memorialized

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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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Christmas Miracles

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I’m rarely at a loss for words in writing or speaking but this whole amazing weekend has left me feeling a bit inadequate in that department.  I mean how do you use something as limited as language to describe a bonafide miracle?

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I’ll do my best and use pictures which can tell the story much better.

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My Dad and I attended all 3 concerts at Phoenix College in the John Paul Theatre where my dear brother stood tall and proud in the third tier of the risers singing his heart out and remembering ALL the words with the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus.  Naughty and Nice, Sugar and Spice holiday concert.

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Some of the songs were quite complicated, especially a mashed up version of the 12 Days of Christmas that was like a whole bunch of Christmas Carols all blended up mishmash style from 12 Days to Rudolf to Hark How the Bells, all wildly thrown together.  It even ended on Toto’s Africa “I spent Christmas down in Africa”…it was so hilarious and fun!  It had to be so hard to learn and was so fun to hear.  I love surprises on the familiar like that.

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I haven’t indicated this ever in the blog before and asked John’s permission last night to share that my brother is in fact, gay.  When I asked him if it was ok he said “sure, I’m out”.  I think it’s important to just be open about this at this point for all of us.  This is a gay men’s chorus he’s singing in and a huge part of the reason I got so insistent he try out.  He’s been living outside his people, struggling, for so long and I felt his finding a sense of community was so important for him.  Once I saw these guys perform, it became a dream to hook my dear brother up with them somehow.  And we all know how that turned out.  😉  It’s an absolutely perfect fit for him.  He keeps sharing  with me how “nice everyone is”.  He’s been welcomed with open and warm arms and I couldn’t be more relieved and happy.

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My Boys Rob and Sean who are now legally married in AZ!

Their mission is to help support and educate issues around LGBT awareness and as the conductor said “hopefully bring entertainment as well”.  This is such an important thing to understand about Alfonse’s participation with this group.  It’s so critical to know your tribe and those men are people who can understand him in a way no one else can, including me.  John’s illness started around the time he was realizing his sexuality and struggling intensely with it.  As much support and acceptance he can find, I believe, will help him be as healthy as he can be.  The conductor also mentioned something about music having the power to heal which of course made tears spring to my eyes watching my darling brother up there, in a tuxedo, singing away with peers, healthy peers.  And fitting in. He truly is a walking, singing, miracle for ALL of us.

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The show dedicated a segment of songs to their mission statement that directly addressed issues our gay brothers and sisters face during the holidays–isolation, non-acceptance, depression, things like that.  I think that section of the performance was the most meaningful for me.

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They did 3 songs which tugged at my heartstrings so hard and I cried every single performance (and forgot Kleenex every single time).  The one that really got me was a song from the musical Kinky Boots called “Not My Father’s Son”.  Whew, tears just thinking of it.  I’ll put a video here.  Beautiful, poignant song. And to see all those men sweetly expressing those lyrics, all of whom can relate I think….breathtaking.  And the soloists at these shows, some very very real talent in there.

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The other song that I keep hearing in my head and remembering and that opened my heart like a Polar Express running through it is called “My Grown up Christmas Wish”.  Whew…more tears!

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The fellas were in festive holiday clothes for the first Act then in to their tuxedos for the second.  So handsome!  There were lots of fun and funny performances too like an rendition of the Grinch, a totally hilarious and irreverent take on the Three Kings and a salute to the Muppet Christmas.  I loved it all.  The stage was bright and festive with garlands and trees and choreographed lighting.

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The Chorus also sponsors a smaller chorus for teens called Omaggio and they did some performing as well.  It’s so impressive to see these young kids, at that age, claiming themselves in that way.  On a stage!  Another tear jerker.

Photos were disallowed so I waited until they were taking their bows to snap a few–I had to get my brother taking his bow and share it.

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I could go on and on but I’ll let you absorb the photos.

On the social front, Cathy Hughes had Dad and I for dinner Friday then went with us.  Saturday I hosted a little soiree at my house and my Boys Rob and Sean  came down from Sedona and my darling Mya came along!

