar with the journey in spirit we all make in this life. I now turn full circle in my life, back to partnership, trust, compassionate co-existence, love.
Perhaps what I long for, right now, is the answer we all search for all of our lives. Is the pain of loss, and the joy of love, always so interconnected? Is letting go and holding on the same action in some spaces we hold for ourselves? Is the purpose of my visits from the Black Hole in my youth’s soul, a survivor of rape, a survivor of abuse, there to reinforce my Light, my electrical connection to Source, God, Creator? I had an aquaintaince friend of mine doubt very strongly that I could practice effectively “A Course In Miracles” alone. I smiled. I told him that I had started the “course” with a friend in ’94, and had carried on with the coursework after she had moved on to Colorado. I am there. Back in a flash to those years as a stay at home mom, two little girls, cats, guiena pigs, toast and scrambled eggs in the morning hours, a husband rarely home on time, and the knowledge that I was the surest source of love for my girls and myself. I missed Elaine when she left, and I tried to substitute her frienship with another mom who did not have the same background or interests, but I pursued my course, my choice for love, my holy instants.
We all make the choice to join others in our search, or simply journey alone. I feel that all paths link, cross each other’s paths, and run parallel to one antoher at times, but we all journey here alone until we connect ouselves to Source, Creator, God.
Today –after another night alone in my mountain home–I turn off the insipid televison reruns of “Criminal Minds” and just pause, just sit to listen to the silence of the house, waiting for my beloved Kevin to return to me next week. I wait and listen for the annunciation of my Light each day, and it arrives. God slips in my front door gently and silently as always as I stare into the green foliage and hear the singing of the birds. My kitten purrs. My mind clears. The pain of my body, slowly fades to the backgournd, and becomes a connection agian to love. The computer coursework awaits, patiently, as I take in with a slow inhale that Light, that perfection of Life, that Source, that being one with all of my past, all of my present, and smiling expectantly toward my furture. I lean forward, and I smile.
Yes, the black hole slips out of sight. Light has arrived, and stays. It is a journey I make with the conscious choice to love. Love. Letting go and holding on, to Love.
I was married just a week when Melissa, a good spiritual friend of mine, called me one day and asked if I’d be interested in joining a tipi talk, medicine wheel evening with John Two-Hawks, a Grammy award winning musician and his wife, Peggy Hill at their home near my new mountaintop home in the Ozarks. Melissa said she thought I would get a lot out of it, and especially Kevin, my beloved new husband, who has a very nature based belief in God, Source, and Creator. I immediately said, “YES! But let me confirm with Kevin, first.” Kevin was immediately enthusiastic, and we signed up to be one of a total of nine people on June 27 in Two Hawks’ medicine circle, learning the Lakota ways, the Lakota beliefs, and how we must live with Mother Earth in a respectful way.
We arrive at Two Hawks’ tipi and are escorted to a circle around a not yet ignited camp fire for introductions and small conversations. Two Hawks appears dressed in his Lakota Medicine Man hides and beaded chest coverings with his hair braided back. I am in immediate awe of his calmness. I am glad we are here in his and his lovely wife’s presence on their land, Creator’s land, about to have a spiritually filled night. Kevin and I learn that the home of the Lakota is a tipi is not spelled with “e” but with an “i” and that the medicine wheel is one of contemplation, prayer, and connection to spirit. Two Hawks teaches us the Lakota way of prayer ties, the path of red or the path of black or blue in life which we much choose, and how to construct a prayer tie properly with a pinch of tobacco and simple cotton cloth in one of the four colors–red, yellow, white, or blue. We all make a red prayer tie to honor the nine recently killed victims in the St. Louis hate based church shooting and one more for a personal prayer. Kevin and I choose yellow for our prayer ties to represent new beginnings, new love, future. The prayer ties each of us did for the shooting victims are in red, for blood, passion, and forgiveness. The powers we have as humans are to change, to evolve toward love and compassion. The Lakota knew this century before, and the prayer wheel represents a union of all races and all beliefs, as Two-Hawk explains each color’s significance. We adjourn from the introductions and are instructed in prayer ties, and begin our entrance after a sage smudging into the prayer circle walk. As I walk around the stone enclosed prayer circle, stopping at each position to feel the peace, I look to see where I will tie my prayer ties to overhanging branches, In front of the next to last direction, the white prayer flag, the point of spirit, south’s sacred vibration, I feel my heart buzz and expand in my chest. There is not a doubt in my mind that this IS my place in the world. I am happy and circle once more to the overhanging oak branches at the entrance, which is East, to place my prayer tie for those who died in the shooting, and then again I circle to the pines near the West and the South prayer flags, representing the storms of life we must overcome, to place my yellow prayer for a good future, half way between the South and the West, as I see my marriage, so many storms passed, and so much “new life” —spiritual life after the death of my former dreams. It is all good, and Creator blesses us with a conversation and very touching historical talk from Two Hawks, a campfire song in Lakota, and his flute music filling our ears and hearts with love.
Lakota Medicine Wheel
The medicine wheel is a sacred symbol used by Plains tribes and others to represent all knowledge of the universe.
The medicine wheel consists of a circle with horizontal and vertical lines drawn through the circle’s center. Sometimes, an eagle feather is attached in the wheel’s center.
Lines – The horizontal and vertical lines represent the sun and man’s sacred paths, respectively; the crossing of the two lines indicates the center of the Earth where one stands when praying.
