A little story about race (ism).

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Please take a moment to grab a coffee or a glass of wine and sit back while I tell you all a little story about race(ism). And how it has impacted my life.

Back when my sister and I were in college in Normal, IL, I was fumbling and bumbling toward a degree in partying.  Cindy moved back up from Tallahassee, FL where she spent her first two years of college pursuing her degree in Nutrition, to finish it in Illinois. I don’t know why–if she was just homesick or missed me or I missed her so much she couldn’t stand it– but she did move back and in with me. We lived in this really weird house, where we shared a bedroom for the last year that she finished her degree. I finished my bumbling and decided to drop out for a year while deciding what I wanted to do (and stop wasting my parents’ money in college, while I was feeling so unsettled and directionless).

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I’ll just say it. We smoked a lot of pot back then. It was the late 70’s and that was our thing. We had a small house, shared with two other gals, with no TV but a stereo, and we spent our time doing bongs, and listening to Joan Armatrading, Todd Rundgren, Peter Frampton and Gino Vanelli. You get the picture.

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While maintaining my solid C average my last semester there, tripping over my intellect, I worked as a waitress at a swanky country club. It was there that I learned to drink Scotch, which I now despise. I also learned how to serve, while being treated like crap by wealthy people. To be honest, I was probably a pretty terrible waitress. But I did my time.

Cindy, while finishing her degree, worked in the kitchen at the International dorm. She served food there, so was popular as she gave two scoops of macaroni and cheese to her favorite diners. Her outgoing, bubbly personality gave way to many invitations to the International parties. We met students from all over the world that year.

While living in our small, smoky house, and trying to nurse what I’m sure was a low-grade depression, I decided to lift my spirits, by having this friend of a friend, former hair stylist now student, give me some “highlights” in my drab, dishwater blond hair. She sat me on a cold metal chair, in our small linoleumed floor kitchen, while painting this terrible green goop all over my head. She said this “henna treatment” would perk up my blond hair and give me highlights. I needed anything to perk me up, so readily paid her $20 fee for this service. I was so excited for my new look!

Right up to the moment where she was rinsing the goop out, in the mirrorless kitchen sink, and said in a flat tone “wow, you have a lot of red in your hair”. I felt my heart begin to race, as I had never had one shred of red in my hair that I knew of.

She trimmed and dried my hair,  and I quickly scooted to our one poorly lit, clawfoot tubbed bathroom, to be met with….well…Howdy Doody staring back at me from that old medicine cabinet mirror.

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Yep, my hair was bright orange. Not a cute, natural red even, but some kind of brassy, bright orange, like you would see on a clown wig. I was horrified.

The stylist knew this was bad. She offered to run to the hair supply store to get this formula that would take this hideous wig off. Which it most certainly did not. Nothing would take Henna off, it turned out. I was stuck with it.

I went from this kind of granola, hippie chick style who rarely wore makeup and mostly bell bottom jeans, and cotton Indian shirts who wanted a little, not obvious, perk-up. To someone who clearly was out of their damn mind.

I had to go to work the next day like that. And after the bug-eyed responses, people laughed. Of course, they did, I looked like a straight-haired clown. I can’t blame them, really. It was all so disorienting.

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yes, it was this color

But it truly was not fun for me, at all. I didn’t want to leave the house. The low-grade depression elevated to a medium grade. Not even a bong hit made me feel better. Elton John couldn’t even cheer me up. It was terrible.

One morning I woke up up to an envelope waiting for me on the small kitchen table. It was a card from Cindy. It was one of those Ziggy cards. Well, I’ll just show you:

 

That signature is the very one I took to the tattoo parlor to have her name tattooed on to my back. Things started getting a lot better in my life after I did that too. I met my husband that year.

 

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Now that I’ve digressed, on top of my digressions, you can see why I asked you to pony up to your laptop with a relaxing beverage, because this post is about race, and I’m about to tell you why. Please feel free to take a break and refill your glass or cup, in my case.

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One of the friends Cindy made that year in the International dorm was a man named Rufus O. Rufus was a very tall, very dark, very handsome man from Nigeria. When I say dark, I mean Rufus’ skin tone was as black as I’ve ever seen. If we were at one of the many house parties I attended with him, he was often spinning records quietly off to the side, and you could find him because of his intense white smile. He had the whitest teeth and the biggest smile, made all the brighter from the contrast.

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Rufus was a graduate student at that point. I think he was studying chemistry. He was a quiet man with a loud, deep voice. When he spoke, you listened. His voice often reminded me of that Uncola man on the commercials. He was smart and motivated and kind of a straight arrow for us, as we were basically the party girls.

I don’t know how long it took for them, or how long before she admitted it to me, but Cindy fell madly in love with Rufus. She kept it quiet for awhile, you know, the interracial thing.

When it came time to move forward after she graduated and I dropped out, she and Rufus decided to pursue further education at Western Illinois University. She, a Master’s in Community Health Education and Rufus, a PhD in Chemistry; maybe Biology. Rufus had his eye on medical school, which he did ultimately pursue, and complete. Cindy also completed her Master’s curriculum during the two years she spent with Rufus there. They were both excellent students.

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Our brother John, followed Cindy to MacComb, after graduating high school and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Marketing at Western. I wonder if Cindy hadn’t been there, if he would have been able to make that milestone. John spent all of his free time with Cindy and Rufus, who named him “Big M” and “Vacumn Cleaner”. Rufus would say both of those names for John, while laughing his deep hearty laugh. “Big M” referred to “Big Miser” as John was always mooching off of them and “Vacumn Cleaner” referred to his ability to eat mass quantities of their food.