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I made fresh juice clementine margaritas, shrimp ceviche, a cheese plate and this delicious Sopa Verde chicken soup filled with kale, spinach, cilantro, garlic, lime, english peas, avocado, green onions…green and more green!  I adapted a couple recipes I saw online and have to say it turned out delicious.  We returned after the Saturday night performance and toasted with champagne and pomegrante seeds (gotta bling it out ya know) in my mother’s crystal.  I felt so overwhelmed by her presence during that Sat. night performance and opened myself to feeling her love shining down on her baby boy.  She exited the planet when John was just 3.  I can’t imagine what that must have been like for her.  I felt her love and warmth and pride flowing through my tears.

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Mya brought him flowers…awww

The Sunday performance was at 2pm so just my Dad and I went.  Then afterward the three of us went to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate.  John even got the deep fried ice cream.  😉

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This is his “in awe” face LOL

It was so wonderful seeing him being basked in the spotlight by everyone.  He sat in my living room Saturday night with all of our friends showering him with love and attention.  Something he may have never had in his life and he was soaking it up.  I was/am so proud of my brother.

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I’m telling each and every one of you out there reading right now, if my brother can leap from the dark place he was in just over a year ago to standing on a stage in a tuxedo, part of something, singing his heart out, NOTHING absolutely NOTHING is beyond your/our/my grasp.  KNOW THIS!  Feel it!

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Let’s go for big dreams now, ok?  Can you get on board with us?

Just a tiny snippet because I want to share it , speaking of big dreams:  I’ve fallen madly in love with someone.  It’s mutual, it’s real and it’s someone I feel I’ve waited my whole life for.  I’m sure I will write more about this when the time is right but this just fell out of the sky.  He read a poem online that I’d written, felt compelled to contact me, did and, well here we are, flying.  It’s quite the time in the Monkman world right now.

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I will leave you on what Alfonse said was his favorite song of all in the concert–a beautiful and touching song from the movie Polar Express called Believe.  He said “I like it because it ends on such a positive note”.  Which my friends is exactly where we are sitting right now…right in the middle of a positive note.

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Happy Holidays all.  Let’s believe even bigger now, ok?  If my family, with all of our trauma at the holidays, can be walking this sparkling path right now, you can land on one too.  Stay open, please stay as open as you can.

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Believe.

There are signs all around you.

 

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come on down

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I posted earlier about joining an online creativity group.  It’s run by the acclaimed artist Erin Gafill from Big Sur and is called Awaken the Artist Within. 

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one of Erin Gafill’s paintings

I met Erin down at Rancho La Puerta over my birthday and I felt so inspired being in her classes that I signed up for this eight week course as part of my 2014 set of goals to enliven myself.  So much of last year (and the beginning of this one honestly) was spent in very dark places of murder and mental illness that I’ve decided I need to balance all of that out with very uplifting, positive activities/relationships/travels, etc.

For me, most of the time I tend to pull myself out a funk with some kind of creative project.

This year had such a dramatic rough start that I’ve not fully engaged in this course yet.  BUT I did manage to get out to Michael’s and pick up all my supplies which was really REALLY fun.  I’ve got charcoal, watercolors, pastels, pencils, papers and brushes.  All still in the bags at the moment. :/

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As today is a day off, I’m promising myself to get started on something.  At the very least, organize my supplies and see where it takes me.  I have an easel just sitting there waiting for me!

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I also did some digging in my craft room (yes I have a full on craft room in my house) and ran in to lots of old art pieces.  Back when I was in college and my sister was working for the Mesa School District as a Nutritionist, she actually hired me as an independent contractor to design their monthly school menus with an artistic flair.  She always had such higher perceptions of me than I ever had for myself.  I always liked to draw and do all kinds of artsy crafty things, but she hired ME to create these flyers…and I got paid for it.  It was my second part time job I had while in college.

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I ran in to several of those flyers, then I also ran in to this.

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the invitation I made for Cindy’s Price is Right party in 1984

Cindy and I went to California every year to visit our Grandma Buddha for her birthday on March 18th.  She always spent the winter there in a small hotel near the beach.  She would arrange for the adjoining room to hers and we would fly or drive out and have these wild long weekends with her running around LA doing touristy things and wining/dining.  We always had a BLAST with her.

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Cindy, since childhood, was obsessed with the show The Price is Right.  In fact, on long camper trips, she’d pull out grocery items from the cupboards and force my brother and I in to these long games of guessing prices and competing against each other using Price is Right games.  I never really liked that show myself but she was obsessed with it.

So of course, she decided one year we would go and try and get in the audience.  Which we did, after waiting HOURS AND HOURS in lines outside the studio.  Even Buddha, such a good sport, waited in line with us.  The first time we went, we really studied the whole process and figured out their game and our strategy.