Feather – The eagle feather is a sign of Wakan Tanka’s – the Great Spirit’s – power over everything.
Color placement on the wheel varies based on individual band customs.
The one thing I have really learned these past years as a single person and continue now to learn as a married lady (never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that I’d be married again) is that one must never live in “fear” in life. When I say that I don’t mean that a person should go out on a limb and intentionally put herself in danger or be blind to another’s motives. One should always be cognizant of the issues of life with the forces of negativity on this planet. However, if one’s calling is to work with impoverished inner-city children in a dangerous neighborhood, then one should follow her calling. If one has the impulse to go to Europe and has the means, then one should go. The traveling and the exploration of this world are not to be feared but embraced. Does that mean bad things don’t happen to people? No, that is not what I am stating. I am proclaiming that if the human race is to evolve, love, not fear, must be the driving force in life. To stay at home and not take chances is the worst one could do in any circumstances. The real growth comes with facing the unknown and allowing oneself to conquer the initial anxiety and move toward the calling, the emotion of love and compassion and sharing those with others.
So, my advice to students or young people I have met and will continue to meet in life is to go explore one’s calling, one’s passions, one’s desires in this world. When a person knows himself well enough to do these things, then the entire human race moves forward with that person’s growth.
To my parents, Anna Mae Snow Means and Hugh Darrell Means, and to my Uncle Larry Burger who told me so many stories and shared so much more wisdom, more than a bushel and a peck: “Always tell the truth, and that truth will set you free as a lark.” Larry Burger 1969
This I know: we don’t get a Rehearsal. This life is IT. Bring it, Life, because I can enjoy every single confusing, joyous, blessed and painful moment given in Grace… I love everyone I meet, even the people who “hurt me” are deserving of honor for teaching me. So, come on Life, I can deal well with you and your trying to kick my ever loving butt.
Take a note from my dad, “—-choose to be happy.”
Take a note from my mom, “Stand up straight, and face that cold wind.”
Chapter 1 The Realization:
I looked at him—my current best friend from whom I was separated as a child— with disbelief in my eyes, sitting in a position of uncalculated discomfort, mental entrapment in the moment, simply a self-imposed prison, my body cramped in the corner of a huge cab of a Ford King Ranch pick up with leather seats, my soul shuddering inside, melting into a puddle of cold realization, a crystallization of reality that was clear and sharp and oddly familiar. I was there in that moment looking at my own potential death. Not a physical death, but death as a person who thought for many, many years that I had been in charge, that I had chosen my life, my children’s births, my path as a teacher, my path as a mother. I had practiced a protestant faith. An accepted Presbyterian Pre-Destination belief that assuaged any need for more than simple acceptance that my knowledge as was taught to me was the God, and Christ simply came to absolve my guilt, and I knew in that moment, all the new age beliefs I had attempted to adapt in the past five years away from that Presbyterian upbringing were to take a radical new turn. Sudden. Radical. A sharp metamorphosis. I knew now sitting in the corner of that truck armed with the earth shattering revelation that I was undoubtedly a miracle, and that even more astounding, the birth of my children, both girls, was a miracle beyond comprehension. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the healthy birth of a baby who is able to survive and thrive, in, and of, itself, is miraculous, but some births, given the circumstances of the terrain of the human body, the background, are even more miraculous.
It seems in that moment I had to acknowledge a power much greater than I had ever imagined, or thought I understood. Source is not a simple thing to witness, nor is Source, what some call our God, the Holy Creator, to some a simple concept, a painting on a chapel ceiling or a statue in an ashram or a temple. Creator, Source is beyond that. The connection is beyond the infinite and the arrival here on this planet, in all cases, miraculous. It is not just chaos, or some weird series of fortunate and not so fortunate events. Life, itself, is the miracle. Life itself is the joy. I had been twice blessed more so than I had thought, and these blessings are here now with me to continue to teach me as I am to teach them. The journey I began in life was tenuous, to put it in its best light. My mother had lost a baby boy four years before my birth, at nearly term, due to his lack of sufficient lung development. If he had been born even fifteen years later, he would have survived. He was born in 1956. He was blond haired and blue eyed, and looked like a perfect baby boy. The lungs had not finished growing when he arrived six weeks too soon, and according to my mother, the doctor was annoyed with her intense evening labor pains and early delivery, seemingly more interested in his martini and smoking cigarette in his hands than in my mother’s preterm labor. She later told me that she hadn’t even been given any anesthesia or twilight sleep, which was common in those days. She was angry and in pain, and fearful of something not being right. The fact that the doctor did not see, nor did he care, was that my mother had depression issues, severe depression issues, and was most likely bi-polar, or manic depressive seems unreal to me, but knowing what I have seen in my own birthing rooms, sexism and callousness runs deep in some physicians. There was only one outcome that could permanently unhinge my mother that November evening, and it was the loss of her baby son. Three hours after the new tiny blond Hugh Allen, the Angel, as I like to call him —my big brother in spirit, was born. He just as quickly died. “A blue baby,” that was the appellation for his medical cause of death. His lungs were too underdeveloped to function.
