Tag: life lessons

Never Surrender

Bella snoozing at the keyboard

It’s been a while… a long while.

The old me would take this opportunity to ‘cleanse’ the blog and move forward with a new chapter and a clean, fresh start. Maybe that would be good in some ways. I like to think I learn from my past, though, and how can I do that if every time I move to the next chapter, I rip out the last? No, I look back over the blog and with my older, wiser, more experienced eyes, I see growth. It all will stay, this time. The person I am today is built on the lessons of all my yesterdays.

As I write this, I am curled up on a big bed with several blankets, snuggled half under them and wrapped in an added layer of thick hoodie. One dog is snuggled up against my belly as close to my hands as she can get without being under my typing hands. She, Bella, will slowly inch her little nose up to the corner of my keyboard until she finally braves shoving my hand up to demand petting. I’ll pet her a moment, then she’ll be content enough to let me type a bit more before she repeats the process. Another of the dogs, Angel, is curled up at the foot of the bed, using my feet as a pillow. The cat, Willow, is curled up on my hip. Pandora is playing “Rather Be” quietly. Patchouli incense fills the air. The atmosphere is as upbeat and peaceful as I could hope. The only thing that could make it better would be if my beloved partner, ChessyCat, were home…

Her new schedule means I spend the evenings alone with my thoughts and whims. This isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but it is challenging. See, I struggle with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Even now, after finally giving myself permission to live genuinely and making leaps and bounds toward accepting myself just as I am, I still struggle with these old companions. Depression is the unwelcome pessimist at the party and Anxiety is my long time frienemy who whips me into a frothing panic over the most mundane and minor things under the guise of ‘protecting me’ whenever the mood strikes it. We have made great progress in the last year on improving our relationship, but there isn’t a relationship counselor alive that could convince Anxiety to leave me alone for good, and Depression won’t even go to the appointments.

That’s what brings me to the blog tonight. Look at that picture: snuggled up all warm and cozy with furbabies and music and incense and quietly singing wind chimes in the background… Picture perfect. It’s glorious. Last I spoke to ChessyCat she called and said she loves me and made me feel special just by taking the time on her break to speak to me. I still get hugs before bed from MaRoo and I’m not totally alone in the house by any measure. I have a good life right now. Money is tight sometimes, of course, but when isn’t it? I still have a car and home and job. What the hell do I have to be depressed or anxious about? I’ve tackled this before on this blog, but it comes back around enough that I feel it bears repeating…

Depression doesn’t care. Depression and Anxiety both lie. Neither gives a damn how good your life is or how great you’ve got it, they will attack whenever they please. Anxiety will latch onto the tiniest doubt and make it into something so much worse than it really is. Depression will cast a shadow over the brightest circumstance.

For example: ChessyCat calls me on her lunch break every day. She was late, today. LogicBrain knows perfectly well that her break times shift depending on the work load. LogicBrain knows that when we spoke at her first break, she said bright things including “I love you” and “I miss you.” LogicBrain knows the score… Anxiety, though? She’s not been late once since she started this job. Anxiety points out that I forgot to scoop the litter box in the morning and I didn’t wash that pan last night, so she must be mad at me. Anxiety capitalizes on this completely mundane delay in a phone call to try and work me into a froth of panic over something that has nothing to do with any flaw or mistake on my part at all. Anxiety is narcissistic. Everything is about Anxiety and me. Anything can become my fault, even if it’s not. Depression then feeds off the awful feelings the panic creates and it all spirals out of control if I don’t manage to get a handle on it early.

The thing that I have been working on the hardest in this respect is giving myself permission to feel these things. I don’t mean that I am allowing myself to fall victim willingly to the sick mind games of Anxiety and Depression and wallow in the resulting pain and distress. More accurately, I am learning to give myself permission to be broken. I am learning to accept that I am damaged goods and that being such doesn’t mean that I am not still valuable and worthy. Turning around on myself and telling myself I have no right to feel anxious or depressed because my life is good and there’s no reason just feeds these persistent moochers in my mind. Denying the negative feelings’ existence prevents proper processing of those feelings. Shaming myself for feeling the negative feelings adds guilt to the pile of unpleasantness my brain is gleefully assembling against me.

Anxiety and Depression have been feeding off of my distress in my weakest moments for most of my life and no matter how much I try to starve them, they will never go away for good. Accepting this fact does not mean I am accepting defeat; rather, it means that I am acknowledging the flaws in my design and learning to compensate for them. We are all flawed. We are, by nature, imperfect beings. Were we perfect, we wouldn’t be human. We are beautifully broken… perfectly imperfect.