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Rufus was an amazing cook and taught us all how to make this Nigerian chicken dish and Jellof rice. Rufus and Cindy often hosted dance parties.  Prince was one of Rufus’ favorites as he spun that original Prince record, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” our favorite, as Cindy and I spun our disco moves in their dark living room. He gifted us these long, tie dyed, African gowns  that we wore, as we pulled off our best Travolta-style moves.

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Their apartment was filled with serious studies, and serious fun. It was full of love and laughter.

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I don’t know when it started, but Cindy started to feel the sting of racism there–some from within our own family. Maybe most of it, actually. Marj, our stepmother, raised in Mississippi, was liberal politically but still a victim of her roots. She wrote Cindy letters– intellectually judgmental letters–telling her things like “I just think it’s selfish for you to not consider what any future children you might have with Rufus might suffer in this world”. She didn’t appeal to the world’s judgment but marked Cindy with words like “self-centered” and “as usual, all about yourself”. Classic Marj.

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Once, my Dad, Marj and Marj’s parents went to MacComb to visit Cindy.  Marj’s parents, our legal “grandparents” who we had known for over a decade at that time, refused to get out of the car, much less step foot in Cindy and Rufus’ apartment. They refused to even meet Rufus. Their boycott spoke volumes, and Cindy felt it.

During their tenure at Western, I got my act together, went cold turkey off pot, and moved to Arizona to pursue my nursing career. I got straight A’s the first year I re-enrolled in college. I changed my entire style of dress and back-to-blonde hair to a more conservative look. I made new friends and settled in well as a full-time student with a part-time job at a nursing home. that I’d set up before I even moved out. Arizona was a good fit for me.

Cindy came to visit me within that first year, and was restless. She spoke openly for the first time about how the stress of being in this interracial relationship was affecting her. She showed me letters from Marj, and shared about the Mississippi boycott. All of this was terribly painful for her. Their racism did hurt her, and it did affect her choices.

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Cindy ultimately decided to leave Rufus. It was during that decision, that she confessed to me that she had been married to him for two years. Rufus, being more conservative, didn’t want to live together without being married, she explained. So she agreed and slipped away to a courthouse, and married him in secret. I was astonished she had kept this from me. I guess this is the kind of pressure she felt. This was in 1981, not 1951, but she felt it just the same.

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Throughout the years, Cindy would reflect on Rufus and how good he was to her. How he helped her achieve goals, how they almost never fought, how kind he was even after she decided to leave him. At times she was wistful, wondering if they ever might find each other again. They did keep in touch, periodically.

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Cindy, then followed me again, this time to Arizona, where she put the final touches on her Master’s degree–an internship at ASU. Shortly after graduating, she broke my heart in a million pieces, when she decided to take an incredibly prestigious, corporate job in Minneapolis and moved there. She headed up one of the first corporate wellness programs in the country, at Control Data, and bought a condo. She was financially successful but became personally miserable after three years. Again, she moved back to Arizona, in with me for awhile, and ultimately got her own apartment in Mesa. It was from that apartment that all the walls came tumbling down.

Cindy was still trying to get on her feet when she met Michael Apelt. She took easy jobs, having broken away from the corporate pressure of Control Data. She needed a break, she said. She worked as a waitress at a pizza restaurant, and as a weight loss counselor at a couple of well known companies. “Nutri-Hell” she liked to call one of them. She wasn’t happy, all of her friends were getting married, and having babies, and she was headed to her 30th birthday feeling pretty adrift and unaccomplished.

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Along came tall, blond, blue-eyed Michael Apelt. Sociopathic radar zeroed in on the most vulnerable women in the disco. There were many, but Cindy was the most vulnerable. And the most hopeful. perhaps. Among her many entries about Michael in her diary, one stood out to me most bittersweet, “He is my white Rufus”, she wrote.

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This caucasian, Aryan even, German, blond, blue-eyed man who’d swept her off her feet, within weeks, abetted by his brother, murdered Cindy just as they’d planned from the start, for life insurance– days after she’d received a postcard from coal-black Rufus sent from, of all places, Germany.  Her former husband wrote about how he was coming to the States, and would like to visit her sometime over the Holidays. Of the many if-onlys, I wonder what might have happened if he’d arrived even a few days before that terrible, terrible night; Dec. 23rd, 1988.

Rufus’ postcard ended up as a piece of evidence in a courtroom, the following year.

Rufus, initially, became the prime suspect in her murder, helped right along by Michael Apelt, who tried to divert suspicion from himself and his co-murdering brother. He did the same with me, incidentally. The Apelts were ultimately arrested after their second attempt to throw suspicion in the African American direction, claiming “two black men came to the door and threatened us”. They clearly didn’t know that undercover officers were watching Cindy’s apartment, where the murderers had holed up 24/7, when they weren’t executing their cover-up or hawking her jewelry. The detectives saw no men fitting that racist description anywhere on the property, much less at their doorstep. The Apelts were arrested right after that final slip in their plan.

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I was questioned at length about Rufus. Rufus was tracked down and his passport investigated. He was interrogated  over the phone. I think Homeland Security was involved at one point. Rufus went from dreaming about revisiting the love of his life, to finding out she’d been murdered, and harshly interrogated about it. Merry Christmas Rufus.

Rufus tracked me down eventually; devastated and confused, obviously. He talked, also, about still loving Cindy and having wished they could reconcile. If only he had found her again, a few months earlier.

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Over the years, especially diving in to these events for my book, I’ve wondered what now-deceased Marj, and her parents might say, as we naturally compare the relationships of Nigerian Rufus with his MD, and night-black complexion, to the lily-white con men who stabbed Cindy to death in the desert, on the night before Christmas Eve.

Was your relief that she left Rufus something you celebrate now? Was your abject dismissal of the value of him as a human being or them as a couple, something you feel proud of?

