Catholic Guilt

I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.

 

Only Darkness

Everyone went back to their own lives and I was left to face each sunrise and each sunset in a way that was unfamiliar to me; unwanted.

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver

I was a widow.  Prior to this moment I was mostly untouched by death; the very old grandmother of a childhood friend and my own grandfather that I had barely known.  One day we were talking about more babies, going to school, buying a house, and our next vacation – two weeks later I was picking out a coffin and planning funeral music. It was the most surreal experience of my life. Please people…. Pick out your own coffin!! Make your own funeral arrangements!! Do NOT let your loved ones have to do it…

How does one coffin shop?? A funeral director ushers you into a room full of them and explains the benefits of one from another. This one is particle board covered in velvet – it’s the least expensive. This one is Brazilian Cherry and lined with satin. This one has 7 layers of steel with a lead core to survive a nuclear explosion. This one has a time capsule for DNA so the body will never have to be exhumed. Are you f***ing kidding me? I want my husband back!

I left my body. I was aware of sounds and people. I was aware of where I was but I became someone else. It was as if I was back in high school, on stage, playing a part. Rocky wasn’t the velvet type… maybe Cherry… it was warm looking. I wanted him to be warm.  I saw something with a flannel interior and chose that one.

Do you have a favorite reading? Do you want someone to sing? What kind of music? When? Where? How? Who? Holy shit… shut up people. Leave me alone! My soul was screaming but my voice was deciding. He loved Journey and Little River Band – play those songs. Yes, On Eagles Wings – that’s nice… Sure, she can sing it. I floated above it all remembering our wedding night when some fool packed the car air vents with flour so that we were blasted as soon as the car was started and looked like two old people checking into the hotel. It was apparently, not… a vision of our future. I was remembering our first kiss… it was some kiss! I was remembering the sight of him holding our son for the first time… such love. So many dreams, not enough memories.

My sister-in-laws took me shopping for something to wear. I wasn’t so concerned about being stylish or fashionably chic, nor did I care about how well my purchase would fit. My primary concern was finding something that I ‘felt’ beautiful in, not for me – for Rocky. I wanted to be beautiful. I was searching for something that felt calm and comfortable yet highlighted my best features, perhaps the color of my hair. It couldn’t say happy but I was adamant that it did not shout sad. It could not be black, navy, or brown. It shouldn’t be too short or too long; the fabric not too thick or too thin. I was not sure if it should be one piece or two, and I was undecided about the sleeve. We were in hunting mode, searching for just the right thing. Eventually, I settled on a light peach linen suit and an ivory blouse with satin buttons and a round collar. It was feminine, soft, and quite respectful. It worked with my strawberry blonde hair and most importantly, it didn’t scream funeral.

I dressed up and showed up at the funeral home on the night of the private viewing. It was for family only. I did not go into the room where he was on display. I was unwilling to see my husband as a dead man (ultimately a mistake). I was told that the funeral director did a fantastic job with makeup, etc…

That’s nice ~ with a southern slur**

I was still detached. Existing on another plane where I was safe and not alone and loved.  In reality, I was surrounded by so. many. people. Rocky’s large family had all flown in. My dad and step-mom drove in along with a few other relatives. His co-workers, mom’s friends and neighbors whom we had started to know. I don’t know where Francis was… I seem to remember making a decision to keep him away from the ceremonial affairs because I didn’t want him to be negatively impacted by all the emotions, but I can’t remember who had him. I logically know many of these people loved – and still love – me. It’s just that, well – they weren’t HIM.

I got through it. We all did. Indeed – there were lots of funny stories and laughter that goes with them. There were tears – lots.

I couldn’t go back to the house where we had been a family; it was too much for my spirit. His brothers went through things so that I didn’t have to. Someone moved our stuff into storage. I kept a pair of 501 Jeans (because his butt…well, it was so HOT in them!) and I kept his Navy whites. I don’t really remember making all of those decisions and I’m sure some of them were made on my behalf, out of compassion and concern. I’m not sure any were made out of understanding; even my own. How does one understand the death of a 23 year old whose whole life was yet to be lived – or the wishes of his widow – or the lonely cries from his child? How?

I know I was not the only one struggling with these impossible questions but I was so deeply immersed in my personal loss that I was unable to really consider the experience from the perspective of his parents or siblings. It took me years if not decades to be willing to look in that direction. At some point, everyone left. Everyone went back to their own lives and I was left to face each sunrise and each sunset in a way that was unfamiliar to me; unwanted.