Tonight, I won. LogicBrain gave the reasonable and sensible arguments against my anxiety and I was able to engage my coping mechanisms swiftly and to great effect before things spiraled out of control inside my head. Nights like tonight, I can stack the deck in my favor by seeking companionship where I can or isolating myself until the nerves settle, snuggling the furbabies, playing uplifting or calming music, and generally engaging every coping mechanism I have until the psychic attack is over.

Sometimes I lose. Sometimes Anxiety is a ninja, so subtle and clever that I never have a chance to sound the red alert before it’s too late. Depression slips in right behind it and disables engineering so I can’t engage the warp core and escape. These are the nights that find me hiding behind a collar, crying quietly in the dark, longing for the comfort of a sharp blade or a cigarette, and questioning if the world wouldn’t be better without me in it.

That’s okay. No one wins every time. Each time I lose, I make it to the other side knowing that next time I might win. Mine is a life of constant vigilance against a foe that exists in my own head with me. I accept this. I accept that I may struggle. I accept that I am not perfect.

I will not ever accept defeat.

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Changes

When last we met, I spoke vaguely of endings and beginnings taking place in my life… Change. There’s that word… “Change”. Change is a funny thing. It is the essence of inconsistency and yet seems to be the only real ‘constant’ in life. Everything is always changing around us, even our own identity and self-image. Sometimes we set out to create change, and other times it is thrust upon us. Sometimes change is pleasant. Other times it is decidedly unpleasant. More often than not, it’s a bit of both.

The really big changes always come with debris and dust. Usually, one big change reveals the need for several other changes that might be just as big, and each of those changes might unveil the need for a small catalogue of other changes. The result is that it feels like big changes always come in clusters or storms.

This last few months has been one of those storms and I think I’m finally ready to start talking about it. The dust is starting to settle and I can think clearly, now. I promised never to shy away from the big stuff here and to always tell the truth, so here goes nothing.

Let’s get the big bombs out of the way right now:

First, my marriage is over. Kazi and I are still friends, but romantically are going our own ways.

Second, this is largely due to the fact that I am quite thoroughly, no-longer-deniably, fabulously, (and finally proudly) gay.

There were other factors in our demise, but honestly, even I have limits to what I’ll throw online for the world to chew on, so let’s focus on my major role in the ending and leave it at that.

The most frequent question I’m encountering is ‘Why?’ This question often comes from people who knew me when I was with my first love, a woman I spent ten years with before we went our separate ways and I wound up with Kazi. That question is best answered by looking at what happened in my head when things ended with my former wife.

When she and I split, I was broken. I was scared. I felt completely alone. I believed my blood family wouldn’t accept me, especially after all I’d put them through in the name of being with her, and I was questioning everything about myself, my identity, and even doubting my own perceptions of myself and my emotions.

So I ran.

I ran so far away from everything that was my life with her that I completely erased the person I was in favor of the person I thought people wanted around. I cast away my spirituality, my sexuality, and many of my core beliefs in favor of taking up the mantle of what I thought the people I wanted in my life would want from me. I was convinced I’d just been confused; that I hadn’t been a lesbian, I’d just happened to fall in love with my best friend. I convinced myself to go back to Church. I began seeing a man, a friend of several years who was kind and needed me as much as I needed him at the time. We were both fragile and desperate not to see the red flags. My heart did love him… just not the way he needed in the end.

See, my first encounter with anything remotely LGBT was my mom asking me angrily, “Are you a lesbian?!” before I even knew what the term meant. Sensing that to be a bad thing from her tone, I said “No!” It would be six more years before I learned otherwise. Then, I would make a huge mess of coming out, make some even bigger miscalculations regarding my gender identity, burn a lot of emotional bridges, and generally wreck a lot of things on the way to figuring myself out. When I left the woman who so thoroughly contributed to the twisting of my heart and mind (for reasons unrelated to this search for my identity that I will not get into here for her privacy as much as my own) I was certain I wouldn’t be welcome home and wondered honestly if the ones who’d told me I was wrong and our love was wrong and she was wrong for me hadn’t been right all along…. I doubted myself and all that I believed in.

All of this is pretty typical of the world we live in. True, it’s a lot easier to be gay now than it was ten or twenty years ago, but there’s still an abundance of sources telling us that we’re wrong, sick, confused, sinners, abominations, or otherwise not acceptable in civil society. There are still families where coming out is the single most dangerous choice a person can make. There’s still so many reasons why anyone who flies the rainbow flag, so to speak, should be nervous about being identified as LGBT+ in public, even in the most progressive of places. A thousand allies telling you you’re wonderful are great, but it only takes one violent homophobe to end a life and we live with that fact every day…

…and sometimes we are weak…

… I was weak.

