The last couple of years has been a trying journey for most with the pandemic looming over us like a curse. It brought out the best and worst of people. Some took a long deserved rest, others took up old hobbies or dived into new ones. There was a big surge in pet adoptions. Anything to break the monotony of our new “normal.” Arric and I felt it was a sign from the universe to finish this book. I can say this was an absolute labor of love and this novel really has felt like our baby. The process, much like childrearing was a rollercoaster ride, many highs and lows, twists and turns to get it published. Adventures come with lessons. It was indeed a thrilling and sometimes frustrating ride but well worth it. We are grateful for the people that helped this come to fruition.
The history of this novel dates back to 2003 when I attended Oprah Winfrey’s “Live your Best Life” tour in Seattle, Washington. It was an experience I will never forget. She spoke for easily 5 hours. We were served a lovely lunch and were sent away with impressive gift bags. Included in the gift bag was a workbook/journal and we definitely wrote in that day. What I came away with was the message of what it means to live your best life and how to listen to what life is trying to tell you. The biggest take-away though was when you have given your 100% sometimes you just have to surrender and understand what it meant for you is meant for you and what isn’t simply isn’t. I wrote the first paragraph of this novel that day. At that time I believe my intention was to write a short story. I picked the writing up and put it down many times. When I did decide to commit to the project it was going to be a biography of my husband’s grandmother, but life had other plans. Granny lived all the way in Chicago, we in a suburb outside Vancouver, BC Canada. With the distance, her age, her hearing and then ultimately her passing, it wasn’t destined to be a biography. With Arric’s help I was able to take what she told us about the South, mix it with Arric’s experience living there, my imagination, and the fictionalized version of Granny’s journey was born.
We both spent hours listening to her tell stories of her life. It was the lessons that she wanted to pass along much more than the stories. Although this is a work of fiction, rest assured I understood the assignment and weaved in her teachings. The title is indicative of the odyssey of the characters but also the writers. The story centres around 3 women and that is an homage to the 3 women that impacted both our lives: our mothers and Granny. They taught us to be fearless when it comes to fighting for happiness and that was and still is a priceless gift. Enjoy the journey, we did…
I was leaving a comment for a short story a friend has on astoryaday.org and it asked for contact information and there was a space for a web address. It prompted me to assure you I am still out here writing, painting, taking photographs. The whole point of having this page is to share my creativity with you. I have completed my novel. It will likely take some time between edits, and some re-writing so until then I can share with your some of my other art. Here is a piece a wrote a couple of years ago about my Mother.
TALK IS CHEAP
I did not always appreciate my Mother. I was well into my 30s when I realized that Anna was the lottery of all parental units. She came from a humble background in the small town of Greenwood in British Columbia’s Kootenay district. She was not well educated, yet she has proved to me repeatedly that book smart does not equal common sense, or guarantee success in this world. What sets her apart from other mothers and other human beings in general, is her spirit. She is altruistic. The best part of her being altruistic is she doesn’t know what that means and would be embarrassed to ask. There is such beauty in her simple kind nature. Always equally willing to help a neighbour or a stranger. Anna’s love is the titanium of emotion, nothing stronger in this world.
The discovery that she was extraordinary happened over time with small every day occurrences. Once on my work coffee break a co-worker overheard me ending a phone call with, “I love you too.” My workmate inquired if I had been talking to my husband. The utter look of disbelief on her face when I said I was talking to my Mother was alarming. She sat there contemplating mouth agape for a few moments when she said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever said that to or heard that from either parent.” It was my turn for my jaw to slack, this co-worker a lovely woman in her 40s, brought to light what I took for granted. I could not remember a day in my life, even when I was the very worst version of myself, that my Mother did not tell me that she loved me.
I did not always know what I had in a Mother like Anna. My Father committed suicide when I was 7 years old and this altered our lives in a way known only to those who survive this experience. You have a sense of abandonment that no amount of counselling, meditation or acceptance can completely shake. I was angry for a long time and that was easy to hang on her. Despite my anger we forged a bond. This happened at a time when the percentage of single parent homes in my world made up about 1% of the households of my elementary school. There were no daycares, only neighbours I could stay with until she got home from work. When I was old enough I became a latchkey kid gorging on cookies, watching Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch until she returned. I thought of home as my safe place, but in truth it was Anna that was the safe place.