A friend took me to her parent’s beach house for a week. We took the kids too.  Then a week later, I went back to work because there was nothing else to do. I didn’t know how to be a widow. I was so very pissed at the world. This was NOT supposed to be my life. I thought God and I had agreed that me – as a single parent – was off the table. Rocky and I had mapped out our lives…. there was going to be three children, a house, and a career by 30. It was planned. It was imagined. If that wasn’t going to happen – what was? What was in store for me?  For our son? What did the universe want from us?

Each morning when I opened my mind – there was only darkness.

**That’s nice ~ with a southern slur** – My mother told a story about a proper southern woman who believed it completely unladylike and immoral to curse. And so, from time to time you could hear her say “That’s nice” with a gentle smile and a slight nod of her head. When asked if she ‘really’ thought it was nice?? she replied “Why no darlin’ – that’s how us Southern women say “FUCK YOU”.

Photo credit: Infomastern via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

No Coming Back

It was my deepest, darkest, most shameful secret and I just couldn’t hold back – I had nothing left to protect myself with.

This is a continuation of the the post A Yellow Kite

In those first minutes, the blur people speak of became my reality. Life was happening all at once and had completely stopped simultaneously. I could hear the Life Flight helicopter approaching as I saw Rocky attempt to stand and Jack yelling at him to calm down. Someone had enough where-with-all to think that he was probably in shock and they were attempting to wrap him in blankets. They wouldn’t let me get close.

Where did all those people come from? We lived in the country – out in the middle of nowhere but the dirt road was lined with trucks and cars and people. The only real sound came from inside my head where screams overlapped with how? What? Shit! Oh my God! – his name on repeat between the sobs. Where was my baby? Someone had taken the children someplace and part of me didn’t care. I couldn’t think. I wanted my mother. I remember she was on the phone trying to tell me to get in the car and she would meet me at the hospital. I have no idea how I got there. I have no memory of the hour long drive. I’m pretty sure someone else drove.

As soon as I gave my name in the ER I was ushered into a private room where my mom and stepdad were waiting. They were with a doctor and I was convinced he was telling them that Rocky was dead. I buried my face in my mom’s chest as she wrapped her arms around me. I intentionally cried loud enough not to hear.  I wanted to fold into the floor, to go back to that morning, to say yes and steel five minutes of sexy time, to go even further and walk past the kite instead of buying it. I wanted to go back to anywhere but there.

He’s alive they were all saying. It’s bad but he’s alive. After minutes of deep breathing I could hear again. The doctors were trying to tell me that he’d been taken to surgery; that after electrocution, time was of the essence. He had been microwaved. They explained that the electricity entered through his hands (which were thrust up to his chest) and then exited through his feet and buttocks as he fell to the ground. The entrance wounds where the worst. They were going to have to cut away the badly burned parts if they were going to have any hope at preventing infection. I gave my permission. My parents had seen him as he came in off the chopper and told me he was conscious. One of the medics had even shared that while in flight – he had discussed his low blood pressure as being impossible since he was awake and alert (Rocky had been a Corpsman – medic – in the Navy and was headed to nursing school that fall). We all waited.

Eventually we were told that amputations had been completed on his left hand and most of his right arm. Over 80% of his body had been badly burned. He had a 90% chance of dying. Due to the massive amounts of fluid they needed to give him, we would notice swelling – extreme swelling. When I finally got to see him, sometime in the middle of the night, his head was the size of a basketball and his eyes were completely encased. He was bandaged from head to toe practically. He was on a ventilator but could hear me they said. I was simply numb. I was completely cried out. All I could do was sit there and go inside my head to that place where it was just us, where we were looking into one another’s eyes with passion and intensity and we knew that we would always be.

….

Rocky’s parents and siblings began to arrive as quickly as flights could get them there from the Mid and North West. Together we were a force that pretty much took over the Burn Unit waiting room. Everyone took shifts except me. I stayed. They tried to get me to go home but I can be pretty stubborn and I wasn’t leaving my man. Mom brought me clothes and the nurses allowed me to shower in the unit when no one was paying attention. People brought food, coffee, books, magazines, and sat with me. We laughed a lot and we cried a lot. Some people prayed. I wasn’t exactly ‘praying’. I was demanding. I was telling God what to do and when to make it happen. I was mad at God. Time continued to tick by. By Wednesday (the accident was on Sunday) it seemed that he was stable. I knew that our friends were keeping Francis and that he was safe and happy. I just really needed a night’s rest in a bed so I agreed to go home for the night – I went to moms. At 2 a.m., someone woke me because the hospital was on the line. Rocky was in respiratory distress. They had been doing blood gases every 15 minutes and they were not stable. I’d better come back. I knew it. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to leave. I knew he would know if I wasn’t there. I was pissed at everyone who tried to tell me otherwise. I didn’t care that they were trying to take care of me. I needed to take care of him and I did that by being there. To hell if I would leave again.