In all the fear and self doubt, I went into denial. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I just listened to the little voices in my head that told me I had been wrong, I’d ‘chosen’ the wrong ‘lifestyle’, and that I wasn’t ‘that person’ anymore. I listened to the voices that said I could change and ‘go straight’ like it’s some kind of switch you can flip. I told myself I’d ‘get better’, like it was some kind of disease. All the while, this very sweet and kind-hearted man was courting me and I believed in ‘us’. It was rational, logical, and emotionally felt pretty good for a long while. Every step deeper into that relationship sent me deeper into denial of my buried needs and desires. I fell victim to my fears and truly convinced myself that I was this other person…. this Socially Acceptable Me who loved who they said she should and believed what they said she should and said the right lines at the right times to keep all the sensitive types happy in their assumptions that she completely ‘fit in.’

There were signs. There are always signs, when your mind and heart are creating cognitive dissonance. Grossly mismatched libidos, imbalanced affection thresholds, imbalanced emotional investments… There were always easier explanations than the truth.

“Stress causes loss of sex drive in lots of people.”

“Your grieving the loss of your mother, of course you are distracted and disinterested.”

“You’re struggling with mental illness, it can do that.”

“Maybe it’s the medications causing it.”

“You just discovered you’re functionally infertile and raising kids was a dream of yours, of course you don’t want to be intimate.”

I was never as affectionate as he was, sexually or casually. I told myself I had always been less touchy and emotionally ‘clingy’ than most people. We always thought of reasons… neither of us wanted to consider the alternative.

I won’t get into the details of how exactly I learned otherwise. It’s a privacy thing. I will only say that no, I never cheated on him, nor he on me. We never broke trust.

I did discover it, though. A falsehood that you believe is true is, to your mind, truth. Once the falseness of the belief is revealed, though, continuing to claim the newly revealed falsehood is a willful choice to perpetuate what you now know to be a lie. Once I knew…. once I realized what I’d done…. that who I was and how I loved wasn’t something I could choose or change just because the reality of it scared me…. once I knew, I could not lie. Once my perceived truth was unmasked, I could not perpetuate the story I now knew to be false.

It wasn’t easy. We are still working through it, in some ways. He says he doesn’t blame me or hold it against me. We are making peace with our other issues, as well. We are both healing. We are friends, still.

So that’s where we stand. My Second Coming Out hasn’t exactly been easy, but it sure as hell could have been worse. I’ve learned that change can hurt like hell and that forcing change on yourself to try and be something else for someone else simply doesn’t work in the long run. The masks start to chafe and eventually, no matter how hard you have come to believe the ‘alternative facts’ you’ve built for yourself, the truth will make itself known to you and then you have to decide what you’re going to do with that truth.

So there’s the ‘why’. I was a terrified, lonely, lost person who tried to hide from her own truth in a desperate plea for acceptance. It was never malicious. There was no clear, conscious decision to ‘marry a man and go into hiding’. It was denial, so complete and devouring that I truly believed it, for a long while. It ate away at me, because even in denial that deep, the subconscious mind knows itself and its truth and it will fight to make that truth known. It contributed to my severe depression and frequent suicidal ideation, over time, even before I was able to put my finger on the real problem. Malicious or not, denying my own identity caused pain for all involved. I have faced that, owned up to that, and been forgiven for it.

The ‘what now’ is the other big question I get regarding all of this.

The future is a big, scary, uncertain thing. I’m not so scared of it, these days, though. I’ve seen more struggles, both of my own making and by outside sources, in my life than some people see in a lifetime and there’s just not too much left that scares me. Giving myself permission to be myself and love myself and be proud of who I am has made a world of positive difference for me in so many ways.

There is a woman in my life that I hope to spend a very, very, very long time with. I love her with all that I am and she loves me. She accepts me just as I am, even as I am still in the infancy of rediscovering all of myself that I had locked away and tried to destroy. We’ve had a confusing and sometimes rough go of life the past couple of months with many changes neither of us expected or even wanted in some cases, but our relationship has only grown stronger through it all. I’m saddened, at times, by all that we each have lost and struggled with and the hurts it has born for us and those we were close to, but I simply cannot regret the love we share.

Never again will I apologize for or try to deny who and how I love, for any reason or any person(s). Never again will I bend myself into grotesque contortions to try and be what someone else wants me to be at the expense of my very identity. Never again will I apologize for being genuinely 100% me, in all my weird, random, slightly crazy, intensely passionate, deeply spiritual, completely geeky, sapphic glory.

I have not shared this, today, to try and explain myself to some imaginary judge or make excuses. I share this for the same reason I share any of my tales… in the hopes that someone else might learn from my journey, or realize that they are not alone.