Is the fact that your judgment of Cindy’s relationship, became part of the recipe that pushed her out of the only safe arms she had ever known with a man, into a knife to her throat by someone you would have approved of, something you feel good about?

Did you learn one damn thing through all of this?

Rufus went on to practice medicine internationally.

The Apelt brothers went to Death Row. One of them got married from prison.

I don’t know if Rufus ever remarried.

Make a Lasagna, Make a Friend

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I’ve lived in a cozy condo community in Tempe, AZ for about sixteen years now. The way it’s set up is in squares of units called “hamlets”. When I first moved in, I shared a wall on one side with an elderly woman. I would bring her cookies and foods I made and she gave me a painting. I was so sad when she moved out, not only to lose her, but to gain a houseful of young college boys who had never lived outside the dorms before. Eegads, I thought, sharing a wall with that.

But those boys proved me wrong and the various rounds of them, have been quiet and good as gold.

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We have certain self appointed neighborhood watchdogs. It’s funny to call them that, because they all seem to be the dog-walkers. One of them lived across my back patio wall for years and monitored my comings and goings, once reporting me to the HOA for having a bucket in my carport, catching a leak from my outside faucet. She earned her nickname Gladys Kravitz. I’ve almost forgotten her real name by now, but have never called her Gladys to her face.

A few of months ago, I noticed that the rental across the parking lot from me had new tenants moving in. They were/are African American. I think there are at least a couple of young members of their family as they’re often on foot and, well, just look youngish to me. There also seems to be often comings and goings of friends. Now you see, we are in a small square of about 13 units so we have our own little microcosm in the community. This makes me feel safe, because people can monitor things, as the front of our homes all face the middle, where all of the parking is.

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One day, a few weeks after our new neighbors arrived, I was checking my mail and two of the dog walkers were hanging out with their dogs, chatting. One started a not uncommon tirade account of the comings and goings around the community. She, so casually, so comfortably, gestured toward our new neighbors and said “then we have the drug dealers over there” and rolled her eyes. I had been wanting to exit the conversation for some time before she even went there, and wasn’t feeling particularly feisty, so outwardly ignored her caustic words and went about my way. I felt gross.

It has bothered me ever since. I didn’t know what to do.

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I made my sauce in my Instant Pot

Enter our new world we’ve landed in. We need each other more than ever. I’ve been mulling over how to approach this, how to extend myself to my new neighbors. It’s weird because, Phoenix is so incredibly lily white. In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen a neighbor of color in our hamlet. Well, at the beginning there was a mixed race elderly woman who died in her home, just months after I moved in.

I’ll admit it, this should be an easy fix, an easy dilemna, I was facing and I’m no shrinking violet. I just felt oddly stumped. Like if I highlight their “blackness” in the neighborhood, I’m singling them out, but at the same time, it is what it is. I don’t even know if I’m expressing my awkward confusion accurately here. I thought about giving them a note saying “Your Lives Matter” but even that, I don’t know, I wondered if it was inappropriate, an instrusion in some way. Do I as a caucasian woman have a right to speak to what I’m guessing might be their vulnerability? Is that offensive in some way? I just didn’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here, documenting my awkwardness at this task.

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But I didn’t give up until I landed on something that felt like an appropriate opening. I was not going to give up. I share this because I think well-meaning people like me, might give up out of that kind of awkwardness. And I’m the last person on Earth who should feel that way, since I was the only child in my 3rd grade suburban class who raised their hand to be voluntarily bussed to “the black neighborhood” for 3 years of grade school. Martin Luther Kind was my Hero. Why am I feeling this way? I kept thinking. Is this some form of racism?

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Yet, I was still riding this line of reaching out while not seeming condescending. I guess that’s the best way I can describe it. How do you include someone while not highlighting how they may or may not even not be feeling excluded? Enough of my inner conflict.

I just decided to make them a lasagna. In fact, the Worlds Best Lasagna.

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We made it for NYE this year and it was so delicious, how could anyone not like it?

So today I got up and devoted basically my whole day to that lasagna. I thought of my neighbors shopping in my neighborhood stores, wondering if they ever feel out of place in this hyper-caucasian suburbia. I wondered if they ever feel unsafe or are on the receiving end of racism in our very community. Well, I know they are, I just wonder if they feel it. Even thinking about that, is heartbreaking to me, which may be part of my awkwardness.

So today, I finished my lasagna and packed it up with a long baguette and walked in the dark across the parking lot, to their dark door and rang the bell.

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A young woman answered and I simply said “I haven’t met you  yet and I live across the parking lot over there so I made you a lasagna to welcome you to the neighborhood. Sorry I’m so late but I just wanted to do it”. I had placed a sticker on top, where I wrote my name and the address of my unit.

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She smiled, was very gracious, introduced herself as Jada, told me her Mom was upstairs asleep and that her name is Loretta. She told me she’d come over tomorrow to thank me.

To keep it real, I felt a bit nervous. Nervous that I might weirdly offend them somehow. I don’t know why I felt that way, no one made me feel it,  but it’s the truth.  I pushed through it and did it anyway. And I’m glad I did. Thinking about this now, I would have felt more comfortable at a Black Lives Matter March, anonymous in the crowd, than this gesture of intimacy with a neighbor. I’m not justifying my feelings, but simply trying to do my best to describe them.

I think most everyone likes lasagna. Instead of bringing it for a funeral, I decided to bring it as a bridge. So I’d like to start a movement “Make a Lasagna, Make a Friend”.

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I’ll post the recipe here and the link as well. Click right here for it.

I’m ending this day satisfied. And I’m hoping Jada and her Mom and any of her friends feel it too. And I’m hoping my lasagna bridge spreads far and wide. I  hope I get to know my neighbors better. I hope I did it right.