On Friday the swelling had gone down enough that he could open his eyes. We taped a photograph on the ceiling over his bed so that it was the first thing he saw – his wife and son. As soon as I knew he was alert they allowed me in to see him. He had the most beautiful blue eyes… they were open and looking at me.

They were not hopeful eyes. They were sad eyes. They cried soft tears that slid down each cheek and my heart slowly broke into a gazillion pieces. He was trying to talk but was still intubated. I attempted to guess his most pressing concern and started to play 20 questions but he was quickly frustrated because I would NOT go where he was going. I begged him to settle down and heal; to be strong for us; not to leave us. I begged him.

We were interrupted by nurses taking him in for debriding (removing dead tissue), which had to happen every couple of days. He was given anesthesia but I was told it was excruciatingly painful. As usual, we collected in the waiting room and allowed time to pass. It was an intensive care unit and we had become used to Code Blue announcements but your heart always skipped a beat or two when they were announced over the PA system. This time, a Unit nurse walked into the doorway of the waiting room and looked at me with silent, big, sad eyes. I lost it. I began screaming No!! No!! God No!! with my hands over my ears and my eyes closed. I put my head in my mother’s lap and refused to sit up.

Someone peeled my hands away long enough to tell me he was still alive. They had resuscitated him. He was still alive. Oh. My. God. It felt as though everything that was solid under my feet had been turned to mush. I had been hysterical, Rocky had died and then come back, it felt as though my life was completely upside down. Nothing felt real.

More hours and days passed. Doctors decided to skip the next scheduled debriding in an effort to give Rock’s body more strength. He had not regained consciousness since he coded in the OR. Actually, the neurologist suggested that he probably had sustained brain damage during the cardiac arrest and may not come back. I was in denial. It was now Monday – the 9th day. It was absolutely necessary to debride again so he was taken back into the OR. I just couldn’t stay there I couldn’t wait there again and wonder if every code called would be his. I left the floor and found myself in the chapel in another part of the hospital entirely.

I sat there in fear. I needed to beg God to save Rocky but I didn’t deserve anything from God and I knew it. I cried. “Please God, I need you, please.” I was crying harder and much louder than was appropriate for a chapel but I was alone; or so I thought. A Chaplain came and slowly sat down beside me and put a hand on my shoulder. I leaned into him until we were engaged in a full on embrace.  He was holding me and I felt as though I could have absorbed as much – if not everything – he had to give. I settled down and caught my breath. We began to talk. I shared the events of that past week and the current circumstances. I was – there – the most vulnerable I had ever – ever been. I was broken and humble and stripped of defenses. I told him about an abortion I had at the age of 19. It was my deepest, darkest, most shameful secret and I just couldn’t hold back – I had nothing left to protect myself with.

The Chaplain was compassionate and loving. He was accepting and consoling. I felt stronger when I left and headed toward the Burn Unit. As soon as I walked into the new part of the hospital I could hear my name being paged over the PA system.  I knew it. I had taken a life from God and now God had taken a life from me. I ran.

Rocky had coded again – he had let go – and there was no coming back.  My first thought…

“Who’s going to love me now?”

Notes:

I will discuss abortion in more detail in another post – THIS post is not about Pro Rights or Women’s rights – it is about my shame and my loss. Please be respectful of that if you wish to comment.

There is no rational element that I can point to today for the thoughts I had then. I am simply sharing the experience of where I was and I will ultimately share how I got to a new place.

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A Yellow Kite

NO! NO No no no no….

I could spend an entire post or two just sharing shenanigans about the U-Haul and a cross country trip with a 9 month old. Francis and I almost died; Rock would have been oblivious for hours. We packed and unpacked the truck three times and drove across country – San Diego to Va. Beach with a few stops along the way for sightseeing and visiting family. We were so happy to be together and free of the US Navy’s demands that we celebrated all the small things there were to experience. We knew that real life awaited us but we also knew that for those few weeks, we had everything we would ever need because we were three.