I longed for my Father. He, like many Fathers in our blue-collar neighbourhood, worked out of town for 6-8 months of the year. When Alphonse came home bearing gifts his presence was like Christmas in July. I remember the innocence of my childhood leaving me when I was told he was dead. There was this void, like there was no longer any air for me to breath. My last memory of him was waving goodbye as I drove off with my Godmother to spend the night at her house. The whys even at 7 were a heavy burden that I have never had answered. My Father had always been the good cop to Mom’s disciplinarian presence and now there was only her.
People were cruel. They asked her if she would go on welfare as though she had no other option. My first day back to school a classmate declared my Daddy had shot his head off in our garage, when all I had been told was that he was dead. Anna found out soon that their friends were awkward and distant; the wives feeling like she had designs on their husbands. In reality, in the depth of her grief, she could not have fathomed anyone else, ever. We were suddenly pariahs. People would often promise to visit, we would wait all day and nobody came. We didn’t get invited places. I always loved when there was a new kid at school because they didn’t “know” and I could pretend my Dad was a business man working out of town, or a police officer gunned down on the job. I had many stories. I was so ashamed of having no Dad. We had this unspoken understanding that we only had one another. She recounted to me many years later how I told her people were tired of listening to her sadness, they had moved on and she had to too. It shatters me to think how painful that must have been to hear from her little girl. I was one of those cruel people.
Anna took my words to heart. She poured her energy into giving me the life she felt I deserved. She did not take any time for her. I would venture to guess she easily went 5 years without new clothes. She found work in the school system so she could maximize the time we spent together. Mom enrolled me in dancing, skating, music lessons, everything. We took the bus to Stanley Park on Sundays to walk thru the rose garden and feed the birds and the squirrels. I asked her once if she every sought any counselling and her response was telling. She said, “We didn’t have those kind of things then. The doctor prescribed me Valium. I did not like that foggy feeling. I needed my wits about me. If I felt bad I got down and scrubbed the floor and if I was still feeling sad and thinking about things I just scrubbed the floor again.” She still abides by this form of therapy. Her home is spotless. She advised me that it is what you do that matters, talk is cheap.
Tragedy did not end with my Father’s death. My Mother remarried a terrible man that took advantage of her naiveté́, stealing both her money and her confidence. We escaped together after 4 years of Hell and she had to start again in her mid-40s. Anna was not about to sit around and dwell. She fought her way back. She worked hard. She took in tenants and never complained. Once again though I managed to hang resentment on her back, this time for making a poor choice of husband and putting us in harm’s way. He was a con man and she a trusting loving soul, the perfect mark. After a childhood cut short, my teen years with an abusive home life, I allowed the anger to boil over into my 20s fuelling it with liquor like gasoline on a fire. My anger, and who I had become, was too much even for Anna and her colossal love for me and she asked to me to leave.
Something amazing happened after I left and met the quarter century mark. I was not who I thought I would be, or where I thought I would be yet somehow I unconsciously let it all go. Sometimes you have to burn things to the ground before you can start to build again. Like some biblical revelation I saw Anna’s sacrifices and selflessness and was able to see the differences between her and other Mothers and that changed who I was too.
Our next chapter we grew closer even though we did not see each other much. We both found love and our energy poured into our relationships. We were less adversarial and more equal, both happy in our own worlds. We had learned to enjoy life because we knew at any time things could change dramatically and of course they did. We had survived a suicide and an abusive home, so what was left to target us but Cancer. Anna was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I would have taken it from her if that was possible.
Now I knew the kind of Mother I had been gifted with and had to face the possibility of losing her. She was never the kind of person that could come in to someone’s home and just sit. Anna found herself with barely the strength to climb 2 stairs. When I went with her to the oncologist the doctor explained the seriousness of her condition and Mom responded with, “So I am okay then?” The doctor looked at me in disbelief. I smiled because I knew if she believed she was okay, she would be okay and I told the doctor the same. Anna told the Oncologist she did not have time for this. She has been Cancer-free for 5 years and I cherish every moment.
Life is too short to be unhappy. Despite many good years with her partner Anna knew she could no longer stay. Facing death gives you unparalleled clarity. Although she still cared for him she knew she had to go. At 74 she was to begin again. She moved in with me and then found her own place close by and another chapter of our lives began, this time we were closer both in proximity and in our relationship.