Years later I would stand in front of a tiny stone marker in a huge, rolling cemetery in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, and study the green moss and white and gray lichens on the stone, noting his name, Hugh Allen , and the tiny lamb statue atop the crumbling stone. I would feel nothing but an overwhelming sense of emptiness, and in my mind see my mother, being dragged away from the small, insignificant, yet in some way, not sure how in my mind, a hugely gaping hole consuming her soul, her screaming and crying, embraced tenderly but strongly by the arms of her brothers and my dad—slowly dragging her away to the car, the 1953 Ford coupe, as they put the tiny coffin in the ground. My father said my mother had always been different, even in high school. She was pretty, smart, funny, and yet somehow, aloof, above the fray, with a chortling laughter and far away eyes. Her best friend, Peggy—a brilliant and beautiful woman who would become my teenage mentor and my father’s assistant later in our lives, had said that Anne, my mother, was one of the brightest students, and yet different. Anne was the one who could understand it all with little effort in class, and she tutored my father through high school until his senior year, her junior year, when he quit after a successful football session in a teenage retaliation of a football coach who would not allow my dad’s winning team to go to the state playoffs. My mother was two years younger than my dad, but only a year behind in school, she had skipped a grade up because of her intelligence and was already a tutor as a freshman in high school and continued in that capacity until she graduated, and, my dad, had most likely failed or been held back at least a semester. He often told me of the first day of school when his older sister was instructed to give his first grade teacher a bundle of switches to use on my dad if the need arose. Dad’s sojourn in school was a less than positive experience until he had found a way to get through with athletics and some tutoring to keep his grades passing for the football coach. When the coach abandoned the team’s aspirations to go to play for the championship, Dad was done. He was angry, and full of himself, and so he quit school that senior year, to join the United States Air Force, and was stationed in North Africa, in what was then called French Morocco. He left my mom with a promise, and a ring, and alone for four years. Four years in a tiny town with no college, a conservative southern town with barely a library, my mother waited. Perhaps not completely with patience, because she was reportedly wooed by a man from New York who sent her a silk scarf at one point, and at one juncture, my mother unceremoniously sent the engagement ring back to my father in North Africa. My mother’s aunt , who lived in the east and traveled in New York, had asked my grandmother if my mom could attend college in Syracuse, New York. The tuition was to be completely paid by the aunt, yet my grandmother, raised in that post Victorian mind set, wouldn’t allow Anne to attempt the trip to go to school in Syracuse. She simply refused Anne, and my mother went to her grave resenting that maternal power and that decision that simply altered forever her future. I often wonder if my grandmother saw other issues, issues which concerned her greatly even then about my mother’s probable lack of mental stability in spite of the brilliance, in spite of the intellect roaring to dominate each endeavor. I often wonder if that maternal power my grandmother had over Anne caused some of the struggles that I later would experience with my mother as a teenager.
That moment in the truck, slammed into the corner of the leather seat, after a mile or two hike around a local fishery in Missouri, I realized my mother had been desperate, beyond desperate, to have me. I was a baby born of chemicals and calculation, for the 1960’s, a “manipulated birth” on the scale that was possible then. The medical community, however, didn’t have all the facts and tests run for the unforeseen risks of my chemically insured nine month gestation. I am a DES baby, a DES Daughter in the jargon of the medical community. Not a blue baby, for sure, because obviously I lived, and thrived, and miraculously beat the odds of any early issues, and I beat the odds of having a completely deformed uterus unable to carry to term babies, the odds of having a malformed cervix that would also abort any pregnancy preterm. I had two live births, only one early term miscarriage, and have had only a few glancing issues with pre-cancerous lesions and small growths in my vagina. My beating the astounding statistics that suggest a 50.3% probability of second term miscarriages in all pregnancies (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1013961), as well as high rate of cancer in childhood is miraculous. This life I have lived so far is a miracle, according to medical statistics, that I am even here to write this story unscathed with the potential harm of a drug so untested and unstudied. I am a mom, and I beat the odds of my mother’s desperate need to carry me to full term with the aid of a very controversial and apparently very dangerous Diethylstilbestrol (DES). My mother, regardless of her depression, manic states, and brilliant moments, always attempted what I now see almost the impossible task of putting my life before hers, my needs before hers.
I look now back at the mother I was and see the pattern. As Robert Frost says in his poem, a divine pattern. I see in me that strong almost obsessive need to mother, to stay with and nurture my girls, the need to have my girls, and the need to be the best mother I could have been at the time. I see the pattern set from my mother’s mothering, and her need to love me, and that need to love reflected in my daughters. So where do I go from here? As I look back on that moment of realization in the Ford truck with my cousin, my friend/brother by another mother, I understand now all the “thoughtful” control I assumed I had over my choices to be pregnant and have children were from the beginning guided and instrumented by Creator.
Design— by Robert Frost
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.
Chapter 2 The Switch
I was a tiny tot when I started staying with grandparents, aunties and uncles for weekends, sometimes weeks, because at points in time when moving or when pregnant with my baby brother, my mom couldn’t cope with my tot energy levels at times, or when she was sinking too deep into the depressive phase of her illness. I believe that when Creator gives a great gift, there is also a counter balance that must be present. My mother’s intellect, because it was mostly forced into a type of dormancy when she did not attend college, caused a shift in her toward more depressive states. I feel, strongly, that when a person can use her gifts from Creator fully, her life flows more freely, there is less illness and possible depression. My dad’s oldest sister told me when I was an infant, my father would leave his job at noon to come home to feed and diaper me. My Auntie A. seemed aghast that my father was checking on me, and was trying to point out that my mother was at points incapacitated and unable to take care of me. I don’t feel that way now, as I look back on it. I feel my mother did her very best, and that my father was a compassionate and wise man who knew that my mother needed help.