Within a couple of weeks of arriving in Virginia we had jobs and a place to live. It was a time of true creativity. We only owned one car and we were both employed. As luck would have it, the little house we rented was just down the road from Rocky’s boss so he was able to carpool each morning. I dropped Francis off at daycare around noon and then Rocky picked him up and went to my mom’s house until I could get there in the early evenings. It was a routine that worked for us well. Rocky and Francis got some good time together, my family bonded with them both, and we were settling in to family life. Our little house in the country was just across the North Carolina, literally a stone’s throw from the Virginia Beach border. It was country though. Miles of cornfields and swamps surrounded us.  It was a dirt road and it was quiet.

Our little house had been hand built by its owner. It had a wall of windows that overlooked a field across the street. In the center of this house was a wood stove, the only source of heat. There were three bedrooms; one for us, one for the baby, and another for the waterbed that we sometimes chose to sleep in. We had a washer but no drier. The clothes rack was set by the woodstove in the winter and on nice days, it went outside. It was a simple life.

One day we drove home together and Rocky seemed nervous. He wouldn’t admit to there being ‘anything wrong’ so I was silent for most of the drive. We got home and entered into our evening routine of dinner, bath, and bedtime but he was outside for most of that time – doing something at the rear of the property where there was a shed type work shop (void of most everything that would be necessary to properly use the word ‘workshop’). After dinner he asked me to bring the baby out back – he had something to show us. I cleaned smashed peas off the cute baby cheeks of our rolly polly baby boy and heaved him up to my hip as I walked out the back door and across the lawn to where Rocky stood with a sly half smile attempting to burst from his face.

Behind him was a five foot fence that enclosed a rather large space, the remnants of a ‘dog run’ from the previous owner. I saw something move inside the fence and stepped backward quickly. “We have a pet” he said, and the smile finally emerged, full and furious, across his face. I looked behind him and saw a PIG, a small, pink, and naked, pig was in that dog run – running in circles and loving life.

We (or rather I) named that pig Christmas in hopes that it would become our Christmas ham. I was unimpressed. We were pretty much broke and Rocky explained that we would need to buy feed for him at the expense of approximately $20 per month – money we didn’t have in the budget.  But… it was really an investment in meat he would argue.  We would raise him, butcher him, and eat him for much less overall than the cost of the same meat we could purchase at the grocery store.  That was what he explained to me each time I attempted to rediscover the rationalization he provided. I finally figured out that he hadn’t taken into consideration the $200 chest freezer we would have to buy to accommodate all that protein.

Can I just say that neither one of us knew anything at all about animal husbandry. This poor pig. As it turns out, that dog run was just too dag gone big.  Pigs need to get FAT and it they have too much running space – well…. They don’t get fat. We eventually figured it out and closed that baby in until the pig – Christmas – was sitting most of the day – confined to approximately 12 square feet. (I hope that isn’t considered cruelty.) Christmas day passed……

It was February before that Pig was ready to be slaughtered and it was a chore to find a way to transport him to the bacon factory. Rocky was on it…. And got it done! By March 1st we were picking out freezers and anxiously awaiting the message telling us we could pick up 200 lbs of organic, prime, homegrown pork. We were excited actually. We had followed through with something big. That pig had been a chore. It had gotten out of the pen on more than one occasion, routed through the yard like it was Easter candy, and taken a share of our budget that would never be recovered. I was ready to celebrate its bounty. We invited friends over for the weekend.

Our friends had three children, two older and a baby the same age as our Francis. It was supposed to be a great weekend weather wise so I bought a kite for their kids to fly in the field across the street from our little house. Since it was March, the corn hadn’t yet been planted and it was just a great place to play (at least that is how I envisioned it). The kids were 8, 6, and 2 if I remember correctly and used to playing outside so a kite was just the ticket on Sunday, March 10th, 1985. It was yellow. We were contemplating going into Norfolk – to the zoo. In the meantime, keeping the kids busy was a priority. We gave them the kite and told them to go across the street. I vaguely heard Jack Sr. issue a warning but paid no mind as I set out to cook up the first of that prime bacon we were sharing with our friends. A big hearty breakfast was in order. Annette and I moved in unison as two mothers preparing a meal often do – synchronizing our kitchen movements in perfect harmony as we prepared a morning meal for eight.

That was the BEST bacon I’ve ever had. I unapologetically had no remorse about Christmas the pig but instead savored the organic goodness; we all did. Rock and I cleaned up while the Mills family took all the kids outside to enjoy the day and the kite. It was quiet in the house and my frisky man who found sexy in everything we did together was more about finding five minutes of privacy than he was about cleaning up – I quickly understood his sudden eagerness to wash dishes. The only thing between us and six other people was an unlocked door so I was compelled to reject this advance and asked for a postponement of his proposed rapture. (I may have said “go away you crazy man” but my ‘postponement of proposed rapture’ sounds so much nicer and way more romantic).