Once we made it inside the building, you were given some kind of form to fill out with your name, then they would take you, three by three in front of a panel of producers who would ask you basic questions.  You’d also get a price tag name badge with your name written on it to wear.

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We noticed several things after going through that line the first time (none of us got called).  They tended to pick people in bright colors, big personalities, a funny T shirt or hat, big boobed women, something that clearly made them stand out.

So the following year we went prepared.  Very prepared.  We had planned it before packing for the trip.  We decided, since Cindy wanted to get on the show and I was mortified at the thought, we would dress her in BIG bright colors and me in dowdy greys.  We did her hair huge (it was the 80’s) and mine flat, we gave her big makeup and a top that made her bustline accentuated. I wore no makeup.  We also downdressed Grandma.  We manipulated the whole thing where the three of us would end up in that little interview with Cindy in the middle.  Buddha and I sort of looked down and away as Cindy pushed herself forward with her big huge smile, bright teeth, big makeup and huge personality.

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And, I just knew she’d get called.

And she did.

Cynthia Monkman Come on Down!!!!

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I was both shocked and not surprised at all.  I just had a feeling!

My sister made it all the way through that show to the Showcase Showdown!!! She was on that stage the entire second half of that hour long show!  They even showed Buddha and I in the audience screaming and clapping.  I was so incredibly happy for her and proud of my sister for fulfilling this lifelong dream! She had the chance to win a trip to New Orleans, a new fangled video camera, many many other big prizes.

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And she choked.  She guessed a number so low that she lost. 😦  She was bummed but she was really also completely elated that she even got on the show, met her idol Bob Barker and won a small acrylic fish aquarium which was the first prize that got her on the stage.  She got to spin the big wheel and play several games as she kept advancing.

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I don’t recall her ever being really too bummed out or embarrassed that she missed that Showcase prize.  None of us were really.  We just shook it off and went out for Happy Hour and dinner, celebrating as usual.

She never put fish in the aquarium but used it as kind of a decoration in her home.

It took me years to get rid of that stupid thing as it was really just a dust catcher and sat in my garage for years.

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it looked something like this but came with no aquarium supplies, just the box

I shouldn’t say stupid thing because it held lots of memories.  But as time goes on, you just have to let things go.  I remember years after her death when I had a garage sale and went through boxes of her belongings stacked in my garage, standing there turning a match book over and over in my hand unable to let it go.

Finally, over time, you wind down to a few important items, photos and your memories.

I remember the day I sold her 1977 powder blue Volkswagen convertible bug.  A man flew in from out of state to buy it and ship it home. I wondered if I’d tell him the story of it and I eventually had to as I broke down in tears in front of this stranger.  That was probably fifteen years after her death.

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Time has no real role in the grieving process I’ve determined.  It’s something that winds around and around the chambers of your heart with it’s own rhythm.  Sometimes it makes sense but most of the time it doesn’t.

I have that entire Price is Right Show on video tape.  I need to get it transferred to dvd or digital.

I hosted a big viewing party to watch the show the evening it aired as everyone was at school or work during the day.  I made a director’s chair with her name on the back of it, had all of these snacks reflecting the show like these Pepperidge Farm cookies she’d bid on and we all watched while rewinding and laughing our asses off.  I covered my bathroom mirror with homemade yellow name tags with all the funny quotes she said during the show.  I even had name tags for all the guests to wear.  It was a blast.

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inside of the invitation–this would have been 1984 –she was gone four short years later

So many little quips were born from that show like her saying “I’ll go for the cookies Bob” or “that’s ok Bob” when he said he was sorry she lost.  Or “I love New Orleans!” she excitedly mouthed when they showed her the Showcase.  And she’d only been to New Orleans, with me, for about 3 hours in a strange road trip we once took.

These memories are bittersweet.  I have tears rolling down my face right now, actually, remembering.

Losing someone so important to your entire life, your soulmate, makes you feel on one hand lucky you ever had it and cursed you ever had it because the loss runs so deep.

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Again, I’m reminded she’s out there/up there/around me somewhere even if it’s only in my memories or a belief and still with me.

I have to think that.

To keep living.

Maybe if I ask her today, she’ll come on down, back to me for awhile.