Now that I have had children, those sleepless nights, diaper disasters, crying hours, spilled milk, and common experiences, I admire my parents even more for their wisdom in the 1960’s when women -–due to society’s expectations and prejudices— had to be solely responsible for the children; my father was aware and awakened enough to know when help was necessary and required. How many women have experienced that kind of man? It is a rare blessing to have that kind of powerfully joined couple, and in the 1950’s and 1960’s my parents were that kind of loving couple. I know that this type of father is truly a blessing, and should be the model when a new mother needs help. My mother didn’t feel close enough to her own mother to ask for help, and I understand why as I look back at her now. I think the judgment that Mom felt from my maternal grandmother was overpowering at times. Anne needed to feel she could be on her own, and through my father’s awareness and compassion, she was able to be functional and independent for most of my childhood as a stay at home mom. I think in many ways I was protected by love from the outset. At times in my infancy and childhood, I was kept by my Aunt Leta who was an R.N., my other aunt, Aunt Mae, who was the secretary to the Fire Chief of Ft. Smith, and my grandmothers, both stay at home mothers, but as opposite in personalities as the sun and the moon. My grandmother Georgia the ex river boat dancer and cook, and my grandmother Lydia Jane who was the accountant, book keeper, grocery store co-owner. Both women were strong. Both women functioned as opposite ends of the same rainbow of love. The joy I felt in later years when I was with my grandmothers and aunts kept me stable and gave me confidence when I needed it. I credit these women for making me more whole, more able to cope with the challenges life offered up. It does indeed take a village to raise children. What kind of village does society have now? Can society begin to see the need for compassion in all areas, but especially the area of raising children?
My memories of my early childhood are fragmented, as all memories of distant times are when there is no record except a few snapshots, or perhaps a random splattering of conversations to trigger that synapse in the brain long inactive. I do remember loving the outdoors, and my mother told me once of an adventure I decided to take when she was in the last term of her pregnancy with my younger brother. Apparently, I had seen or heard or perceived something in the distance as a toddler of two and a half years, and I squeezed through a gap in the chicken wire fence that surrounded my back yard. I took off. My mother, large with child, called and called my name, but it was as if I were deaf, or totally ignoring her fervent pleas to come back to her. She was afraid to lose sight of me, and unable to get through the fence, as quite blissfully, I wandered forth to the meadow and empty lots behind the tiny rental bungalow in Bentonville. My mother panicked, rightfully so, and rushed back into the house, called my father to come home immediately to gather his willful small toddler from her wanderings. By the time my harried father arrived to rescue me and calm my mother, I had returned and was unaware I had caused such a stir. I don’t remember a scolding that day, but I am sure I received one. My mother told me that story several times, as if it were a watermark of my personality. Ignoring my parents’ calls, yes, a watermark event I would most definitely agree. As I look back on this past decade’s journey of my life, I believe I was as a toddler captivated by and perhaps listening to the angels, and yes, it was a defining moment for me. I have a hard time listening, even now, to those who love me, who would protect me in my wanderings. So, I rely on my angels and Creator to protect me. This reliance on Spiritual protection I am sure has saved me more than once in my stubbornness, my curious nature, and my wanderings.
When I was a child of the 1960’s, corporal punishment was still considered a fair and just treatment and method of discipline for a child. There were very few children in my circle and none in my family that had not been at least threatened with a switch or whipping with a belt. Both my brother and I had been the recipients of physical punishment with a leather belt, switches, fly swatters and slippers from our parents as well as time outs. I feel that physical punishment with children is never the best path, or even the preferred path. My father confessed to me when I was a teenager that he had beaten me with a belt when I was a toddler, leaving bruises on my legs and bottom. He cried as he told me, and asked my forgiveness. I told him, reassured him I had no memory of the beating, but he still had deep regrets. This speaks to the issue of corporal punishment, the guilt and the needless use of it with children. Other than two exceptions for which I feel deep remorse, my daughters were raised without corporal punishment, but rather with simple time outs. To control a child, time outs are enough. I have had deep conversations with both of my daughters, and told them that if I could change one thing about my raising of them, it is the use of corporal punishment for any reason. I am just relieved that I did not go to the abusive level of my father and mother as I grew up—and let me state here that both of my parents were mild in comparison to the abuse that some of my friends and family suffered as children. A spanking, with a slipper, or a pop of a hand at the most was common in the home of all my friends. Many argue that corporal punishment is necessary for discipline. I disagree. Creator made children small, for a reason. Adults can easily pick up a child and move the child quickly to a safe time out. The television show “Super Nanny” shows proof that time outs and consistency are even more effective than physical punishment when disciplining small children. Why would an adult ever use brute force on an innocent child when another road is possible to teach self-control? How can a lack of control —emotionally or physically—ever teach that principle?
Now for the hard part. Now for the hard part. First we need a break. First I need a break.