It wasn’t but a few minutes later (I thankfully made the right decision) that we heard commotion outside and went out to discover that someone had let go of the kite and it was now flying – fully engaged with the wind – from the high tension power line that crossed through the adjacent field. Oh well…. It was only a $5 kite. We began discussing how we would spend the rest of the day – the zoo or the waterfront? For some reason, Jack and Rocky were hyper-concerned about leaving that kite where it was. They were convinced that if the wind died down, the kite could become a hazard if it was still attached to the power line and started to devise a plan to dislodge it.  The plan was to throw bricks up in an effort to jar the stick (that was holding the kite string) off the wires. They grabbed a couple of bricks and threw – over and over and over. There were a couple of close calls but ultimately they were exhausting themselves chasing the brick after each throw. It apparently seemed like a good idea to get rope – tie it around the brick – so that after throwing it, they could simply pull it back. There was no arguing with either of them. They were explicit in their goal. Throw after throw and then – the brick did exactly what that kite stick had done – wrapped right around the power line and was dangling … taunting those young, stubborn, invincible men.

We women were getting frustrated and impatient. The kids were restless and it felt as though the men were inviting trouble. They agreed they would stop after getting the rope down – that they would give up on the kite. Just pulling on the rope wasn’t working and so they used their limited knowledge of physics to consider that by tying a brick around the dangling end of the rope and throwing it up – the potential for it to actually make it up and over (i.e. unwrapping from) the line- was better. What no one knew is that the ‘rope’ they were using was actually the old style of clothesline…. Rubber coated copper wire.

As Rocky attempted to wrap the ‘rope’ around the brick, the exposed end made contact and there was suddenly a route for the 44,000 volts of electricity to ground.

There was a flash of light – screams – and I looked up in time to see my blonde god falling backwards.

NO! NO No no no no….

Learning to Hope

I began to believe that dreams can come true, that families can be happy, that life was fair. I was learning about hope and counting on it.

I was crazy thankful that my first baby was a big baby. He didn’t feel quite so delicate that way. As can be the case in military families, the timing wasn’t really good. It was September 30th and since Rocky was leaving for Japan the beginning of November, we had scheduled 30 days leave to move me back East so that I could have a support system, new baby and all. As I nested prior to the baby’s birth, most everything was in boxes and ready to be moved into storage by the time we got him home from the hospital. Anything that needed to be moved with a truck had been done by Rocky and a few friends while I was in the hospital.  I came home to a mostly empty apartment although they had saved all the couch cushions to create what they assumed would be a comfortable sleeping space for a brand new mother. Um-hm. None of them comprehended – in any form – the consequences of a four degree episiotomy (look it up). Nor did they consider that I would be up and down every two hours from the lowest position in our apartment. I may have been better off attempting to sleep standing up. It took some time for me to experience gratitude for the fact that our furniture was appropriately stored and I didn’t have to worry about it.

The baby – also called Francis Marion Rockefeller – and may I digress just a bit to discuss the name Francis. It was a ‘Rockefeller’ family name. For my husband, it had shifted sideways a generation (from his Uncle Frank) so that the name could be carried down-line and let’s just say that I had absolutely no choice in the matter. There was no annotation of numbers (i,e., the III or IV) but I was always told that there had been someone in the family with that name since the civil war. I have no documentation of that fact but it always made a great story. I came from William’s and Patrick’s and Edward’s. I had trepidations about the name Francis. When I met Rocky (obviously a nickname he garnered while in the Navy) he talked about how he loved his nickname.  I actually shortened it to ‘Rock’ pretty quickly and he would tell me it made him feel strong. Funny what a name can do. My step-dad was Francis a.k.a Frank. Rocky’s family called him Francis – Frank’s family called him Francis – Neither of them were Francis to me. What in the world would I end up calling my son?? It’s funny that he turned into a Francis for me…. Within days of his birth it felt natural and authentic. I had my own Francis. Years later it would get really confusing again but for now, everyone was distinguished with a name unique to them – for me at least.