I tell my husband that if he wants to know what I will be like as I age to take a good look at Anna, and a long listen to her, because she is me and I am her. She is still a force in the last year of her 70s, but I see the difference year by year and so there is an urgency to do as much as possible together. We began the tradition of seeking out travel adventures, big and small. Now I am able to take the lead and plan and she can just relax and enjoy the ride. It is my way of giving back to her all she gave to me. Inevitably we come away with a story or two on every trip: be it how we ended up having drinks with a hustler named “Philippe the Hat,” in a bar in Havana, or dancing at a disco at 2am on a cruise to Alaska. Together we found out that love and joy have no price tag and no expiration date.
I appreciate my Mother. I drink too much; I eat too much; I gamble too much; I don’t exercise enough; yet to Anna, I am perfectly imperfect. She makes me want to be a better person because she loves me unconditionally. If she can face all that life has thrown at her at 79 and tell me this is the happiest time in her life, then I can certainly become the best version of myself because talk is cheap.
Months ago I saw the preview for "Lion" and earmarked it in my memory bank to see. My Mother went to see it and told me it was beautiful and sad. A couple of poets that I really respect posted on Facebook their recommendations that this was a "must-see" movie. Thursday night I ventured to the small theatre I cherish in my community and I allowed the brilliant Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel to take me on Saroo Brierley's journey to find his home, his family and himself. Spoiler alert, if you haven't seen it and you want to, read no further. My heart ached and my eyes leaked pretty much from the start to the finish of this film. I did not know going in that this was a true story. Dev Patel's portrayal of Saroo reminded me so much of my son. He is handsome, gentle, caring and although his story is much different than my son's, his pain is of a similar nature. I felt this movie deeply.
A pivotal moment comes when Saroo's adoptive Mother informs him that she could have children, she chose to adopt and he had no idea. My son was born in my heart and not my womb. You could see Saroo was conflicted between the love he carried for his birth Mother and the love he had for Sue. He perceived that Sue would be heartbroken if she knew of his search for his Mother in India.
I was never certain of having a child, unlike the majority of women that I have encountered. Most women never question if they would or should be a Mother. At times I have regretted that I did not reproduce. Unfortunately because I have voiced that regret it has been subject to misinterpretation. I never for a minute meant that my Son was anything less than EVERYTHING to me. My son, just like Saroo to Sue, was so much more than I ever could have dreamed of, or designed with my own DNA. He is truly amazing. I was talking to him about how people grow and change and commented, "you know how when you are friends with some people that you knew when you were younger, but at your present age if you were to meet them for the first time you likely would not become friends?" His honest answer was, "No Mom. I cannot think of someone I would not be friends with." This is true. I have seen him spend time with people who clearly were undeserving of his time and energy, like people with racist tendencies. I believe he feels that even if he opens a small window for them to consider things in a different way that they were worth the investment of his time. He really makes me stop and think and reexamine my approach to people and life. For all my uncertainty of reproducing I have never regretted being his Mother. It is sometimes a heartbreaking role but more often than not it surpasses my wildest expectations.
When I returned home from the movie eyes still red and puffy from the experience I searched on the internet for Saroo Brierley. I had a keen interest in finding the man behind Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel's portrayal. He did not let me down and I watched with a full heart Saroo with both Mothers in photos and videos. I went to sleep with a full heart grateful for my son and to the woman that birthed him. My baby, you are almost 35, and you bring so much beauty to my life.
On Family day, Monday February 13, 2017, I did something I had always wanted to do. I got up on a stage in front of a microphone and read my poetry. Perhaps a small thing for some but at 51 for me it was HUGE.
For the last 20+ years Monday nights at the Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, BC, have been dedicated to poetry. It is called a Poetry Slam. There are three parts to the slam: the feature artist, the open mic, and the competition. The first time I attended was probably 9 or so years ago with my Mother. We watched in awe as Shane Kocyzan, a large gentle man recited a beautiful love poem that brought me to tears. My Mom asked me if he was Amish (beard reference, and cute mom reference.) We experienced the late Zaccheus Jackson. His delivery was loud and rapid like machine gun fire, his stature tall and intimidating. He spoke of his life navigating his identity as a First Nations person, his adoption, his addiction and ultimately his arrival to that moment. The whole experience was mesmerizing down to the English girl with the shaved head and bare feet (Jessica Mason Paull) who hopped up on the divider of our booth securing a prime spot to watch the slam. I had to caution my Mom to stay silent about this as we were in their world and not the other way around. It wasn't easy for me to get to the slam often because I worked afternoons and lived in the suburbs, but I almost always was able to get to the finals in April where I was wowed by C.R. Avery, Joaquin Zihuatanejo, Mighty Mike McGee, R.C. Weslowski, Sonya Littlejohn, Jillian Christmas, Sho Wiley, Johnny McRae, Dana I.D. Mathews, Ian Keteku, Tasha Receno and the list goes on. Over time I have attended many performances at the Rio, The Vogue, The Vancouver Playhouse, Wise Hall and of course Cafe Deux Soleils and was inspired by poets.