First, go outside. Look up. See that? That is the sky. Look down. That is the ground. Kinda crunchy white today. Snowy? Hello? You feel that? that is the wind, the air, the freezing temperature or the sting of snowflakes. Now, go back inside. Feel the warmth of the fire in the fireplace, smell the coffee brewing. FORGET that person who hurt your heart. FORGET him/ her. NOW, look at the wonderful person staring back at you from the mirror. There you are! Beautiful! Handsome! Intelligent! Funny! Worthwhile, and NOT the person you like to bash.. YOU are FABULOUS! You are GOD’s CHILD, Stardust. Period.
I am seven years old. I don’t have any memory of the previous two years, and think it is strange that now I can’t sleep alone at my grandmother’s home. I have to sleep in her bed. My aunts and uncles in general start showing extreme favoritism to me, and one aunt screams at me that I am a liar. I remember that.
Now at age 53, I finally stop having the nightmares, the waking up in the middle of the night remembering not being able to breath, feeling pressure and weight on my chest. I am able to now sleep on my back for the first time in my life. I don’t have to be curled around a pillow in a defensive position. I don’t dream of filthy toilets, or being lost. I don’t fear the dark any more. The one thing I know at this juncture in my life, children need to be respected as individuals, separate personalities from birth. Children need to have the same protection and respect of an adult. Psychological damage in a child can and does cause life-long issues that can and do often remain undiagnosed and untreated. The trauma a child suffers at the hands of an adult, whether a well- intended parent whipping a child with a belt or a sick and twisted pedophile amounts to the same traumatic results in the brain. The child is forever changed. When I was around 5 years old until the age of 7, I was routinely molested by an adult in my extended family whenever I visited my paternal grandmother. When I finally got the awareness and the courage to confront the molestations, and to inform others about him, and to confront others who knew what he was and his patterns, I was called a liar. I was later shamed by his wife, my aunt, in front of my first cousins who were also being abused by the man’s wife mentally and physically in addition to their father molesting them. To be fair, she was a woman with limited experiences and capacity to understand what was occurring right under her roof and the roof of her mother-in-law next door, my grandmother. He did unspeakable things to his daughters, to me, to male cousins, perhaps even to my brother. God was kind and wiped my brother’s memory, and most of my memory. That is why I know God exists in some form. I don’t remember much.
I remember his holding me down. I remember his smell. Sweat. Oil. Gasoline. Dirt under his fingernails. Tobacco…. I remember his mocking tone with me when I happened in his presence during the daylight hours. He called me dirty pet names. He told me how “sweet I tasted” and I was confused. He only molested me, raped me, at night when the household was asleep and I was alone and vulnerable in a secluded bedroom. I was five. It lasted until I was seven years old, when I informed others in the family about him when I was down for my summer visit to my grandmother’s home. I was ostracized immediately.
She looked up at her aunt, tears streaming down her face, snot pouring from her 7 year old nose. What had she done to deserve this disrespect? What had she done to be punished by those she had trusted and loved? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There I am. A kid, a baby girl betrayed by the people I loved the most in my life. It is simply a statement of fact. I was told over and over by my grandmother, that no matter what, the man who molested me, who helped change my brain permanently with trauma and fear, was her son and she “had to love” him, no matter what. I now see that was her way of justifying her protecting him from prosecution, protecting the family from shameful exposure. I don’t understand from that little girl’s point of view, but I understand, in a way, from a mother’s point of view some 49 years later.
Called a liar by that man’s wife, I sank into shame and guilt that I wasn’t “good enough” as I had been previously told. My dad and mom and grandmother —I am not sure who—knew. Looking back now I know I will only have the fragments of the incident. I won’t ever remember or even be able to piece together all of it. A blessing? No. I wanted and still want to know it all. Who knows? Who knew at the time? I was given confirmation almost forty five years later from a first cousin who was four years older than me. I tried to question another cousin, who claimed he didn’t know, and I know that was a lie crafted to protect his culpability. Can I hate them? All of them? Some of them, perhaps only a few? My dad, I suspect was intentionally kept in the dark. I think he would have killed my uncle. My brother told me of the night something happened to me, and I was the center of adults screaming in my grandmother’s home. I was taken from the bedroom at the front of the house that I usually slept in alone, and put to bed in my grandmother’s bed, and never slept alone after that night. My brother remembers my grandmother chasing my uncle from the home the next morning with an iron skillet, screaming at him. She was a tiny 4’11” woman, and my uncle was a rawboned muscular working man who could have lifted her over his head, but apparently he ran from the house in fear. The fact of the matter is that most of the adults in the family knew this man was twisted, sick, limited in many ways, and yet it was the shameful secret. Who abused him? That was the question my therapist decades later asked. I say now, who cares? HE chose the behavior, and his victims didn’t have a choice. When I told, I was shut up, shut down, accused of lying, made to sleep with my grandmother or go to my safe uncle and auntie’s house in the next town away from my grandmother’s home. Away from the sick and twisted uncle who lived next door to her. Her only explanation was that “men are like that” —“men can’t be trusted in that way” and that I had to forgive that monster for screwing up my already stressed psychological stability. My mother’s depression, her absence from me physically, and often mentally, coupled with the molestation caused a switch to snap to the “off” position in my mind for many years. I found myself stuck in a modality of losing time, losing memories, losing pieces of myself as I grew older. As I grew into a young woman, my relationships with boys, young men, was all over the map. I was giving mixed messages at times. These mixed messages first appeared when I was just beginning the journey into womanhood. I think I still have that “switch” in my brain at times, and I don’t know if I will ever be rid of the damage, the lack of ability to guide myself in certain situations. I long for a man to feel safe with, and yet, I don’t know that is possible.