She could even show up on a sketch pad.  Guess it’s time for me to open my right brain and take a look…

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Fotorcindymebabies

I went a hunting for this song this morning.  I don’t know why now, today, but sometimes music springs up from memory like fresh water containing a pearl.

I saw Rumer sing this with Daryl Hall on his fabulous show Live From Daryl’s House (on the Palladia channel which I highly recommend).  I then went a-researchin her as I’d never heard of her and what a voice!

I ran in to an interview where she was talking about how emotional it was for her to sing this, his iconic song, the one he wrote about someone close to him.  Then she sings it with him; in front of him.  She has her eyes closed most of the time and I recall in this interview (which I can’t find now grrr), she spoke of how she was on the verge of tears the entire time.  Her given name is Sarah so this packed an additional punch of emotion for her.  Doggone it wish I could find that interview again.  I just found it!  It’s on the “Bio” section of the segment.  She’s worth a watch.

http://www.livefromdarylshouse.com/currentep.html?ep_id=72

I applaud her for her courage to face all of that and still stand up there next to that piano singing this:

I am just so moved by this rendition.  I have my own memory, standing in my living room of my first house in Mesa, the house I was living in when Cindy was killed, the one she lived with me in for awhile.  The house where I started my business, so many memories from that house.  I had to return to keep living in that house filled with those memories after she was killed.

I remember her bringing over this Hall and Oates CD, the two of us popping open our signature Cook’s Champagne.  She called it “Cookins” and would say “wanna get Cookins?” which would start off one of our typical champagne drinking, trying on clothes, listening to music, dancing in my living room evenings that, with every good intention of “going out” often landed in “staying in” doing just those things. We were each others’ best company.  So I remember dancing in my living room to this song and singing it at the top of our lungs.

And I appreciate Rumer singing this song from the quietest, most intimate part of hers.

Ther are some of the memories that are so painful to recall yet at the same time you are so glad you ever had the experience to begin with.  It takes time to open back up to them, at least for me.  Music though, it holds many keys.

She says Sara Smile.  I say Kathy Smile today.

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Alfonse and I last night.  I consider it a miracle each and every time we genuinely smile at Christmas. This is one of those miracles.

Enjoy.  Heading up to Sedona in a few for a little road trip to finish decorating and creating my reindeer snowscape and get out on the open road alone for awhile.  I just need that sometimes to clear my head.

Cheers.  And thank you Rumer for inspiring me today.

thawing

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Most of yesterday was rough.  It was almost worst than the first day after I lost Buddy.   Actually it was worse.

I think after all of the googling and reading and writing and diving in to it and basically just giving myself permission to be stuck solid, I don’t know, something started to shift late afternoon.

I had sent Steve over to my brother’s as I just couldn’t breathe with another person breathing in the same room.  I don’t know how better else to explain it.

He in his non defensive way just said “whatever you need” and headed over there.  Of course I found out later he dove in to various chores around my brother’s house.  John’s house is going to be so spic and span and organized when he gets home I’m sure he won’t be able to find anything since the chaos has been ordered.  😉

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not an actual photo but close 😉

Mid afternoon, I decided I needed the rest of the weekend to myself to recover.  That I couldn’t handle any interaction at all.  This is a way I’ve coped my entire life; retreating, alone.

(I almost never use a semi colon, I hope that was the proper placement 😉 )

Around 3pm I phoned Steve up and said I wanted to get the other two cats moved over here and then if he could head home for the rest of the weekend I didn’t think I would be good company to hang out with.  He said he understood and that he’d be over shortly with Coco in the carrier.  Then we’d go back together and get the Nutball Lazlo who I’d not forgotten him breaking his own paw in the transfer over there freaking out in the carrier resulting in an ER visit and $300 Vet bill.  We figured that one was a two person job.

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Steve came back with Coco, grabbed his stuff then we went together to get Laz.  On the way there I asked him to stop at Dutch Brothers and got us both a coffee (well Steve a Chai) and I don’t know, I think that’s where the thawing began out there in that 100 something degree muggy heat.

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Steve started making me laugh.

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that’s Buddy’s tail wrapped around his neck just last weekend 😦

By the time we retrieved Lazlo and got him in the car (and I saw all the work Steve had done at John’s place) I’d changed my mind and asked him to stay.  He laughed and just said “Ok, I can if that’s what you want….women!”.  We both laughed.  But he wasn’t judging me.  He understood.  He lost his beloved Duke just earlier this year.  I don’t have to explain any of this to him.