So Rock and I are parents. He is leaving the country and we have to get from San Diego to Cincinnati, OH where my dad and stepmom have  loving prepared space for us to hang while Rocky is overseas. Ten days after giving birth we all pile into a little Ford Pinto and head across country; an infant, a male cat, and over 30 stitches in my bum. I sat on a donut and moved sparingly. I know we stopped in the (then) tiny little town of Texhoma, Oklahoma for the night and checked into a classic Route 66 style strip motel.  It may have been our second night on the road, I can’t exactly recall. It was THIS night however that stands out in my mind clearly. Francis (the baby) was hungry and crying. My milk had come in – my breasts were rock hard, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I needed to sit in a pool of warm salty water. I hurt, the baby was hungry and needed to eat but I couldn’t cope with the notion of allowing anything near the petrified coconuts on my chest. Rocky felt helpless and was getting mad at me for not knowing what to do It was 1983 – the world before cell phones – long distance was expensive and collect calls required someone be home! He simply needed advice from a woman who had experience because in a matter of days I had become a tired, restless, and hurting, bitch.

My mom was finally reached and she suggested that I sit in a bathtub with warm wet towels draped across my milk factory while offering to nurse the baby. I can only imagine what it must have looked like just two weeks postnatal. THAT was love…. For better or worse. The baby finally latched on while I cried and we got through the night. By late the next day we were in Clay Center where I finally had some experienced help (thanks Grandma R) and rested. We begrudgingly left the cat in the good hands of Gpa. We moved on to Cincinnati. It was great fun to watch my father turn into a Grandfather and we settled in just a few days before Rock left for his tour of duty.

He was gone for 6 months. In that time, an infant changes daily. I was so sad that he may miss even a minute of it so I invested in a Polaroid camera and took daily photo shoots of FMR Jr. They would get folded into a letter that professed love and sorrow for the distance. I stamped, and mailed one every day.  Eventually I learned to date them on the outside because he usually received them in a stack. To keep him motivated to come back to me, I added a personal Polaroid from time to time. ; )

Sometimes I think it was then that we really fell IN love with one another – those letters were our hearts poured onto paper. They were absent of defense mechanisms and blaming. They lacked rhetorical pieces of our brokenness and focused solely on the ways in which we supported and cared for one another. For a solid six months there were no arguments, no conflicts, no power struggles; we simply shared ourselves in the most vulnerable of ways.

We started to plan the rest of our lives and shared hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We began to develop a clear vision of what we hoped for our lives to become. We wrote letters to one another that were clear in intention and specific in our picture of the future.  The map to the rest of my life was being drawn.

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I split the time he was away by spending half with dad in Ohio and then the final three months in Virginia with mom. I loved being back on the East coast and fell in love with the Virginia Beach area. Rocky and I came up with a post-navy plan. He would only have 30 days of his Navy commitment left when he returned and we agreed to move east – all the way. We counted down the days with each letter. I washed windows in big houses with newspaper and vinegar for months as I earned enough money to get back to California so that I could be there when he got back Stateside. I made enough to fly out there and rent a trailer on the Camp Pendleton beach for the last month of his service. It was a surprise. He didn’t know I would be there and I was able to watch as he got off the bus – perhaps a bit envious of other family members running up to their loved ones – and then he saw me. I remember it as a movie moment, a bit sappy, probably cheesy, but everything I wanted it to be; surprising, joyful, and romantic.

We were three again. We had persevered. We still wanted one another – he came back to ME. His desire for me had withstood the test of separation and time (six months is a life-time at the age of 23). I began to believe that dreams can come true, that families can be happy, that life was fair. I was learning about hope and counting on it.

Silly me.

Prince Charming

This blonde god was the kind of man that would never, ever, be interested in a gal like me.

In the years after high school I sowed some oats and experimented with life.  I explored love, travel, and a few illicit substances before it was all said and done.  I received a couple of hard knocks as men took advantage of my kindness and naiveté. I worked hard but spent a lot of money while I discovered slot machines and cocaine. I was enrolled in college but never took it seriously enough to make decisions about my life or grades that counted. I changed majors three times over five years and never finished.

I had graduated from high school in California and stayed there after my parents relocated back east. I was finished with moving around. For the first time in a decade I had established friendships and felt a sense of belonging. I was self supportive and made the decision to rescue my sister after she finished high school (her story to tell).  I rented a two-bedroom apartment and brought her out to live with me. My work with the railroad kept me on-the-go to the extent that I was gone more than half the time each month. Frankly I don’t remember much about that time except that we fought about dishes and who would be doing them. I experienced a reality of being stone broke. It took everything I earned to take care of us both.