I share this also in the hopes of illuminating an unpleasant truth: these things still happen. Hardly a week ago I heard someone say that they couldn’t believe ‘things like that’ still happened in our ‘post marriage equality’ world upon hearing about a girl kicked out of her home for coming out as a lesbian to her parents. I managed not to laugh bitterly at the speaker, but it was a challenge and a testament to the strength of my will.

‘Things like that’ are still happening, every day. Even as we make leaps and bounds toward equality all over the world, we still have a disproportionately large percentage of youth homeless on the streets strictly because their families couldn’t accept that they were gay, bi, trans, genderfluid… There are still parts of this country where adults are just as frightened as youth about being outed because they fear violent repercussions from their neighbors or even their own blood. There are still places in this world where being gay is punishable by death. There is still a veil of uncertainty around supposed safe spaces due to the fear that our sanctuaries might be next on the nightly news as a bloody tragedy with a heartbreaking body count. People still try so hard to suppress their sexuality that they lead convincing lives, passing for straight, sometimes for years or even decades, because of the abundance of hatred and fear mongering still rampant in our world.

“This kind of thing” will continue to happen so long as we continue to allow homophobia to be socially acceptable, anywhere. So long as ‘gay’ is still synonymous with ‘bad’ and ‘gross’; so long as ‘dyke’ remains a hateful insult to any girl that doesn’t act feminine enough for another’s tastes; so long as people remain silent while LGBT people are bullied, abused, and killed (directly or indirectly through suicide) ‘this kind of thing’ will continue to happen. Yes, it’s getting better, and easier to be gay in many countries, but we have a long way to go yet.

So yeah, maybe this post ends with a bit of a sermon, but it’s my blog and I’ll preach if I want to. I will never again be silent. I will never again apologize for my love. I will never again stand quietly by while my people are abused, bullied, murdered, or demeaned. I promise not to make every future post a sermon about LGBT rights. I’m too ADD for that anyway. I will never be quiet, though. I will never hide myself or my light again. I’ve found my voice, at last, and I intend to use it.

 

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No Regrets

Every story has a three things: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Some would say that every person has a story.

I like to think that every person is more like a really long series that doesn’t end until the author dies, and maybe, in some ways, even continues after that.

You see, in a series, there are many stories. Each one has it’s own beginning, middle, and end. Each has its conflicts and its resolutions; its love and its loss. In each of those stories, we learn a little more about the main character, and at the same time, the main character learns a little more about themselves. The trick is, we might not like some of the books in the series as much as others. As both the author and the main character, we sometimes feel like we wish we’d never written that story or that we had written it differently… But what if Harry Potter had the option to rewrite his own story? Would he have kept all the parts about Dobby before he knew the whole story? Or would he have written the house elf out after Dobby dropped the cake on Uncle Vernon’s company, so that he never met the little guy and never went on to their later adventures?

I’ve kept about a hundred different journals over the years. I am a ripper. I used to think that by removing the pages from the last chapter of my story, I would help myself move into the next, symbolically. Effectively, I would throw out book two in order to focus on book three, without ever looking back at all the awesome stuff I wrote in book two. I’ve lobotomized my story by ripping out the pages so many times that I probably contributed to the death of at least one small forest and probably several Gigs of blog data. Then one day, it clicked.

Every story teaches us what we need to know to understand the next.

Mind blowing, right?

No? Not really? Okay, fine. Sure, it sounds like common sense, but why do so many of us forget it all the time? We tell each other to ‘never look back’ and ‘just keep swimming’ and ‘keep looking ahead’. We encourage people to forget the past and focus on the future. All too often, these are the words we hear when the painful times fall on us. When the hard battles have been fought and we find ourselves lying in the wreckage of loss, maybe even defeat, wondering what comes next and often feeling like there is no hope for a future at all, that is when we get told to focus forward. So many people are just like I was and they try to cut away the past and ‘just move on’ and purge their life of reminders of the painful thing entirely. In its own way, that’s okay. It’s the forgetting that’s not. The regret can be crippling.

The thing is, all stories have endings. Some stories are longer than others. Some take longer to write. Some start slowly and end in a flash. Others start out like a whirlwind and then go on indefinitely. Many stories can be written in tandem, and each is special, and unique, however big or small. Some may be little more than expanded universe material, but others will take their place in the greater series that is The Tale of You.

I won’t lobotomize my story anymore. Things are changing for me, right now. One story is ending and others are just beginning. Endings hurt. They hurt like hell and they’re never easy. Sometimes the ending rips your heart apart and leaves you feeling truly defeated and hopeless. The beginnings, though… There’s always a sense of energy at a beginning. Sometimes it’s negative because the path is unknown or scary, and sometimes it’s positive, because the path ahead is bright and welcoming. Sometimes, it’s bittersweet, with a mixture of light and shadow that makes you curious and a little nervous all at once.