For the first time in a long time, in a moment like this, I felt like it would be better for me to be with someone than be alone.  This was kind of a breakthrough.

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I reflected on my promise to Buddy, about how I would do my best to live on his legacy.  How he moved from a beginning life of terror to one of bonding.

Maybe this was a first step for me.

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Steve ran back to the Redbox and got two suspense movies, Argo (so good) and The Call (so creepy!) and we got back to our laughing, eating hot fudge Sundaes and freaking out on the couch to edge of your seat suspense.  He says I make him laugh in a way most people don’t.  I think it’s because I bounce off his humor.

Or maybe because I’m 1000% myself around him.  He’s seen me at my absolute worse, unshowered, no makeup, clothes damp with Lazlo’s cat pee from his car freakout in my lap (even though the towel), grief stricken and he still likes me.

We watched the three cats get acquainted again.  I also saw Sabine come out of her freeze on that one dining room chair she slung her head over for hours.  For two days.

Even if she was hissing at Lazlo , she was moving.

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I woke up this morning after a dream where I was really happy.  Sabine was next to me on the bed.

So here I sit, Lazlo purring and kneading the back of the chair behind me-Buddy’s favorite spot, Coco near the window as usual and Sabine walking around negotiating her new normal in her own home.  She and Coco ate breakfast side by side this morning.

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Steve’s upstairs still sleeping.  It was a late night double feature.

And today I’m the one who has plans for us.

And they involve walking, exploring, laughing and eating.  And getting out of the house/cave.

We’re all coming alive again.

It’s a paradox, this freezing/thawing business.  The more deeply you go in to the freeze space, the more committed you are to it, the more swift the thawing.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my pain now rather than later these days.

There’s too much to live for.  Just as all who have passed before me would want for me.

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frozen

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Yesterday I was so flattened I felt like I was hit by a fleet of Mack Trucks.

I felt basically immobilized most of the day not wanting to talk to anyone, interact, think, decide, eat, move.

Steve is visiting and I asked him to go tend to John’s cats at his condo as I just couldn’t tolerate any movement in the air around me at all.  I wrote my blog, which was like climbing a mountain but opening portals for tears at the same time.  It gave me something to do with this constellation of freezing and agony but it was about all I could do.  Sabine came down and sat across from me.  She wasn’t eating or moving either.  I remember a long moment or series of moments where we just sat there, frozen in our own igloos, staring at each other across the room.  Blank stares.

Like, what now?

I ate an avocado all day until I realized mid afternoon I needed to get to the bank.  I got thirsty but was too frozen to get up and get myself a drink.  I thought of putting away my clean clothes but when I  realized just walking upstairs was too exhausting forcing me to sit on the stairs half way that I’d postpone that task.

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I called Sabine’s name to see if she would come to me but she just stared.  I remembered she usually came when I called Buddy’s name so I called his name.  Then felt destroyed hearing his name in that falsetto coming from my throat.  I want to call his name.  I want to keep calling it.  I don’t want that sound to disappear from my home.  But  disappear it will. I can’t call Sabine Buddy’s name to keep him alive.  It’s torturous.  It’s not fair to her.

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Yesterday, feeling so immobilized, uncoordinated, frozen, numb got me thinking about an NPR interview I’d heard years ago about the physiological implications of grieving.  People tend to think it’s a head and heart situation, that just our thoughts and feelings are disturbed.  But I heard this author, Joan Didion, speaking about the physiology involved in grief and how deeply it affects our entire body.  I thought I’d revisit that theme today seeing I’m smack dab in the middle of it.  This morning I woke up in to it again.  This is a hole that sucks you in to it until you’ve been patched up enough to surface again and you really have no say in the matter.

I think any deep loss resurrects the vestiges of any prior loss that’s been lurking, on pause, waiting for an opportunity for a portal to slip through so it can find some light of day.  This is also good and just damn hard.

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About six years after Cindy’s death, I received news of my dear friend Charlie Carter’s sudden, entirely unexpected demise while I was on vacation.  I was flattened for three days up there at the beach over Charlie.  He was a client/friend of mine and I had no idea how deeply he’d become embedded in my heart until he was gone.  It was terrible, sudden, shocking.  It was also hard to explain to my family who I was there to party and relax with that I was having a hard time even getting out of bed.  When I came home I remembered the grief support group I’d been in five years prior and enrolled myself again.  I knew Charlie’s death was digging up roots of Cindy’s…at least.  It was an extreme reaction.