The time I remember most vividly as a twelve year old was my first crush on an older boy, who, unfortunately, was a typical older boy. My parents were too distracted, my dad with work, my mom with her depression or manic phase, and their soon to be self-destructing marriage, to realize that I was “at risk” with the 15 year old boy down the street. It started pretty innocently enough. His name was Rick. I rode a school bus to and from school, and in the 1970’s all ages were mixed on the buses, from first grade to senior high school students. Rick started to sit with me on the bus, and drape his arm over me. I was 5’ 3” tall and about 98 pounds, maybe. Rick was not a huge kid, but he was much bigger than me, lanky, tall, a seventies’ version of a curly haired red head. The bus route which my brother and I took each day to school caused me to be one of the first students on in the mornings, along with my brother, and one of the last ones off in the afternoons, around 4 in the afternoon. Rick lived three doors down from us, and rode the bus only in the afternoons. The bus route lasted an hour one way. The sitting together on the bus slowly evolved into my spending time with Rick after school in the neighborhood. I never went to his house that I could remember, but we played in the open fields around the houses, the hill in front of my home, and there is where Rick attempted to “court me” in a very 15 year old stupid way. One afternoon, as he and I were lying in the luscious tall spring green grass of a hillside near our homes, with my brother and other neighborhood kids playing only a few yards away, Rick made the first move of the typical horny fifteen year old male. He asked me, “Hey, what is the difference between a boy and a girl?” I somehow sensed this wasn’t leading to an intellectual discussion of brain patterns or psychology, actually. So, I hedged and told him I didn’t know what he meant, to be more specific. He then took my hand and drew an imaginary line at my neck across, and then another line below my crotch, across my two thighs, and asked again, “What is the difference between a boy and a girl, here to here?” I feigned ignorance and innocence and said I didn’t know. Right.
I have never ever been a convincing liar. I had a brother who could read my mind, and that was a clue I was out on a limb of prevaricating of the most obvious kind. I wonder now if there was some lingering behavior in me, some unconscious action that caused a 15 year old to pick me as his “first sexual target.” A few days later after my avoiding any specific description of the difference between boys and girls, but an admitting of knowing there was a difference, Rick volunteered to bring his army surplus pup tent down to my backyard to use as a “club house” with me and my brother. My mother, not suspecting any unusual activity, or simply not operating with a full capacity at the time, allowed Rick to erect the tent in our backyard, under the dogwood tree, my mother’s favorite tree.
He then left the tent (a canvas Army surplus pup tent) standing a few days and didn’t see me either in the bus or on the street. I think I was wondering when he’d come over, so when I saw him one afternoon I invited Rick to visit the tent and me. I was overjoyed at the prospect of a tent in our backyard to play in, to have as a club house. I was twelve, and this was the era of innocence for me. I had not any idea that I had a figure or shape of a woman in my innocence, even though my body was developing ahead of many of my classmates’ schedules. One afternoon, around five or so, the spring sun was already on the daylight savings’ time schedule, Rick finally came down to see me. I excitedly asked him to come into the tent with me. He stretched out, and rested his head on his hand and looked at me excitedly telling him about my day. I was in my mode of telling the story of the day, my happy place. Suddenly, Rick asked me to touch him. I looked at him and asked why and where? He smiled and said to touch the zipper on his jeans. Under the zipper, under the denim was an erect penis. I touched him lightly—red alarms going off in my head—bells—screams—yelling— cursing—-hiding—tears—-searching for that trace of something vague and scary and familiar blowing up in my head like an small explosive detonated by a half memory— and then I suddenly took my hand away from his crotch, and calmly I said, “Hey, I am thirsty! I want to get a drink. Do you want a drink, maybe a 7-Up?” I repeated myself until he agreed, and he looked at me curiously. Unknowingly, I was in a panic attack, my first full blown anxiety attack that was protecting a damaged section or an ignored or buried part of my brain, My mind had no cognitive conscious memory, My brain had automatically just created some idiotic excuse to leave his presence. I went into the house and told my mom. I didn’t go back out. My mother somehow came out of her valium induced passivity and called my dad. Then she walked out into the back yard and requested firmly that Rick go home. He did. That is the last memory I have of seeing Rick. As far as I know, after my dad and mom called Rick’s parents, he never rode the bus again. At least I have no memory of it. I had no memory of anything having to do with Rick nor his friendship, after that day in the tent, the ride on the bus with his arm draped over my shoulder, nothing much at all before that day in the tall grass and then in the tent, nothing at all other than the bus driver teasing me about Rick being my boyfriend. After that, I think the bus driver asked me once about it, and I didn’t reply. It was done. I stuffed any emotions, memories, or thoughts of Rick away, far away in the recesses of my mind. I had to deal with the pain of being the smart kid, artistic and quiet and obedient kid in school. The nerd. The albino. I had my often severely depressed or slightly manic mom to deal with each day. I was in a mode of letting stuff go away. I see that pattern following me throughout my life.