Maybe next time, I’ll get even more ballsy and make one for someone who voted for the candidate I did not vote for. Right now, that feels really, really hard. But I’m not afraid of hard things.

Join me in my Lasagna Movement?

#makealasagnamakeafriend

Ingredients

3 h 15 m 12 servings 448 cals

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Directions

  • Prep

    30 m

  • Cook

    2 h 30 m

  • Ready In

    3 h 15 m

  1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Anthem to my Thin Skin

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I feel like we are all right now pretty exhausted and spent. I also believe that there are always unseen forces at play and that this election proved to be so completely unusual and unpredictable that transformation is afoot. That’s how it happens, often through upheaval and chaos.

I was inspired last week, via this election, to take a look at how we culturally value this concept of having a “thick skin”, like it’s up there with having a “good heart” or “clear mind”. I’ve found that bullies often like to use that phrase, when being aggressive. That the problem isn’t their behavior, it’s just that their target doesn’t have a thick enough skin to tolerate that which should not be tolerable.

Well, I disagree. I wrote this piece basically while in the tub last week, then leapt out to write it down. Elephant Journal liked it, so they published it last night. I found the timing interesting–as the election results rolled in, this piece rolled out.

I bet some of you can relate. Please let me know what you think.

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An Anthem to My Thin Skin

(available to read online at Elephant Journal, click here )

I do not want that thick skin you seem to think I need, to live in this world of your slings and arrows.

I like my thin skin just fine.

It’s the skin I was born in—the skin that’s been burned to the bone lifetimes before you came into my life. Skin that has erupted past the layers of scars into a raw newness of power you can’t even imagine.

You think I’m delicate?

I’m the one behind the lines, absorbing all of this life—transmuting it so you can live in this free world, made freer by my sensitivity.

I am not running for president or chief or God of all Gods. I am running for the position of myself, which I intend to inhabit with all of my skins. My full warrior skin, my under-skin, my transfiguring, mutating skins far too complicated for your calloused mind to penetrate, yet.

I will be 57 years old in four days. I am mistaken for 35 because of my unwrinkled, smooth, vibrant and hard life-overcome, thin skin.

Keep your thick-skinned anthems to yourself while I bathe in rosewater and myrrh and feel my pores open wide to receive all of life. All of it, with the exception of your expectations. Your admonitions on me filter through my open epidermis and back out again, because I will not develop one single bruise for you.

My skin offers you no protection so stop trying. Stop the efforts to reclaim yourself through my vulnerability—it’s not what you think it is.

Me and my tender heart, we have things to do. We have a life to live that is informed, and made manifest through the thinness of my skin. Can’t you see my life force radiating through it? It’s right there before your eyes, calling to you.

Take your slings and arrows to the front lines where they belong. Hurl them toward your own kind and let them find their way back to your wounds that need only their piercing.

Take with you the backbone of my transparency, my blue veins visible, my flesh shallow and deep.

For when you return from the real battles, mine are the arms that will hold you, as you feel all of their pulses—yours and mine– so you can find your way home, in sync with me.

 

heading back to write

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Just made a post over on the other blog as I’m headed to WA in the morning to work on the book again! I’m so psyched, that place is just everything to me.

If you’d like to follow along, please follow this link (and that blog) as I’ll be posting regularly over the next two weeks.

Cheers!

 

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our view last night at Happy Hour at Mariposa restaurant

Greetings from Sedona where I sit on my bar stool perch, the same perch I sat on when I had the very first chat with my husband over Thanksgiving weekend 2014. It was late, my family had gone to bed and I was up distracting myself with Facebook.

I had recently been invited to join a small, private writing group via a friend who knew I was getting ready to head out soon on a writing sabbatical to start my book. I’d noticed this cute, younger than me (or so I thought), Psychologist in the group who had kind of the roll of “group cheerleader”. No matter what anyone wrote, he was quick with positive feedback and a word of encouragement. It was no different with me.

(yes, that’s him–his dance born from a typo where “congo” came out vs. “condo”)

It also came as no surprise that after a few exchanges, he sent me a friend request there.

One evening he made a comment on a poem I’d posted which turned in to a 70-something long comment exchange in the group that garnered a private message from my friend Renie, also in the group, “you were flirting with that Psychologist last night!”. I was.

He asked if we could chat privately on Facebook the next day, so we started. It went late in to the night, covering everything from spirituality to dream cars to past traumas. He shared he had been on a dating hiatus for 18 months, “celibate” he described himself.

“Are you a monk?” I asked, having noted his bald head.

“No, I just realized I’m kind of messed up in the woman department so I stopped for awhile.” Now this I could relate to. All of it. I’d had the same realization and done the same thing.

I had decided to let go of relationships and get a dog. In fact, I had my whole next few months mapped out, preparing for that next introduction to my life.

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We chatted again the next night, this time more intimate and personal. We realized that something was happening here, between us. There was something about this man that was so familiar, so easy to relate to. We laughed and cried and both had a feeling.

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

“I don’t know, all I know is I was sent to you,” he replied.

I changed the subject fast.

For the last couple of years, dealing with my brother and my aging father and looking out at the landscape of my future handling this all alone, I would often speak to my sister in various ways asking her to send me some help.

“Cindy, you have to find me someone, someone to love who can handle all of this with me,” I begged. I had begged similarly to my mother as a child for help. Help dealing with the difficult family situation we’d found ourselves in after she’d passed.

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During that late night chat with my new friend John, the Earth moved. I mean literally the Earth moved. I was downstairs in the quiet as my father and brother were fast asleep upstairs. A loud sound preceded a rippling feeling across the ceiling. I thought a tornado had swept by and did what any stupid person would do in that moment–I ran outside to check. There was a stillness in the air I’d never heard or felt before.

