Making Sense of Nothing

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
— Marilyn Monroe

So there I was – turning 25 and the mom of an almost two-year-old. I vividly recall my birthday that year and a couple of friends from work took me to a disco. Everyone had this goal of getting me hooked up with a guy – I guess it was their way of helping me to see that life could go on.  I recall the bartender serving us shots of Peppermint Schnapps when he discovered we were celebrating and I recall some kind of ‘blue’ drink – perhaps Mediterranean Iced Tea? Well, I’m sure you can see this train wreck coming….  One of my friends (the smart one) went home early and unbeknownst to us, took the car keys. The only transportation option for the remaining two of us was to hitch a ride with the two dudes that had been grinding on the dance floor with us all night. These boys thought they were going to get lucky! It was 1985 – I’m not sure we had any thoughts about which one of us were too drunk to drive in fact, if Patty hadn’t taken the keys – one of us probably would have driven back to my place. I’m so glad we are more intellectually evolved these days

I distinctly recall getting in the house and my girlfriend headed upstairs – she must have been prepared to spend the night. I laid out on the Flokati rug that was in front of the fireplace. Oh man – I was in trouble. My stomach churned and swished and stirred as it tried like a geyser to spout up my throat… This was not going to be good. I recall this guy on his hands and knees over the top of me (we still had clothing on) attempting to kiss me and all I could say was “watch out, I’m going to puke”.  About that time, I hear yelling upstairs “who the hell are you?” and another guy runs down the stairs, saying “Let’s go” and they bolt out the door. It was a long night of puking. It was also the night that became a strong reminder to not abuse alcohol. I can count future hangovers on my hands – maybe even on one.

I had a really hard time redefining myself. I was a single mom. I had responsibilities that prevented me from engaging fully in the ‘single’ life. I didn’t really ‘belong’ anywhere. Eventually, the people I worked with became like family to me. They adopted Francis as a mascot of sorts. I recall a party or two where we took turns trying to get him to sleep while 80’s funk blasted in Dolby stereo. Weekdays were routine…. And emotionally manageable. It was the weekends that truly sucked.

Weekends are for families. They are for making things happen – for forging plans and dreams. For us, they were about cartoons and …. Well – laundry. I adopted a coping mechanism of leaving on Saturday morning. I would pack the car and drive somewhere – anywhere that didn’t remind me of what I ‘wasn’t’ doing. Francis was a trooper on those adventures. He hung out in his car seat and sang songs with me. He may not want to ever admit it but at one time he really moved to Madonna, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon! We occasionally drove far enough that I would grab a hotel room and extend the escapade. I found some great little museums, parks, playgrounds, and beaches by doing this. It remains one of my favorite things to do – random exploring.

I wasn’t alone. I had a housemate who was great. He did all the ‘guy’ things – including the removal of a maggot infused bag of potatoes that had been forgotten in the pantry. I had family. My mom and stepdad, brother and twin sisters lived only 10 miles away. I saw them frequently. I had a lot of support from friends at work. I FELT alone. There is NO surrogate for the father of your child. No one cares as much as you and your partner when he has diarrhea or a fever. No one is able to experience the sweetness of peek-a-boo for the two-hundredth time like a parent. Sharing your child with others who love them is special but it does not replace the experience of sharing it with your partner. It is an obvious omission every day and difficult to get used to. I wish I had known more about gratitude back then.

I was trying to make sense of life. I was still pretty mad at God. I found more reasons than is logical for why Rocky died. I attempted to rationalize beyond a reasonable effort. I tried to convince myself that it had been ‘his time’ and that it didn’t matter that I had bought the kite that ultimately killed him; if we had gone into town, perhaps there would have been a car accident. I was using a concept I had learned as a teenager at a Youth for Christ conference I had attended with a Methodist friend. “Everything happens for a reason”.  It was a mantra that had a big impact then – I was attempting to use it now. What ‘reason’ could there possibly be for this tragedy in my life? I hit a void each time I searched for an answer. My aunt gave me a copy of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People and while I knew that God didn’t make it happen, I needed a reason as to why it happened.

My brother was in high school at this point – remember that kid I dressed up? He was smart and we were close. Rocky had been a mentor to him, a true brother. This death had hit him hard – a turning point in his life too. I recall a particular esoteric conversation with him that bordered on unhinged in the way we discussed it. We began talking about God, heaven, hell, spirits, and reincarnation. We started thinking about Rocky’s death from the perspective that perhaps his soul had been called for another body. What if his only purpose here on Earth was to help me create Francis? What if he was only ‘supposed’ to be here for a while. We talked about that Warren Beatty movie Heaven Can Wait where the main character dies accidentally and his soul needed a new body. After that conversation, I found myself looking DEEP into the eyes of every man I met – looking for Rocky.

It was the beginning of a defining spiritual journey for me. It sparked a curiosity that brewed in my soul for many years. The seed had been planted and while it laid dormant for some time, it was (under my awareness) being fertilized and cared for.

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Catholic Guilt

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.