The point is, things end, but every ending means you’re just that much closer to the next great beginning. Without the knowledge from the last chapter, we wouldn’t be ready to face the next chapter. So many times when people meet new people who somehow change their lives, I hear the phrase “where were you X years ago?” The truth is, you wouldn’t have been ready for them X years ago. That goes for every question like this. “Why didn’t I do this before?” “Where was this when I was younger?” “Why didn’t I know better?” The answer is always the same: You simply weren’t ready. You hadn’t learned the lessons you needed or discovered the parts of you that needed to come out or made peace with the parts of you that couldn’t be accepted by others until you accepted them in yourself.

So yes, things end… and that just means you’re ready for the next great adventure, wiser and better prepared than ever before.

Hang on tight. This series is a long way from over, folks.

 

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I Am Nobody or Why I Bother to Blog


(Trying out voice recordings of my posts. Let me know what you think!)

It’s just after midnight and I find myself staring at a blank blog post. Well, not so blank now, but- whatever. You get the point. Once again, I have returned to my little public sanctum in the small corner of the internet that I’ve made my home to spill my thoughts into some comprehensible form of alphabet soup so that others may read the strangeness that goes on in my head. Sometimes even I wonder…

“Why?”

Why should a nobody like myself bother to write my thoughts where anyone else can see them? Why bother to blog when all too often, I’m so depressed I can barely think or so anxious I can barely breathe, and that negativity comes through in my writing? Why bother to tell my sad stories instead of just writing something funny because it’s easy and happy?

I once read somewhere, though I don’t remember where, that the blogosphere is a place where a lot of people with nothing to say go to say a lot of nothing. Maybe… or maybe not.

When I discovered the blogosphere, it was my refuge. I went there to vent my thoughts where I thought my mom couldn’t possibly find them, thanks to the anonymity of the internet. Vent, I did, and with all the fiery fury the Angry Pubescent Heir to the Throne of Batshit Crazy could muster. I was an angry teen. Angry and depressed. Are you surprised? If you’ve hung out here for long, probably not.

Now that I’ve returned, I once again find refuge in the anonymity of the internet. However, it’s more than that. Every day, on the internet, new stories are shared. Some are shared by famous people, and some by little nobodies like me. The famous people obviously get the most views, but once in a rare and wonderful while, a ‘nobody’ gets noticed. Maybe they go viral. Sure, that’d be cool, but that’s not what motivates me. What motivates me is the ‘nobody’ that changes a life… or maybe just a moment.

We all have stories. We live them, day in and day out. More of us than are willing to admit it have stories that are dark and soulful and full of struggle and hard learning. Somehow, though, most of us tend to think that we are alone in our struggles. Some of us may know that others are out there, but are too afraid to share our stories for fear that the ones that don’t understand will be the only ones to read and will respond unkindly. Some of us just don’t feel like sharing. I used to be that last kind of sufferer. The one who didn’t feel like sharing. At times, it was because I was afraid, but more often it was because I was ashamed.

I’m not ashamed anymore.

As I stumbled through the internet over the years, time and again a little known blog would have a post that caught my eye, or some unknown author would write an article for an obscure publication, or some other unlikely soul would happen across my digital path and share with me a piece of their story that would touch me, sometimes very deeply. It didn’t have to be profound in order to touch me on a sometimes painfully deep level. In fact, often it was simply a story of how someone else had faced exactly the struggle I was going through at that very moment.

That is why I bother.

I have a story, too. I have lots of stories, actually, and I’m certain that no small few of them are a lot like other peoples’ stories. Other people who might not realize that they’re not alone. Other people who might need to read or hear that fact in order to believe it. Maybe even other people who just need to be reminded that it’s okay to struggle, because in struggle we learn so much about ourselves and others. If a single sentence of a single post in all my time blogging, from now to the end of my life, reaches just one person and makes them feel better or feel understood or feel a little less alone… if just one smile is made or one tear is dried by my words here, then every moment I’ve spent writing these posts is worth it.

Maybe I’ll never reach anyone. Or maybe I’ll go viral one day. Who knows. Maybe I’ll never know if I’ve touched anyone in a significant way with my words. That’s all okay. So long as there’s a chance that my words, happy or not, could help or touch someone in any appreciable way, then I will keep blogging. Sometimes I’ll be silly. Sometimes I’ll be introspective. Sometimes I’ll just be pissy, or depressed, or anxious. Always, I will be genuine. This blog has no place for lies and I’ve no place for liars in my life. This includes myself. I will always tell you, my readers, the truth in whatever I am writing. That in mind, I leave you with this, my promise to you, dear readers:

 

I promise to…

Always be honest; brutally if necessary.