I couldn’t figure it out. I ran upstairs thinking perhaps my very large brother had fallen out of bed. No, but he was awake.

“I think that was an earthquake, Kathy.”

I was still chatting with John who quickly consulted the Gods of Google and confirmed, in fact, there had been an earthquake in Sedona. A 4.3 level one in fact.

“If I were you, I’d be meditating right now,” he said.

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The conversation continued late in to the night.

“Would you mind if I did a Tarot card reading on this encounter?” he asked. I already knew he played with Tarot cards pretty regularly so I consented. I felt easy and safe with him and noted the respect he offered just with his question.

We spoke the next day, both of us having gotten little sleep the night before.

“I did the reading and I know where this relationship is going,” he said. “Do you want to know?”.

“No” I answered. And I didn’t. This was kind of freaking me out honestly.

But he told me anyway, either that day or the next.

He’s an oversharer. So am I. I get it.

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That would likely turn many people off. But me, coming from way too many situations and dynamics involving secrets and lies, it was the perfect constellation of personality traits to allow me to trust him, and I did. Then, and now. I have never had a moment of distrust over this man and that was/is a first for me. I’ve distrusted men, with good reason, my entire life. I’d been plagued with an inability to trust men, while simultaneously choosing untrustworthy men as a matter of course. It was basically the only game I knew for decades.

This was completely different, and I didn’t quite know how to maneuver in it, but I kept going anyway.

He told me that he’d done readings on every woman who had crossed his path who he had even a remote interest in and they had, every time, steered him away from getting involved.

Until this one.

“The final outcome card was The Lovers,” he said. “I know what this is going to be for us.”

I basically shut him down on that track, but kept talking to him.

Things led to things and, at the urging of my friend Rob who was already headed that direction in a few weeks, I traveled to the East to meet him. Rob later said when he walked me out of the airplane that day that he felt like he was walking me down the aisle.

John and I were engaged on that trip. He got down on one knee in front of the Christmas tree at his rural Pennsylvania home, and proposed with his father’s wedding band on a gold chain. It was perfect.

We were married just about 6 months later in Niagara Falls and I’m still pinching myself. What started off fascinating and exciting has just become both more comfortable and deep and expanded in all ways since.

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“I never thought I would find a love like this,” he said last night over a bottle of red wine.

We talked late in to the night on the couch, facing each other–the same couch I’d felt that earthquake on–about our good fortune. How easily compatible we are, the level of trust we share that has only deepened, the almost completely lack of power struggles, the sense of equality and respect we share, the love and passion and fun we have.

And, of course, his little daughter Lillian which has fulfilled a long abandoned dream in me.

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Friday was Cindy’s birthday. She would have been 58 this year and she was born in 1958. It felt momentous. On arriving to Sedona, we went to the store and picked up all of the ingredients for her Chicken Cacciatore. I brought her hand written recipe card up with me.

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You can read about this ritual here.

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We opened a bottle of wine we’d brought back from Niagara Falls which we also used in the recipe and sipped it as we cooked, and dined, together. We listened to jazz and looked at car-porn, one of John’s favorite guilty pleasures.

“I never thought I’d have a woman who would look at car-porn with me,” he laughed showing me the Bentley he’d always dreamed of. I loved it too.

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We served the perfect chicken over zucchini noodles. Cindy would have liked that.

We raised our glasses and toasted to her and my husband looked up to the Heavens, tears in his eyes, and quietly said “thank you for sending me.”

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Happy Birthday Cindy.

Thank you for sending me the perfect man.  You nailed it.

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Sorry I’ve been kind of absent lately. I’ve been busy. Writing for me is a respite but not a requirement so I take breaks until something bursts forth and I can’t contain it, like yesterday in the shower. Also, I’m gearing up to head back to the Northwest and my beloved Edmonds to work on the book again in a few weeks, so I’m thinking about things again.

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Mostly, I’ve been living and loving my life. I’m back in upper Pennsylvania right now experiencing the calm between storms of activity. We spent months (when I say “we” I mean mostly my husband) preparing this home for sale–remodeling the bathroom (he did almost all of the work except me helping with floor tile and color choices as he’s colorblind), laying down an entirely new floor on the first level, decluttering, staging, electrical work etc. etc. It’s been on the market about 3 weeks now and we are binge watching House of Cards as we wait. Well, John is super busy at work so I’ve been hanging out here in the country continuing to declutter and relax and binge watch The Night Of (OMG!).

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We are also building a new home down south aways in Lewisburg, PA. I fell in love with that town the second we drove through it once last year. It took my breath away with its charm and cozy feel. I made one comment about it, but John said it would be too far to relocate due to his contracts and Lillian. Then one day, out of the blue, he said “I think we should move to Lewisburg”. I started looking, then thinking we would rent, and ran in to a beautiful condo community we both fell in love with, also immediately. I inquired about one of the condos listed for rent, knowing we were not ready yet, which led me down a rabbit hole to suggest we consider buying one and one foot in front of the other, we are building our dream home. John has also gotten a new contract there so has begun making the commute there already for work–and to check on our new home which we have named Rafferty Manor (it’s on Baker Street).

 

We needed to streamline as we do a lot of moving around. A condo is just perfect with all of the exterior yard work, snow removal and maintenance taken care of. It brings John to tears when I say “how does it feel to know you can drive home, push a button to get in your garage, then another button to turn on the heat” after over a decade of splitting and hauling in wood throughout the winter to stoke the woodstove night and day. We are ecstatic about the new life this will bring us. We’ve been going down there regularly to watch the construction and bury things like stones and coins under the foundation. This weekend we, with both John’s daughters Lillian and Alyssa, wrote on the wood framing. We are filling this home with love at every step.