I have gotten to know some of these people very well and they have enriched my life in ways they will never understand. Sonya Littlejohn and Dana I.D. Mathews were in town for feature performances and the lovely Sonya said to me, "I'm just going to put this out there to the universe, I think you should get up on the mic." Honestly my soul shook. What a terrifying and exhilarating idea. Despite writing most of my life and having been published I didn't think of myself as one of them. The poets I watched in awe were the cool kids and I was just glad to share space with them. The Universe whispered, "You can do it." I accepted. After all it was "Family Day" so I would be able to attend, so would my husband Arric, Sonya, Dana and even their little girl Chakra. Yes, it was time to seize the day, feel the fear and do it anyway.
The Slam Family, or Slam-ily as they call themselves were so welcoming and encouraging. The incomparable Jillian Christmas, slam master herself, asked if it was okay to take my photo. Really? Was this going to happen? This may have been a small thing for some, but HUGE for me. I took the stage and gave my 2 minutes 15 seconds. There was snapping, applause as I finished and I was grateful to the Universe that Sonya's request had been granted. I was encouraged to return. Someone thanked me for sharing my poem. A dear friend Tammi and her husband Jason came out to support me. I felt that community that the Slam-ily is all about.
That night I saw seasoned poets absolutely kill with their pieces. I saw a couple of people choke in the middle of their poem. I saw people also having their first time at the mic. The best part of all of it was the way the Slam-ily cheered for all. When one poet stumbled the crowd didn't jeer in any way, the opposite, with cheers of, "you got this poet." What I came away with that night is that it may be easier, in the words of the multi-talented Dana I.D. Mathews, to take a punch in the face then get on the stage to perform, but it is well-worth the effort. Thank-you Slam-ily, until we slam again...
I've been absent from my blog for awhile but am once again inspired by another artist so I must emote my lovelies. I want to share my experience seeing STING at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC. For people not familiar this venue holds a mere 1000 people - quite an intimate setting for such a big name.
I saw the Police back in 1983 at the Pacific Coliseum and sat in the nosebleeds happy just to be there at 17. In 1992 I saw Sting solo, again at the Coliseum for the Fields of Gold tour. In 2001 I saw him at what is now Roger's Arena and then again there in 2004 with Annie Lennox. Annie stole the show that night. Although always a huge fan even the most hardcore fan can get put off by Sting as he does have a reputation of being a perfectionist, self-indulgent - bit of a Prick really. Wednesday night was NONE of that - it was phenomenal. He appeared to have a genuine affection for Vancouver and when the crowd was particularly appreciative of a song he said, "...and that's why you start a tour in Vancouver." He genuinely appeared to love us as much as we loved him.
The greatest surprise of the evening was him nonchalantly strolling onto the stage when the lights went down casually bantering like an MC. He let us know the plan for the night - he would sing a song, then the opening band, then his son, Joe Sumner and finally in his own words, "then the old man will come and finish things up." At 65 Sting is nobody's definition of an old man! He has energy and better muscle tone than I have seen on men in their 30s. He was funny. His voice was ON POINT. He treated the opening act, his fellow-band mates, and his son, with total respect. We were lucky enough to score a table off to the right of the stage, close enough for a great view but also far enough to act of a bit of a buffer from the enthusiastic crowd. I really debated shelling out this much money for a concert especially with no guarantee of which facet of Sting's personality would make an appearance. I made the right decision. I would not trade the experience of Sting at my favourite venue for anything in the world. What made it even sweeter was our friends/neighbours who had a) never seen Sting live or b) never been to the Commodore, were with us - and I told them they are now ruined for regular concerts. The opening act, "The Last Bandoleros," had great energy, their sound unique and their voices flawless - and who doesn't enjoy music that includes a squeezebox? I enjoyed them so much I bought their CD. Joe Sumner, Sting's son, a younger, taller, better looking version of his Dad with a voice smooth as silk. He only sang a couple of songs which was enough to leave a good impression. I am very pleased I had the good fortune to score tickets and commend the way in which they were sold. The scalpers were foiled because no tickets were issued. Entry was granted by scanning the credit card you bought the tickets on and your Identification - if ONLY they had done this for THE HIP. I likely won't see Sting play again and am at peace with that given it was such an amazing performance. I do look forward to seeing the others again.