Never shy away from the rough stuff.

Be silly now and then, just to break the monotony.

 

Stick with me, folks. I’ll be here all week.

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To My Mommy

I saw your tears, Mommy.

You didn’t think I was there as you straightened up and dabbed the tears from your eyes. You had no idea that I watched you steel yourself and put on a brave, happy face as you looked into the bathroom mirror. You didn’t see the sadness in my eyes as I watched you.

As you helped me into my coat and ushered me off to school, you never imagined that I worried for you, in my own way. Just as you donned your smile like a mask of strength and dignity, I donned mine because you needed me to be strong and happy. I made you laugh with my silliness. I know you feel better when you laugh.

You never heard me tell my classmates about you. How you work hard and love animals. How you were really smart and going to school, just like us, only really hard school. You never heard me tell them, when it was my turn to say who my role model was, that it’s you and always has been. You never saw the poem I turned in to my English teacher with the words “Dedicated to My Mommy”.

You got the call from my principle, though… Another call to say my grades were slipping and they feared I might have to repeat the grade. You listened as they told you I wasn’t paying attention in class and that I could never sit still. You heard them explain that they had found worksheets I was meant to do for homework stuffed deep inside my desk, ignored and forgotten.

You came to pick me up that day. I didn’t know, then, but you had to take off early from work to do it. I wouldn’t have understood that to be a bad thing. I still had some of my innocence yet. You asked my teacher what was to be done. You never begged, but you implored her to help you come up with solutions to my inattention and restlessness. She said I just didn’t care. You wouldn’t accept that answer. You never did.

You cried that night. I think you believed I was in my room playing or asleep. I saw you, though. I told you “It’s okay, Mama” and hugged you. I didn’t understand why you seemed to cry harder after that. I stood with you quietly as long as one so young as I possibly could. You never told me it was my fault. You never let me think that I had made you cry, or contributed at least.

I saw your love, Mommy.

You thought I was too busy to notice you saying how proud you were of me for my good report card; how you wanted to send it off to that horrible woman that said I didn’t care just to prove her wrong. You thought I didn’t notice or appreciate that you came to every event. Every choir or band performance.

I saw you relax and brighten each time you came to help with some musical event at school. You were happy, there, in the choir room or behind the stage. You were always happy planning an event. I saw you, still coming to every event even as others stopped in the later years. You never gave up on me.

I never made it easy for you, but you kept stepping up and fighting for me.

When I shut you out, you were still there. You still told me you loved me on the rare occasions we spoke. When I started to let you back in, you never pushed me to change my mind for you. You knew it was pointless… that fighting only made me fight harder. I can be quite the contrarian, sometimes.

When I came home, at last, you held me as though you’d never let me go again. You never said “I told you so” or thrashed me for my mistakes. Mistakes I had defended for over a decade. You just said, “Welcome home” and showed me to my room as though I’d never gone away.

I know what you did for me, Mommy, and I never said this explicitly…

Thank you.

You never wanted to burden me with your tears when I was younger. You didn’t want me to see you sad or unhappy, if you could avoid it. You’re only human, Mommy. I saw that, as I stood there with you, patting your arms and telling you in my tiny voice that it would be okay. I realized, each time I caught you sitting in an empty room, sniffling, that you are a person just like me. You taught me something, in those moments. It’s okay to feel and to be overwhelmed, but when the morning comes, you pull up your pants, straighten your blouse, and do what you have to do. I wouldn’t really appreciate that lesson for a fair few years yet, but I promise, I figured it out eventually.

We’re not blind as children. In fact, I sometimes think we see more when we’re young than we do as adults, in some ways. I saw that you struggled trying to make ends meet. I saw that you fought to be a part of my life even as you worked hard to provide for us. I saw how you endeavored to protect me with your smiles and reassurances.

You knew I didn’t love myself and I saw how that made you so angry and sad that you could hardly keep it in. Sometimes you couldn’t keep it in and you cried and screamed. That was okay, too; the screaming. Sometimes it helps, being loud. Let’s the pressure drop. I understood. Even as I screamed back, I knew you loved me. Even as we fought like cats and dogs, I knew you’d always fight to protect me, even from myself.

I’m sorry, Mommy. Sorry that I took you for granted for so long.

Look who I’ve become, though. I’m a survivor, just like you. I fight for what I believe in and I try to stand tall and proud in the face of adversity, even as I cower and panic on the inside sometimes. I know how to be strong for my loved ones, and how to let them be strong for me when I must. I still love dogs, just like you always did. I know how to stand up for myself, but I also know how to forgive.