I’m also really enjoying the design process. This is our first opportunity to create our home together. We’ve been living out of each other’s spaces since we met so this is big, and necessary. He reflected last night that we have not had one disagreement over one thing related to the house. As they only build one unit at a time (it’s like a duplex so we will have one side), they take lots of care to make it how you want. We’ve gotten to select many upgrades like counters and cabinets and John takes care of the practical things like electrical sockets. It’s been a true collaboration and nothing but fun. It’s going to be a light, open modern space and most of all, ours.

We’ve been spending lots of time with Lillian this summer which has been fantastic! She flew all the way to AZ with her Dad for two weeks and we swam and spent a week in Sedona doing things with friends and exploring. We saw Shrek the Musical, went hiking, cooking, movies, playing.

**Interlude, as I write this I’m looking at a small fawn right outside the window. We have a mother and her 3 fawns come by most days and there they are right in front of me. Good timing. It’s funny because there are 3 and 2 of them are always right by her side then there’s the straggler who is always exploring something alone then catching up. I relate to that one from my own family of 3 kids.**

Lillian turned 5 this weekend! We were lucky enough to get invited to her family birthday party with her Mom, stepdad and their families in a park about an hour away. She wanted a Paw Patrol theme so I contributed “Puppy Chow” treats and baked beans per her Mom’s request. It was an honor to be included in this way. Lillian’s extended family are salt of the Earth, welcoming good people. I really enjoyed meeting them, tasting their home grown and pickled green beans and talk about gardening and other things. This side of her family takes me back to my mother’s side–farmers who did everything on their own. My Grandma raised and slaughtered her own chickens for her famous fried chicken and always had a bountiful garden. She was the best cook I’ve ever met in my lifetime–grand Sunday dinners with chicken, roast beef, ham loaf, homemade mashed potatoes, green beans from her garden and always a relish plate. My mouth is watering as I type this.

We were also lucky to have Lillian with us on her actual birthday. She started her first day of dance class so we took her to that, then to the world’s fastest carousel in Elmira, NY then home to fix her exactly what she wanted for dinner: clams. She ate 26 steamed clams then the ice cream roll cake I’d made for her with her favorite–raspberries. Lucky me.

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Lillian turning 5, not unexpectedly I guess, has pointed me inward to my own life and history. I was just about 2 weeks shy of my 6th birthday when my mother passed. She spent most of my 5th year in the hospital or gravely ill. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35 and was gone less than half way in to her 36th year.

Lillian is at a stage now where she’s very attached to her Mom. Not right away, but about the second week in to her trip to Sedona I would notice her little bottom lip start to quiver and when I asked “what’s wrong?” she would lower her head, tears spilling from her eyes and quietly let slip “I miss my Mommy”.

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This new behavior proved a deep turning point in my own psyche on many levels. First of all, I got to be challenged with how to handle something like that personally. What was odd, when I reflected back, was that I didn’t have one moment of hesitation on how to respond. No debris I had to step over inside myself of perhaps a feeling of inadequacy or competition. I just knew to let her know that what she was feeling was ok.

“Of course you do, ” I told her. “I bet she’s missing you too right now.”

This minor meltdown happened at least once a day after that and has continued. Luckily we all watched the movie “Inside Out” together a few months ago which proved an invaluable resource for me. (If you are a parent or a person, please watch it–it’s a kid’s movie but it’s really not–it’s about the value of all of the emotions, particularly sadness or “Sagness” as Lillian calls her).

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One evening at the table in Sedona, during dinner, I saw the quiver and the head drop and out of nowhere the sobs started “I miss my Mommy, I really miss my Mommy” came tumbling out.

My “Inside Out” training went to work and I started dialoguing with her.

“Remember how Sadness had to be the leader for Riley to get better?” I reminded Lillian after she looked up and asked “are you mad?” to both her father and I about her tears.

“No, you are at home and you are safe and we have nothing but time. If you are sad, then you can feel it. Just let it go like Riley did and you will feel better”.

John chimed in with similar sentiments as we watched her transform.

Her tears got bigger and the sobs deeper until, quick as a switch, she picked up her fork, smiled and said “I feel better now”. And you could see that all over her. Her eyes resumed their sparkle and that sadness had passed. And she started eating and giggling with us like usual.

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She has since asked me questions like “do you miss Daddy sometimes?”. I explain to her that of course I do because we are not together all the time but I just tell myself that I am so lucky to have someone to miss.

Lillian’s 5th year is going to be an opportunity for me to clean up some wounds in my own soul. I am not taking it lightly.

Yesterday, I was reflecting on memories and particularly how things become memorialized in a psyche.

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John and I do a lot of pillow-talk post gaming over here. Of course we did so over Lillian’s birthday–reflecting on things that went well, what we learned, what we could have done differently. He frequently tells me in these quiet behind closed door moments “you are an excellent Mom”. At first I cringed because of my own upbringing. I am very cautious of appropriating the “Mom” terminology. This word is never applied to me in front of Lil but he just is helping me to claim the role and the things I’m doing right. In fact, my husband, the psychologist who works primarily with children and families, told me he learned something from me at that “Inside Out” dinner table conversation.

The Psychologist in him, also shared that he believes my natural talents in the motherhood department stem from the imprinting I received from birth to 5. It’s really the only thing that makes sense.

Aside from losing my mother at age 5, I’ve feared something far greater when it comes to being a parent. I think most abuse survivors fear that the same tendency could exist in them (us) and arise at any moment. This has not really been tested in me before Lillian. And I’m experiencing something of a revelation lately in this regard.

As my husband points out all the ways he sees me as a “natural Mom” I realize, who imprinted on me and who is coming alive through me is Dorothy June Schlosser Monkman. My mother who birthed me and instilled something so deep inside that despite  Marjorie’s efforts to literally beat it out of me, my stepmother did not succeed. There is nowhere inside me that the trauma inflicted by Marjorie lives on in me when it comes to parenting. Not. One. Cell.