I turned 21 and felt old. In an effort to bring some light and fun into my life, my sister arranged a blind date for me. She was dating a Navy guy from a local hospital base who had three roommates. Apparently, she invited them over to our apartment with the agreement that I could choose one for a date. I was getting ready for the evening when I heard commotion in the kitchen and as I entered the main living area I was aware of three young men. One of them – the only one I really noticed – had his back to me but oh…. What a view. He wore white flared pants and a camel colored short sleeve shirt. He was the tall, blonde, and broad shouldered. Even from the rear, there was no doubt in my mind that I was interested and immediately attracted. It was a visceral physical attraction. When he turned around and smiled, I could barely breathe. This blonde god was the kind of man that would never, ever, be interested in a gal like me.

His kind of attractive looked past girls like me. Even though I had an average figure and corrected my ‘bucked-teeth’ issue with orthodontics and dental surgery – my body image and self value was still strongly tethered to the original version of me. I felt an immediate sense of disappointment as I recalled the thousands of rejections that had previously taken place (in reality it was probably dozens – felt like thousands).  The other two guys were great but I put them all in the same category – too attractive to be interested in me. I felt disappointed but attempted to have fun as I knew Al was excited about ‘hooking me up’.  The tall one – the one that had first caught my breath – asked to lie down at midnight. He explained that he had an oral surgery procedure the next morning and was unable to eat or drink anything after midnight; he might as well sleep.  I directed him to my room and carried on. An hour or more went by… I was curious. I walked back to my room, opened the door and looked in on this human hunk who was lying in my bed. He looked up.“You know – it’s not just any man who gets to sleep in my bed.”  I felt brave. He invited me in. I sat on the edge of my bed and talked with him until it was obvious that everyone else had quieted down and was ending the night. He kissed me or maybe I kissed him or we just simply moved into one another in some romantic and wanton way. I believe I heard trumpets or something coming from the heavens. I knew that I wanted to kiss him again over and over and over. I was certain I didn’t deserve him. I hoped he wanted me. It was a beginning.

Truth be told, I was immediately in love. I was in love with the idea that a man who ‘looked like him’ would be *at all* interested in me. I lived in fear that he would wake up and notice the fat buck toothed girl I really was. When, just a couple of weeks (like, literally – two) after meeting, he casually discussed getting married someday – I said yes! Let’s do it. He moved into my apartment, turned 20 and picked out an engagement ring that I helped to pay for.

I gradually fell in love with the family attributes he embodied, the way he allowed me to feel special and beautiful, the insecurities he trusted me with. It was the first time that I understood I was not the only one who felt unlovable. He felt that way too – even though he was physically beautiful. An ah-ha moment…. Beautiful people could feel unworthy. He was Francis Marion Rockefeller (Rocky to me) and he was my prince charming. He was the vision of everything I had ever hoped for and it was rough. We were so very young.  We were both so broken in our individual ways but we didn’t know it. There was such a void in our awareness. In an effort to fulfill the Cinderella story, we got married and began a life together. We vowed to cherish and to adore without understanding the meaning or value of that commitment.

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It was SO MUCH work… which, feels like an understatement really. Neither of us was emotionally ready for the commitment of marriage and yet, we were drawn to one another in a way that felt constantly passionate and romantic. There were ‘eye’ moments…. The kind you see in movies where everything stands still and nothing exists except you both – there – in the moment. There were evenings of dreaming and hoping and planning the rest of our lives. There were fights about money, lots of adventure, and card game weekends with friends. We got a cat, went fishing, ate guacamole, and discovered strawberry shortcake in a way that only happens when one is pregnant.

rocky3Our son was born just weeks before Rocky was scheduled to leave for a six month tour of duty to Okinawa, Japan. He showed up after 9 hours of labor weighing in at 10 lbs 9 oz; not bad brewing for a first time mom. There are so many funny stories to tell about that day but leave it to say that neither of us had ever experienced a more joyful moment.  Parenting became us. We pulled maturity out of our asses and bucked up to the occasion of accepting the role of mom and dad. This was the moment, the single most important moment of our lives up to now. It was the moment that we understood commitment and honor and hope in a way that had never shown up before. It was the moment we unconsciously decided to get our shit together. We looked at each other and knew that our ‘forever’ had just been dedicated. Or so we thought.

 

Sand Castles

We become slaves to positive response and most importantly, we fail to learn how to COPE with the idea that it is impossible to please all people – all the time.