Years later, when dating as a teenager, I had a hard time controlling my sexuality, my blossoming libido, and I was either unable to say, “hey, stop” or was passive in the extreme if the boy was too aggressive. All things considered, I was in a place of apparently divine protection since nothing seriously damaging ever happened other than some verbal abuse and inadequate groping of inexperienced Bible Belt little boys who thought that they were men. The ones I wished had made more advances, never did with me. The boys I dated, with the exception of one or two jerks who were verbally or mentally abusive, were all very conservative good boys, who did not take advantage of me. I consider it a miracle I wasn’t date raped then, although after my divorvce that did happen finally. I was a very blessed young teen, overall. I consider it a divine act of spiritual protection.
What no longer serves me is that feeling of powerlessness, that feeling that I can’t be loved. When I loved, in the past, it was almost like I was desperate for some kind of attention, like a child, who was scared to be alone. What I learned as a young mother of two toddler girls was that Christ mind is in of itself a choice for love, that miracles are based in love. I had the love of my parents, my children, and in the best way he could, for as long as he could, my husband, who cheated on me repeatedly later on in our marriage. I now see this as not some betrayal of myself, but of my marriage as it was designed. I was the best wife I knew how to be, but I won’t deny that my childhood damage caused gaps in my ability to relate the way my husband at the time he most needed me to relate to him–I had no tools to do so, to open up, to trust him not to hurt me, so he sought solace other places with other women. I was happiest as a mom, as a volunteer, as somehow an “arrested woman” who saw sex as a duty, with little pleasure in it for me. When I finally left Tom, in the months following the separation and the divorce, I found myself alone and in a place of maturing that I has skipped over as a teen and young adult.
Psychologists state that if one misses a developmental phase in one’s youth, one will be required to access that phase and complete it even as an adult. The fact of the matter is this, whether or not one believes in psychology or religion, humans must process the trauma experienced, or I feel from personal experience, humans are doomed to repeat the trauma and make the same experiences repeat again and again until the mind, spirit, psychology of the individual deals with it, has some sort of resolution. There is no “free ride” in life, at all, ever. Whatever I don’t recognize now, in the present or in the past that was traumatic, and don’t find a way to resolve and forgive in some fashion, will continue to plague or haunt me. This can be proven simply looking at the history of mankind. How mankind chooses to deal with life, in fear or in love, bears out the necessary choice for which reality plays out in life. My life is often reflected in great literature, as all great literature can do for humanity, and some of my favorite examples are found in Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness,
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” Part 1, pg. 4
“Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems I am trying to tell you a dream–making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams…no, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence–that which makes its truth, its meaning–its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream–alone…” Part 1, pg. 23
The Congo was raped. The Congolese were abused, beaten, tortured, ravaged, raped, left for dead if they didn’t produce ivory, rubber, or gold.
So how does this apply? I was the supposed golden child of my father’s family. And in many ways, I understand why. Daddy was a favorite, and a smart child. He also was a quiet man who was intensely in charge without the bullying aspect. I was the one that was sought since I looked like his blond aspect and my personality was forged to please adults, perform for them. For good or for bad, my body, my fair skin, was my fate, all my being was to be desired. That is what happened to me. I was molested repeatedly from age 5 to age 7. I was the Congo or I was the Healer if a positive spin seems more appropriate, a resource of sorts. I was the person with the “different look” from others in my gang of first cousins. I was the “favored” one and yet I was the persecuted one. I never had resolution of the lies and the trauma as an innocent child. I was physically abused on occasion—whipped with a leather belt, left alone, and psychologically and emotionally abandoned a bit too often on occasion as a child. It was how my parents knew to parent, often times. It was not that they sought to hurt me. The molestation, the rape of my innocence was most certainly not intended by my parents, who were ignorant of any risk to me, which I have to, no choice, but to believe. These circumstances —human suffering in a small child—set up in me a repeating pattern of my feeling isolated, alone, abandoned, and unloved as a young adult. These circumstances translated into my picking lessons, circumstances, repetition of anxious feelings that I had as a small child. I was attracted to boys who were at the least emotional bullies, or unavailable to me, so I looked outside to repeat the abandonment, the feeling of isolation, the feelings that somehow I was always responsible for other’s pain. Then somehow I made it to now. And now, I know it is not about me, in this way.
She carried his small two year old body up the seven steps to the bedrooms, leaving me alone in the dining-living area, wondering if I’d ever be her favorite again. My brother was now reigning. I knew things, but then, again, I was only five. I had started leaving my twin four poster maple bed in the wee hours of the morning, wandering back down the waxed hard wood stairs to sit on the brown tweed covered high backed couch to bounce my body against its spring filled upholstered back, bouncing over and over back and forth, waiting for the “honey bees” to show up… the golden lights in my eyelids. She mistakenly thought if I were allowed to stay up late, somehow that would force me to sleep through the night. I was already rebelling at the local private kindergarten during nap times. I refused to lie down without my “blankie.” There had been an uproar with the pre-school teacher and teenage assistants. I was labeled as “difficult.” I remain so to this day.