I finally did it, Mommy… became the ‘happy and productive member of society’ you wanted me to be. That’s all you ever demanded of me… You’d tell me that after a long lecture or fight about my grades (again)… “I just want you to grow up and be a happy, productive member of society!” I don’t know if you meant to, but you always emphasized ‘happy’ a little more than ‘productive’.

We made mistakes. People do that.

I saw your strength, Mommy.

I saw you protect me from my dad when he flew into a temper. I saw you shut the doors so maybe I wouldn’t be woken by the fighting. I don’t remember much… my therapist says it’s ‘selective amnesia’. It’s not your fault, Mommy. I’m pretty sure it’s his. You did your best. You left, when you saw it was hopeless and dangerous to stay. It was so hard for you, I know, but you did it. I later learned that it was to protect me that you finally left. I don’t remember that night, but you told me once, how he threw me out of the way and almost hurt me in the process. He was coming at you. I don’t remember if he ever hit you. I can’t really say much about him because I don’t remember much. An image here or there. One or two memories of particularly bad fights.

Then you raised me, all alone. Sure, you had your family and friends, but in the end it was all you. You were the one that took the phone calls from the school. You were the one who signed the detention slips. You were the one who cried and begged me to just care about myself, my school, or anything at all. You were the one who had to say no or to cave when I begged to bring home another animal. You were the one who had to dole out the punishment and then pray I’d still love you in the morning. You tucked me in at night and you woke me in the morning. You paid the bills for two in a world where the single-income household is all but dead for all but the wealthiest and luckiest of families. You scraped and begged to ensure we could afford as many field trips as possible, every band or orchestra instrument I wanted to try, and every dreadful taffeta dress for choir.

You taught me to cry, yes. You also taught me to laugh and to smile whenever I can. You taught me to fight back and to protect myself. You taught me that sometimes the struggle is worth the payoff, and if it’s not, then maybe it’s time to leave. In the end… you taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes and admit you’re wrong.

I saw your weakness, Mommy.

I bawled when you went to the hospital for that broken arm. Then the MRSA kept you there for so long… Christmas in a rehab center. It wasn’t fair. I cried and cried, when I wasn’t smiling at you; being strong for you. Not because of the broken arm. Many people break their arms. Not even because of the MRSA infection. No, all of that was bad and scary in its own way, but what drew out my tears and wrapped cold, hard fingers around my heart was the realization that my Mommy, who could do anything at all, was not actually ten feet tall and bulletproof.

I saw your joy, Mommy.

You never thought you’d get to see my wedding. Not after all we’d been through together. You nearly burst with happiness when I told you it was happening. You didn’t let me rush it or skimp any more than necessary.

I watched as you hobbled through the city gardens taking engagement photos, even as your back ached and you struggled for every step. Your eyes said the most… you were so tired, but so extremely happy. You would not let us give in without getting as many lovely pictures as we could. I was going to have the best wedding you could give me, and that included the process of getting there, in your eyes.

It was cooler when we did the bridal shoot. I wore out before you, but still, your hands shook and you bent forward as you tried to stave off the constant pain in your back. So many years and so many struggles had taken their toll on you.

You stayed up half the night before the wedding with me, making wedding mints and finishing boot-in-ears… falling into giggle fits over silly mispronunciations of “boutonnieres”. You were up before I was, packing the car and getting ready for my next great adventure. You never said aloud, that day, how much you hurt to know I’d be leaving to move to another state with my soon-to-be husband. No, you were all smiles, that day.

Before you kicked me out of the reception hall so the final decorations could be a surprise to me, I saw you working on that beautiful cake you and your best friend, my ‘second mommy’ after a fashion, had prepared. Three tiers and still you delicately, carefully worked the intricate lace patterns onto every inch of it, even as your hands tried valiantly to stop you, trembling and jerking from weariness and pain. You were so stubborn. You wouldn’t take your medicine… you didn’t want to fall asleep or be less than coherent on this day that you’d dreamt of for so long. This day that you wanted to make perfect for me. Nothing I or anyone else could say would change your mind.

You suffered that day, as you had always suffered for me. You put your pain and weakness aside and slapped on that beautiful smile, all for me… just like you always had. It was possibly the most beautiful day of my life so far, largely thanks to you.

I saw you blink, Mommy.

You weren’t all there, when I arrived in the dead of night. I’d driven a fourteen hour trip in twelve hours, crying my eyes out and screaming at the universe most of the way. Somehow, I think a part of me already knew what they were going to tell me now that I was here. I think I knew before I even started that drive.