In my sophomore year of high school my mom and step-dad had to relocate to the metro DC area so that mom could obtain some specialized medical care for an at-risk pregnancy. She spent three months on bed rest before my (half) twin sisters were born. In an effort not to have us change schools AGAIN – we, my brother and I (sister Allysen was living with dad in California) went to stay with our grandmother until the school year was finished. It entailed come unique transportation arrangements since she did not live in the district we attended. They made arrangements for me to be picked up at an intersection of a state highway that a teacher drove for her commute. It was rural Pennsylvania and the term intersection is loose. There were a couple of roads there actually, the state Highway, a county road leading into a town of a few hundred, and a dirt road that was predominately farm access. It was the dirt road that I travelled to meet this teacher.

Occasionally, my grandmother was unable to pick me up in the afternoons and I was relegated to walking the 3.5 miles home. No, really…. It’s true. And no….. it wasn’t uphill both ways and yes…. I had shoes. I actually loved those walks when the weather was good. I recall singing Karen Carpenter songs and making up poems. One of them won a poetry contest at school. I still remember it.

As the autumn leaves turn to red

Lay your sleepy soul upon the bed

Close your eyes and go to sleep

Listen to the Willows weep

Nestle down all snug and warm

If you chill reach out your arm

Let me hold you extra tight

Before we kiss and say goodnight.

I’ve never forgotten the words to that poem and no, I don’t recall any special significance from it. I was probably missing my mother. I’ve had people say that it reminds them of death….. In future years if ever an English professor somewhere decides that there is some amazing underpinning of sorrow here and decides what it must mean, please know it is beyond my conscious understanding.

The other memory that stands out from one of those long walks is the profound understanding that I was “too young to feel this old”. I was fifteen and had assumed primary responsibility for my 6 year old brother. In all of the moves, the one consistent element is that he and I were together. Our sister often chose to live with the opposite parent and it was only a year or two out of our entire childhood that we all shared the same home. Along the way people would say “take care of your brother” or “you are such a big girl” and “it’s nice to count on you”. I became that girl – the one whom everyone depended upon. The idea that I may fail or let someone down became unacceptable to me. I began to thrive on people’s reliance on me. I became Miss Responsible while I lost my childhood.  That day I realized I was “too young” I didn’t know why or how it had happened exactly that I “felt too old” – I just knew I did and I didn’t believe that my thoughts about it would be taken seriously or accepted. I knew I needed to be dependable.

Perhaps on some crazy deep plane I was somehow in touch with the idea that my youth was escaping, my innocence waning, my adolescence disappearing and that is the source of the poem. Perhaps there was some subliminal pain that was unable to rise to the surface except metaphorically in that collection of rhyming words. Is that where art comes from? Should I have paid closer attention? Should someone have noticed? Nope, adults in my life were on auto pilot, coping with their own stuff – looking across the valley and choosing not to see the garbage there.

By the age of 15 I had learned and deeply engrained into my psyche the need to please – to be dependable and responsible – to take care of others. I had demonstrated so greatly that I could meet the needs of other people that *I think* people assumed I knew how to meet my own. I’m not sure I was aware that I had personal needs. How does a young person become aware of their needs if someone isn’t guiding them and teaching them about emotional and physical needs and about healthy methods of self care?

Some might argue (in fact, I often have a mental debate/war ensuing in my own mind) that learning dependability and responsibility are admirable attributes and actually, they are. However, there are UNHEALTHY behaviors that arise when we forget to set limits, to listen to our own needs, and fail to use our voice in fear that someone will feel disappointment. We learn to keep secrets where truth would meet displeasure. We develop perfectionist personas and fears of failure. We become slaves to positive response and most importantly, we fail to learn how to COPE with the idea that it is impossible to please all people – all the time.

That was me by the age of 18. I had become a complete and total people pleaser without skills to manage negative responses in a healthy manner and so it began, like a drippy sand castle…. one situation after another, the fears of disappointment and the inability to handle failure. Mental messages that slowly accumulated into a distorted perception of self.  There was my ‘inside’ self and the identity that I portrayed to the world. I had allowed a constant state of disconnect to exist in my mind between the person I felt like on the inside and the person I allowed the world to see. When people looked at me, they saw a confident, strong, smart, motivated, determined, and fearless young woman.  That was my outside – the part that people were proud of; teachers, parents, friends, siblings, employers, neighbors. I was a ‘good girl’. And, while those qualities are definitely there, the 12 year old girl who missed her mom and wanted to ride bikes and play hide and seek ‘til dark also existed and she was at war with me. She wanted to come out and be taken care of. She needed love and compassion. She wanted to cry in the lap of someone who didn’t judge. She needed to learn how to disappoint without risking total approval.

Merging my inside and my outside happened, but not until a storm blew in and washed wave after wave over the well fortified castle.