So when I now look at teens, I see them. I see the pain, the hope, the longing in many of their eyes. Many think I am just another one of “them”—the adults who cause pain, who shut them up, or shut them out, or abuse power. At times, as a classroom teacher, I have done that. I still admit my growth is imperfect, but I understand. I know things. I see things. I understand the honey bees swarming in front of their pained eyes in the wee hours of the morning. It is as though I am linked to the pain, and also to the love that is their potential. I believe we are all linked to the same pain and the same joy and love. I believe with all my heart that we have choices to make each moment, and if we ignore our pain, our emotions positive or negative, the choices we make may lead us places we don’t wish to go. There are a myriad of choices in each day, and those choices can cause us to loose ourselves if we aren’t connected to our centers, our soul’s purposes…
According to some recent re-run, on OWN, a woman I have come to admire said to Oprah one day a few years back, “You are only as sick as your secrets…” and this I believe with all my heart. Once we let go of the need to have secrets, or be anything but authentic, we become the powerful purpose driven souls we are meant to be. I don’t know what secrets my mother kept in her heart, but I am sure beyond a doubt those secrets caused her much pain, and much anger, and resulted in a form of depression and repression that caused her subsequent death. We are always in a place to change course, to adjust our sails, to flow with life and the river of Creation, but if we ignore those signature and singular moments in our lives, we will flounder, and we will suffer at times needlessly.
I had known him about a year and we had become quite serious with one another, even to the point I had relocated my job and my home for him. I was in love in a way I never thought possible. It was soul love, best friend love, chemically induced hubba hubba love and all those fairy tales I was told as a child of the 60’s and 70’s plus some I didn’t even know existed. I laughed every day until my stomach was hurting. I ate well and was pampered and allowed to just be myself. I was the princess who rescued the prince, and also rescuing herself at the same time. I was allowed to be me in ways I had never experienced, and I kept shaking my head waiting for that glass slipper to drop and splinter into crystal shards. I was in paradise on a mountain over a lake and countryside full of bubbling springs, artists, ex-hippies, writers, and retired folk. I was teaching at a tiny rural school nestled in an artists’ community. I was in love with life. I was in love.
In the courtship, before my transition to the tiny school, my prince had to get a house sitter/doggie and kitty cat sitter when it was apparent that his current hired hand was on another road to rekindling a drug addiction. It was his determination to spin time with me that caused him to seek a replacement dog/cat/ house sitter, and it became very apparent that my prince was determined to court me with equity and kindness, and that his beloved pets whom he adored, would be taken care of in the manner in which he wanted them to be cared for each day at his home. I was not aware that he had made such elaborate plans, but he loved his little dog and his big hound dog and his kitty cat named after Stevie Ray Vaughn. It was all good.
As we progressed our relationship, he proposed that I live with him, marry him, and change jobs…almost within the same breath. I was stunned and happy, and somehow it clicked like a Swiss-made watch. WE moved me into this wooded paradise by the lake, and we began a life together with my art, my writing, my life moving the direction I wished with his doggies and kitty cat midlife children adopting me. We took two trips to see his parents and family in Chicago over the course of the first 9 months we were together. All was well. All was genuinely cool until the first big snow storm hit, and we were snowed in and his hand had been through its second surgery in six months. He was tense about finances, and I was tense about giving up my hard won independence and the serious nature of our relationship was on the tenuous ground of holding back and not saying what we feared. Then I made an error at the exact same time he made the same error. We confided in the neighbor and new friend who had become our trusted doggie/ cat / house sitter. She offered to be a sounding board for me –a safe place to vent frustrations about work, about life, even the relationship. My prince trusted her as well about similar items and spoke to her about me. This newly trusted person in our lives then began to play “counselor” and ” a trusted confidant” to us both, unknown to either of us.
She then planted seeds of distrust, perhaps unknowingly at first, but at a certain point, it became a boiling point in the relationship, and she was trapped into what she thought was the right thing to do in her mind but was absolutely destructive until we took her innocently placed advice—to go to a recommended premarital counselor. She tried to pick one for us, assuming that our differences were too deep to be resolved–and in some ways she was right. We needed help in our communication, our approach to each other, and the baggage of 50 plus years on this planet. What she never really considered is that we would figure out the best way to approach this bridge with the help of a counselor out of her loop or sphere of influence because he was recommended by her first choice. My man and I weathered 8 plus sessions of counseling and found we were just about a perfect match. It was a godsend. Then, however, through the timing and the absence of us at home in the evenings, the little dog was lost, bitten by the confusion of our relationship changing with each other and with the neighbor who had become her “other owner” so to speak after several weeks of looking after the doggies as we did counseling. It became apparent that the well past mid-life doggie was a pawn in the relationship triangle. It was sad to see the confusion of the little dog that had once been the running mate of our larger more outdoor hound dog who was also my prince’s favorite pet.
He and I were hurt and reached out to our neighbor and once close friend. She bowed out. She continued to “entertain” our littlest dog but had locked out our big black hound dog due to her pet chickens. We thought we could forge a new relationship with her, but she ignored our texts and calls, the olive branches we extended, and the little dog was fast becoming the pawn in the game. We ended the stalemate by finding our little one–his first dog — a new owner, one in an adjoining county who loved her at first sight. It was over, but so was the friendship that both of us had considered very close. It was now obvious to us that our neighbor had some sort of agenda that did not involve us being happy. The lost little dog was not only the pet but the friendship, small, loud at once, and then silent, and unstable in temperament and strength, intelligent but struggling with the stubbornness to release old habits that no longer serve all for the same good or benefit. I believe that decisions are guided by a Source or Creator that exists and are at times hard for each of us to make because there is truly free will involved so that the lessons can continue to arrive as needed. The little one pictured below is now in a happy home a county away from this home, living out her life with other small dogs and a doting owner. No one can always foresee the future, but each has the responsibility to honor the present moment.