How ironic that I was enrolled in that weekly support group when Benny got sick and I had to put him down.  So there was a plan after all because I had my group of people surrounding me to break down with about that.  Fathers who’d lost children, older folks having lost parents, the whole range.  I do remember an extremely Bible based woman in there who was very involved in the church. This group was associated with a church that I didn’t go to but a woman I’d met, Carol Fornoff who’d lost her daughter to homicide, invited me with open arms.

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The Bible lady had lost a parent I think.  She was holding on to her Bible for dear life to get through it.  But she told me I shouldn’t grieve my cat, that cats didn’t have a soul, that they blah blah blah her interpretation of the Bible on pets.  She genuinely thought she was helping me.  I sat there on the inside saying “shut the fuck up Lady, you have no idea what you are talking about” but realized I was someone else’s house, that this was their religion so I wasn’t there to make waves.  I was so grateful when others in the group spoke up and derailed that and stuck up for me in my grief of Benny saying their interpretation of the Bible was different but we weren’t there for that reason.  We were there to support each other.  It all just subsided quietly.

Last thing you want to do is get in a fight in your grieving support group over a cat.  We were all screwed up so there’s an opening and tolerance and acceptance around that.  I didn’t hold it against her.   The fierce tsunami of grief has it’s own way of making it’s presence known no matter what anyone says anyway.

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Poking around online searching words like “physiology of grief” I came back on Joan Didion’s NPR interview which I’ll share here.  Her book “The Year of Magical Thinking” quickly became her biggest best seller.  She writes about the sudden loss of her beloved husband of 40 years, John Edward Dunne, another writer.  Her daughter was acutely ill in the hospital at the same time and died shortly thereafter.  She’s another one who knows of what she speaks.

Both segments of the Fresh Aire interviews are found here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4956088

(I also found the text there worth reading although haven’t made it through all of it yet)

I’ve not read her book but have been reading excerpts online all morning.  It’s just what I’m experiencing and writing about.

She talks about “processing everything by writing it down” which I so relate to right now.  I’ve journalled before but there’s something about this blogging that is taking me wider and deeper in to what I need to find….what I need to discover.

She talks about how she used advice from Emily Post of all people about the physiological effects of grieving—how the body gets cold, how the digestion shuts down, how others can best support people in this kind of frozen moment which I think is so important.

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You can hear her speak about these things here (skip to 20:35 in the first segment to hear that interesting part):

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=4956088&m=4956093

I love how she uses the word “practical” in her description of Post.  I’ve used that term recently myself.  Practical support.

This is another interview I found with Joan Didion that I think is worth watching.  It’s shorter:

In my exploring, I also ran across this article which describes the physiological elements that happen with deep grief.  Here is one excerpt:

Because we sense that we are in danger, the body mobilizes to protect itself from the intruder or, if that’s not possible, to escape to safety. But loss is no hostile tribe that we can guard the camp against; nor is it an enemy that we can run from. Therefore we are caught in a state of tension. Our brain has stimulated us to take action; but, since we cannot undo the loss there is at this moment no action we can take. We are, therefore, held taut. This means that our bodies are under enormous stress…Dr. Beverley Raphael warns us that “bereavement may also be fatal.” (Excerpt from Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld)

Grieving is hard work and takes a huge toll on our bodies. When we are responding to a loss, the part of our brain where responses are integrated increases the production of CRH, a hormone that produces anxiety-like symptoms. Emergency-mobilizing chemicals are released. As our stress increases, the chemical levels increase; and our central nervous system becomes highly stimulated. Our breathing may become defective. Biological rhythms of sleeping and eating are disturbed. Our digestion, metabolism, circulation and respiration change. Our ability to concentrate and pay attention decreases.

Grieving can actually change the environment in the belly, intestines and bowels. “I feel as if I’ve been hit in the stomach,” we might say. “My stomach is in knots,” someone else may offer as a description of the physical stress triggered by a loss. These reactions can actually rearrange the muscles and sometimes even our body’s skeleton, in particular patterns for particular lengths of time. We may make sounds, like a moan or a growl. Our brain produces pictures that upset us even more.