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I look at Lillian, cuddle with her, nurture her, listen to her, protect her and there is no place inside me that can remotely imagine laying a hand on her. The opposite in fact. It just isn’t there even when I peek for it. Now, I’m lucky that I’ve not been really tested but let me tell you, those “I miss my Mommy” episodes would have been met with punishment by Marj. Yes it started that small and subtle and progressed to full on violence and name calling. Not of us kids, but of our Mother.

Marjorie wasn’t all bad, of course, she was a human with strengths and weakness like anyone. But what’s interesting to me is that right now, at age 56 and embarking on parenthood, what is memorialized in me–the memories that influence me–are what not to do as inspiration. She was my “mother”, legally, for 30 years. I had my actual mother for 5. Marj taught me something valuable, but my mother instilled in me a golden crown.

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In some relationships, the trauma simply eclipses the good. I don’t know if that will be forever and, if or how, I will find forgiveness around that, but I do know I’m just telling the truth about it.

When I reflect on Marjorie, what naturally comes to mind are things like my mother’s photographs disappearing from our bedrooms when she moved in (which let me tell you enraged my Grandma–my mother’s mother–and she replaced them). I remember driving to the cemetery to our mother’s grave site which we did often before she arrived, less after. Usually she didn’t come along yet the spare times she did, I remember her remaining stiff in the front seat, twirling her hair and grinding her jaw, refusing to get out of the car or even turn her head toward us 3 grieving children saying prayers to our Mother. The Mother Marjorie stripped of her proper and earned title, insisting we now refer to our dead mother as “First Mother” and herself as “real Mother”. I remember her standing in front of me in my bedroom slapping me in the face repeatedly until I said “Mother, in an appropriate tone”.

Marjorie is embedded in my memory as the person who insisted on budget development for our school clothes starting around ages 12-13 for Cindy and I–who never took us shopping but insisted we use our approved budgets and bike or bus ourselves to the department stores downtown to seek out our clothes, then submit them for approval before being given the money to go back and purchase them.

I remember Cindy and I going to 4-H and bonding with our leaders there who taught us how to boil eggs and bake cookies and sew, although we had a “mother” right at home. I remember her stiff body when she tried to hug me and her stiffer hand when she struck me dozens of times in to adulthood. Stiffer yet, when she grabbed a wire hanger or spatula or coffee cup to strike me with it or hurl it in my direction.

I remember being embarrassed of her in public and almost never wanting to sit near her. I remember the confusion and envy upon meeting her sisters and watching their natural closeness and loving nature with their children, wondering why we got stuck with the abnormal one, the mean one.

I remember her turning a weapon off my brother and on to me when I was home on a break from college, beating me over the head as I fled up the staircase in to my moment of truth–moment of pivot– as I turned and grasped those stair railings and kicked her back down 4 stairs in to the foyer. I remember feeling convinced I’d be exiled from the family for good for standing up to her like that.

I remember her laying down her weapons and picking up a pen and the voluminous letters Cindy and I would receive detailing our failures and foibles. I remember the time, when she was too ill to get out of bed in her last months of life, but managed to find someone to purchase and mail a “Get Well” card for me months after she’d broken contact with me permanently. She’d allowed my birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter to go by unaddressed. Yet her seeming joy at an abject failure I’d experienced she’d caught wind of–so much so she celebrated it by sending me a greeting card. I wasn’t ill, I was devastated.  And she wrote “I heard about your recent difficulties, I hope you get the help you need”. These are the words that roam around my head when I think of Marjorie.

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I have to dig, but I also remember her delicious mushroom chicken, feeling proud of her at her retirement dinner and leaning my head on her rigid shoulder once in a boat where I was having extreme anxiety, in a desperate measure to alleviate it and cover it up at the same time. “Tell me your life story,” I said as I listened intensely to every word, hoping it would distract me from the panic inside, and it did.

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I’ve been reflecting on how these few positive memories are eclipsed by all of the trauma. And wondering if that will ever change. I spent so much of my life denying just how bad it really was. Even to my counselor’s face, decades ago, who was sharing her opinion that of all the terrible things  life had thrown at me–my mother’s death, Cindy’s murder, etc–the one she thought was the straw that threw me in to that anxiety disorder was the physical trauma inflicted by Marj. And yet I still begged her not to bring it up to my father, when he came in for one counseling session with me. I was terrified of it being brought to light in my family, although I could finally start sharing it behind closed doors.

I was 40 years old at that time.

It took a few more years to start talking about it to my Dad and that wasn’t easy. He still refers to my mother, playing along by those old rules as “first mother” but he less and less refers to Marj as “your mother”. I don’t correct him as that is his reality, but I don’t join him anymore in those forced words. They simply do not apply. And they never did.

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My mother, Dorothy, has memorialized herself inside me too, even though I have very few conscious memories of her. She lives in me in her love of creative projects, decorating, cooking and now, being a Mom.

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I feel very natural in my role with Lillian. Nothing is forced and there are few learning curves. Honestly, this has surprised me. I feel a natural desire to reinforce her relationship with her Mother, her real mother, and I speak kindly about her, always. Lillian notices this and recently semi-scolded me saying “you didn’t say hi to my Mom” when Rachel came to pick her up. Kids notice these nuances. I need to be even more conscious about these details.image

 

It’s not like I’m trying to keep her out of a warring middle–there is no middle. There is a mosaic she lives in of many colors which I’m sure will shift and change like a kaleidoscope.

“Kids are very bonded with their mothers at this age,” my friend who has raised three kids shared with me this week, helping me to understand this new needy behavior. I see it and feel it with Lillian. Needy, in a child, is normal and not something to be scolded for. I’m learning, or maybe unlearning, that too.