I hadn’t been there for you. I had never been there for you like you had been for me. I wasn’t going to abandon you now, even as I knew I was about to get the worst news I’d ever heard, and possibly ever will.

They were all there. I had to weave through the crowd to get near you. When I did, your sister stepped back and let me close. I wasn’t sure you were in there at all… had you already gone? My aunt nudged me and told me to say something. All I could manage without completely cracking was “I’m here, Mommy.”

And then you blinked. Just barely, only a couple of us even noticed it, but your eyelids flickered and I knew you’d heard me. You knew I had not abandoned you. I never did right by you, but I knew you had forgiven me. I knew you loved me anyway… and I knew that you knew I was there. That was the last little sign of life I remember seeing in you, that night. Others came and went, spoke to you, but you didn’t so much as twitch.

The rest of the night is something of a blur. The decision was made. The plug was pulled. The last clear thing I remember is looking at your empty body, knowing you’d gone… It was over.

29 years and change… I wasn’t ready to let go of what I had finally learned to appreciate… but it was over.

We spent a good long while alone, Mommy. I need you to know that even though **he** wasn’t there for us, you did a damn fine job. Sure, you made mistakes, we both did, but that’s not the stuff worth remembering. You were an amazing Mom, and all the parent I ever needed.

Thank you.

To every single parent out there who things their children don’t see or don’t care, I’m here to tell you… we see; we hear; we care.

We’re foolish. We make mistakes. We mess up. We lash out. We don’t know how to cope.

In the end, though, we’ll remember every hug and cherish every smile. Every special event you manage to attend or every late night you work to make sure we can go on that field trip next week. We may not understand why you cry, when we’re little… but then again, perhaps we understand better than we let on.

You are an amazing person. Whatever put you in this position of raising a child without the help of a second parent isn’t the important detail. The important detail is that you’re doing it. You’re surviving and you’re taking care of us. Every time you defend us, we see it. Every time you cheer for us, we hear it. Every time you sacrifice yourself for us, we know it. Sometimes right away, and sometimes not for years, but we see.

Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Never stop fighting. Thank you for being the amazing person you are. I promise you, we notice.

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Lifetime Learning

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I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m about to quote country music at you…

“Life’s a dance you learn as you go
Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.
Don’t worry ’bout what you don’t know.
Life’s a dance you learn as you go.”

  -John Michael Montgomery in “Life’s a Dance”

So, growing up, I was exposed to all kinds of music, including 90’s country. Growing up in the Lone Star State, how could I not be exposed to more country caterwauling than any one human should ever have to endure? I digress…

This song is one of a select few that’s stuck with me my whole life since.

I’ve traveled an interesting road. I spent a couple years wandering the country, homeless and broke, with my ex wife. Spent ten years of my life trying to be someone I wasn’t for a multitude of reasons, none of which were all that good. I’ve taken part in spiritual practices that would make your hair stand on end. I remarried, to a man I met on the internet and moved across the country to be with him. I’ve made good decisions along the way, but also made a lot of bad ones. I’ve lived in seven different states and seen more people pass in and out of my life than I care to count. I’ve burned bridges that might have been better left intact; I’ve held onto people and things that might have been better thrown overboard. Each chapter of my life is full of stories, good and bad; enough to fill several books with, I’m sure.

All the time, I was learning. I was stumbling, falling down, tripping on my own feet, picking myself back up, tripping over other people, breaking down one wall, running into the next… But here’s the thing…

I regret nothing.

Most people don’t believe me when I say that. The more of my story they know, the harder it is for them to believe.

Every piece of my story, every single line, has made me who I am today, and you know what?

I’m pretty fucking awesome!

I’m smart, geeky, curious, capable, and hell, I’ll say it: I’m beautiful! I’m so many things, but most of all, I’m self-aware. I’m not afraid to make mistakes and I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. I’ve learned to do all the cliches like taking the good with the bad and getting back on the horse and… you get the idea.

Am I always happy? No. Certainly not, that’s ridiculous. No one is happy all the time. I cry, scream, flail, and even wallow in depression sometimes. The difference between me-that-is and me-that-was is that once I pull myself up by my bootstraps again, I move on and move up. I know that each experience has taught me something that will serve me well, going forward. That lesson might be something simple like, “Watch where you’re going or you’re going to kick the bed and crack your toe.” Sometimes, the lessons are far more profound. Occasionally, the lessons are life-changing.

So, this is me, World. Take it or leave it. I’m the full package, with storied past and plenty of flaws, but if you can get past that, there’s a whole lot of awesome in here that I’m happy to share.

As a wise baboon once said,

“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”

– Rafiki in “The Lion King”

Get out there and learn something, my dears.

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