Often the physical stress of grieving will cause us to lose coordination. We fall more easily. We don’t run our daily lives as smoothly as we did. Even simple things seem hard to do. Our brain and our eyes don’t coordinate the way they did before the loss. We are prone to have more accidents. We get more colds. Our immune system is compromised. We tire easily.

http://connect.legacy.com/inspire/page/show?id=1984035%3APage%3A2521

I really relate to all of this yesterday and today.

In Teri Gross’s second segment of the interview with Didion, she speaks about the theme of her book “magical thinking” and how she couldn’t get rid of his shoes because some part of her developed an “insanity” thinking he was coming back.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone that far in any tangible way but I do relate to that in dreams.  Where Cindy has come to me in dreams in awkward ways like walking in the courtroom once and down the middle aisle of the courtroom during one of the trials in this strange dreamy way saying “I’m back now…it’s all ok now…this can end now…”.

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Then waking up in to the real nightmare.  I remember wishing I wouldn’t dream about her because the pain of reality was so not worth any glimpse of her presence.  I think I feel differently now.  I’ve worked very hard to feel differently about that.

It’s a double edged sword when you think about attempting some kind of connection, some kind of sign they are still around and reaching in to it blindly while at the same time acknowledging they are gone.  Many folks are much better at that than I am.  I’ve done so desperately at times, such as right before we moved John out here, and I will write about that in another story.

Today I feel like I couldn’t move the corners of my mouth in to a smile even with a forklift.  And I’m kind of known for my smile.  I feel like I have hooks tethered to boulders holding my mouth in to a deep frown just as my static expression.

I brought Sabine down earlier just to encourage her to eat.  She looks at the food, eats a few bites, laps a few sips of water, looks at me, wanders over to the bottom of the stairs and keeps looking up.  She just keeps gazing up those stairs looking for someone.   With this look of longing in her eyes.  I think she possesses that magical thinking Joan Didion talks about.  But Buddy didn’t take his last breath in her arms though so she has some catching up to do.

I’m aware of the terrible necessity of cave dwelling, at least for me, going through something like this.  I feel raw in every pore of my body.  I can handle very very little stimuli right now.  It’s all just so jarring.

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I guess I will sign off with this poem by my favorite David Whyte.  I think I’ve said all I need to for today.  And just leave you with this.  If you ever judge yourself or have felt judged by another to “just get over it”  or “it’s just a cat” or “they’re in a better place” or “isn’t it time for some closure?” maybe you will think of me today writing, grieving for so many things after having slipped through that rabbit hole with Buddy.  We never know what that ball of yarn will pick up along the way clinging with it’s own need for air and a reach for a new glimmer of daylight.  The well can be deep but so can the healing.  Sometimes it’s a wise decision to just sink.

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.

  — David Whyte
from Where Many Rivers Meet
©2007 Many Rivers Press

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penelope

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One day about mid-Jodi Arias trial, I was fast hoofing it up to the courthouse as usual when my phone rang displaying a Culver City, CA number.  I breathlessly answered it (hey, I’m not used to walking fast in heels) and on the line was a producer from the Ricki Lake Show.  Now by this time I’d been surrounded by various TV show producers and media for months covering this trial, I’d appeared on the Dr. Drew Show once, I spoke with people like Beth Karas daily, I’d been posting nightly on the trial online so of course I assumed this was in some way related.  “Hey Kathy, this is Mike Weaver a producer from the Ricki Lake Show” he said and I quickly replied “I’m late getting to the courthouse, can I call you back when court is done?”.  His response surprised me asking “what courthouse?  what do you mean?”.

It turned out he had no idea I was attending the Jodi Arias trial and really no real deep knowledge of the case, remarkably.  He was simply researching cases for a show called “Murder for Money” and found an article related to our case and cold called me to appear.  What odd timing.  I’d not been approached for any media interviews or anything for years.  And here I am sitting right in the middle of this trial and somewhere, out there, someone is researching Cindy at the same time.  You may have figured out by now, that these kinds of “coincidences” catch my attention.

Mike and I talked later that night and he asked me to appear on the show.  I agreed that I would.  It would be taping in a few weeks and he’d send me all the necessary information.  I will write a longer post on that whole truly amazing experience but for now want to share about the preparation.