And how could I not realize it was right at this stage of Mommy-clinginess that my own mother was ripped from me and us from her. Yes, it’s sad.

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Yet I have a new opportunity right now to make things right in myself. To keep nourishing the ways my mother lives on in me, accepting them and allowing them to flourish.

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From the creative projects Lillian and I do together to cooking together and exploring new foods, to shopping for her and doing her hair, to travel and adventure, I get to live the life my mother never got to live with me. I get to see her arise and shine through me in all of these moments, getting to know her perhaps for the first time in my 50’s, not my 5.

As they say, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

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And just maybe, that illumination will shine so bright that Marj , and her failed attempts to imprint on me, will slide back in to some dormant shadow, quiet, impotent, never able to harm me or anyone through me in a final resting place.

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And maybe from that place, I will learn more thoroughly, about forgiveness.

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Dedicated to my mother, Dorothy June Schlosser Monkman, forever in my heart.

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Sorry I’ve been absent for a bit. I kind of hit the ground running when I returned from my writing sabbatical in March. My husband and I had an absolutely fantastic drive back from Washington together through the gorgeous states of Idaho and Utah (and of course WA and AZ). It’s well worth the road trip if you ever get that way.

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I don’t think I’d have made that drive by myself as there are miles and miles of uninhabited territory, which is fine when you’re with a companion but kinda scary driving alone. We had such a great time as we always do on our road trips, listening to music and singing in the car and of course long talks. I thought about introducing him to the podcast Serial during our three day drive but then realized there really is no space for anyone else talking in the car between the two of us.

I hit the ground running when I got home between deciding to recarpet most of my upstairs (and stairs) which is a major project I’d been avoiding for a decade number of years. One of my cats, in her stressed behavior when I was gone for prolonged periods, had taken to peeing all over my bedroom. It was not pretty at all. Plus the carpet was likely 20 years old and disgusting in its own right. Once we arrived in Tempe, John and I ran over to Home Depot and picked it out together. As we’ve never created our own marital home jointly, and have been living out of the three homes we already had prior to getting married, this had been a very touching, and important, project to do together. He’s been involved every single step of the way as we create this new, gorgeous, space together. Same for Sedona which we have completely revamped in the past few months, relocating bedrooms, moving furniture and the like.

 

 

Aside from just wanting to see my husband again, I asked him to come out for a quick visit in early April to help me with some of this. When I say this, I mean the archeological dig from my bedroom, layered with crap from over fifteen years that I needed to sort and dismantle, and pull out so that every single thing could be removed for the carpet–that’s the part I’d been avoiding. Simultaneously, I started a 10 day Purium cleanse again and although not intentional, realized I was doing the same process both inside and out. That’s how we Scorpios like to roll–all at once.

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omg thought they would not get it up those stairs!

Last year sometime, John and I realized we were sleeping in Queen and full beds in our homes yet when we stayed in hotels had the luxury of a spacious King size bed. I don’t know about the rest of you peri-menopausal ladies but I’ve learned to sprawl, kick off covers and basically hog an entire bed through my nights of hot flashes and insomnia. Poor John. 😦 So the bed upgrade was decided first, then the carpet. I mean there was no way I was putting this gorgeous linen sleigh bed on that nasty flooring.

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see what I mean?

It has been a demanding and completely rewarding process. During John’s last visit, we dismantled my Queen bed, squeezed it into the guest room (along with all of the CRAP I was pulling out of the Master), picked out an incredible mattress at Mattress Overstock (we got a $2899 Stearns and Foster pillow top Cal King for $895 including box springs!), ordered our new bed, grabbed In and Out drive through (his first) and were on the road to Sedona by noon! We rock and roll together. We also managed to do our joint taxes for the first time that trip and basically have the great fun we always do together.

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Last week it all came together and I’ve spent the weekend carefully choosing what makes the cut back into this gorgeous suite we’ve created. I’ve donated or given away at least half of what was in here–books, clothes, purses, shoes–it feels SO GOOD to be letting go. Concurrently, I’m on Day 9 of my cleanse right now (and craving pizza dammit!) so it’s all happening.

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In the midst of all of this unearthing, a letter from Cindy emerged. She wrote it to me from her Freshman year in college while I was a senior in high school still at home. I was struggling and she took the time from studying to write me a lengthy letter (8 pages both sides) about all of the things I was dealing with–family, friends, boys. So interesting those themes are ones I struggled with my whole life and are so prevalant in the book–and it found its way back to me now.  Such a treasure and I’m so thankful to my 17 year old self for saving it all these years. It was just the connection I needed. I have one of my miracle stories to write about that but will save it for another entry as this one is getting so jammed.

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The very same day I found that letter, my current favorite client said to me as he walked out of my office “bye Cindy”. He knows nothing about my personal life like that. A message from Heaven. She is close now, I can feel it. And she’s cheering me on.

As you can imagine, the book has been on a kind of hold for the moment. That’s how I roll though–I work on it in immersive ways and I do have a plan, don’t worry. It will be completed. I just needed a little break.

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last weekend in Sedona where I started the Purium cleanse

Hope you are all enjoying your Spring. I’m completely psyched about attending the Agape Revelation Conference in LA this weekend with Michael Beckwith and crew. Then a quick turnaround to PA and into our FIRST ANNIVERSARY TRIP! Back to the scene of the crime in Niagara Falls–one of my favorite places on Earth. More on that later! Life is great and being married is off the charts amazing…better than I’d ever imagined for myself.

Finally, a sign off to Prince. Having just seen Purple Rain last night on a big screen, remembering seeing it in the theatre with Cindy in Minneapolis, I’m still feeling this loss deeply. Rest in the groove Beautiful One.