One of the things they asked me to do was to find pictures of Cindy, Cindy and me, any photos of her killer (ugh) that they could use to make a “video package” to use on the show.  Now many people before and after asked me if it was hard for me to do that show.  Without a doubt the very hardest part was going through the photos to find ones to send.  Of course I have hundreds of family photos tucked away in Cindy’s cedar chest.  Then there’s the blue plastic file box that holds all of the trial related stuff, newspaper clippings and the like.  I am even in possession of a large stack of papers with a copy of my own testimony from the trial.  I’ve never read it again but a friend obtained it when she did a story on our case and gave it all to me later.  Things you have no use for but will not get rid of.

In our case, as in comparison to the Alexanders, as far as victims go, we were treated very well.  I don’t know how Travis’ siblings steeled themselves day after day to sit in that courtroom deflecting the abject abuse levied at their family and their brother by his killer delivered through her, her defense team and her champions.

Yet I’ve wondered if they had or are having the same experience as me.  That in many ways it was much easier to focus on the crime, the justice system than the big hole that’s left once it’s all over.  The loss, the grieving is the hardest part.  The drama of a trial is a piece of cake compared to that inevitable horror, delivered with it’s own life sentence.

I wondered how it was for them sifting through photos of Travis to prepare for their impact statements.  I never pried in to their personal experience but I sat there with them in a knowing solidarity.  It was interesting that, as far as timing goes, we were both seeking meaningful photographs of our murdered sibling right around the same time.

As I dug through that chest, tears streaming down my face, I ran across this one which I just had to pull out.  This is me on the left and Cindy on the right in case you hadn’t figured it out.

Let me introduce you to my alter ego, Penelope Cheese.

Cindy was famous for orchestrating these pranks on my Grandma every time she came to visit for Christmas.  One year we boobytrapped her entire room and closet with balloons.  It was always something, always cooked up by Cindy with John and I as her faithful posse.

One year when Cindy and I were probably 12 and 13, she decided she’d invite a new friend for lunch to introduce Buddha to.  Cindy then went about creating Penelope through me.  She dressed me up in a dark wig, I think a nightgown that could have actually been my Grandma’s, heavy makeup, costume jewelry, an underbite and a Southern accent.  She told me my name was Penelope and gave me directions on how to act.  She actually had me exit the house through the back door in a flimsy nightgown in the snow and ring the front doorbell to come visit for lunch.  Her plan was flawless.  Of course I always played along like the little dress up doll she often made of me.

I dutifully donned my prescribed attitude, rang the doorbell and Cindy introduced me to Grandma who seemed surprised and a bit confused but gracious all the same.  The four of us- Buddha, John, Cindy and Penelope – all sat down in the kitchen for lunch.  I held that underbite to the point of pain as I remained in character as Cindy’s racy, bawdy, sophisticated “new girl in town” friend.  My Grandma sincerely seemed appalled at some of the things that came out of my mouth.  Let’s just say Penelope was always well versed on the topic of boys.

She asked me many questions and when it got to “what is your last name Penelope” I hid my panic as we’d forgotten this detail, looked down at my grilled cheese sandwich on my plate and smooth as sugar delivered “Cheese” in my southern drawl.

This was the day Penelope Cheese was born.  Cindy and I convinced ourselves that we really pulled it off.   That Grandma really did believe it.  That we really had pulled off the ultimate practical joke.  So we never corrected it and went on year after year resurrecting Penelope visits and Buddha’s skills as improvisation rivaled my own.  She was always pleased to see Penelope on each visit even if she didn’t really like her that much as a friend for Cindy with her bad influence and all.  Penelope appeared at nearly every Christmas, once in Mississippi at Thanksgiving to a new crowd and this time in the photo above when I think Cindy and I were already in college.  At least late teens.

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In a very rare moment, I convinced her to dress up along with me.  She typically was the director of these scenes so to get her to be a player was a real coup.  I think we named her “Petunia” as we came down on Christmas Eve to entertain the family that year.  You can see that she wasn’t exactly shy in her new role.  Cindy in so many ways took the fun out of our family when she was killed.  I’ve tried hard to find ways to bring it back to life yet still you can’t duplicate someone’s unique presence.  I did bring Penelope to Maine one year but I think it was her last appearance.  She’s just not the same without Cindy breathing life in to her.

Memories are tricky business.  They remind you of something so precious and at the same time remind you of something so precious.

It’s a brave path and takes some time and some grace to dive back in to them.  And like that kid on the end of the diving board, just gripping yourself and letting go in to it is the only way.  And sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it’s a big splash and sometimes it stings going in.

And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can sink down, rise back up to the surface and start swimming again.