When I was asked how the concert was I responded, "transcendent," and that was no exaggeration.
2016 is best summed up for me in this piece - dedicated to my PTSD after the U.S. Election
Whiskey and rage
They were the fuel for the words on this page
You can’t sell me that orange is the new black
Chuckie in a suit and he doesn’t have me chuckling
Eight years of greatness should have elevated us to another plane
Instead we time travel back to the bad old days
‘Merica not so beautiful
Feel the pain
It makes me want to shed my skin
His story…. It isn’t the true story…
You can white wash it like that historic White House all day long
It still won’t make it true
What is United in those States right now?
HATE AND FEAR
Scared ignorant people grasping for a world void of any colour or diversity
In his own words he prophesized how he would manipulate the masses and did just that
They signed up willingly so blindly devoted to this thin-skinned wannabe
He who is bound to make a horrific chapter in history
Where to go from here?
There is no-where but UP
Yell and Scream if you must
Tomorrow we must rise
Find the love that exists among us that do not accept this as our fate
Or what has it all been for?
Hate can go ahead and burn
Let that hate burn to the ground but don’t allow it to take us down
Rise from the ashes of this mess
When a 10 year old in rural Canada is worried about a coward building a wall
We rise for him
We rise for us all
We rise together to fight for all that is right
No Daddy-made-millionaire is going to stop me
It may be RAGE that inspires me to take up this fight
The fight for what is right
Last night I was fortunate enough to have a ticket to see The Tragically Hip at Roger's Area. I can't stop thinking about Gordie. He and the band gave us everything they had and the crowd (myself included) loved them back with all we had...
The night will live in my memory for as long as I have one. Beyond the music and the energy what will stay with me was Gord standing there alone on stage at the end just soaking up that moment and the love. You could see he was genuinely as moved by us as we were by him.
The Hip are as Canadian as it gets. Perhaps the reason they didn't cross over to success in the U.S. was because their songs weren't anything Americans could relate. Although from a financial standpoint it is too bad for them that they weren't embraced across the border from this adoring Canadian fan I am selfishly glad not to share them.
The tears quite real today. I'm not someone who does a lot of praying... but it is worth trying for a miracle. Gordie if love could heal you - you would live forever...
With All My Love, Respect, and Admiration,
Feeling very refreshed after an escape for a week away with my husband and our friends . The great part about being off the grid is you FINALLY rest - no WiFi, no cell service. Nothing robbed us of our peace, not even the car breaking down on the Coquihalla on the way to our destination. Peace included fishing, reading, hiking, kicking around the lake in my husband's Belly Boat, tons of laughs, game playing and Hallelujah WRITING. In April I attended a workshop with the amazing Canadian Writer Richard Wagamese and I loved that he said sometimes you have to acknowledge, "I got nothing." He said when there is nothing get up move around do something and guess what you'll have SOMETHING. He does not believe in writer's block. I had a whole lot of NOTHING for a long time and so I have to bow to Richard's wisdom and admit the "block" was self imposed. After days of enjoying our little piece of Heaven the words arrived.
The following I wrote a couple of days ago trying to explain the inspiration of our surroundings which is very near Richard's home base (co-incidence, or not?)
Friday June 10, 2016
There is a peace that surrounds us in the crystal quiet of nature. The breathtaking beauty of the lake is like a meditation that embraces our unconscious. The reflection of the sky and trees in the water mirrored so flawlessly you question where the lake ends and the sky begins.
The view so surreal it looks like a 3D textured painting. The trees magnificent, their shades range from subtle moss, rich emerald to the deepest forest green. The lake a brilliant turquoise, the result of the presence of limestone and is reminiscent of the ocean in the Caribbean.
The music of the great outdoors ranges from the tender chirping and warbling of a variety of birds, the exotic song of the loon and the cries of eagles. This time of year there is a night serenade from the orchestra of frogs that lulls us into a slumber.
Charming cows speckle the landscape at the entrance of the resort. Other wildlife made brief appearances: timid chipmunks scurrying across our campsite, skittish hares hopping past while on a hike and the brilliantly coloured hummingbirds rushing past always in a flash. Hoof prints and bear scat do caution visitors to respect this is still the wild. I can say the freshly caught trout cooked over the fire has ruined me for all other fish I am sure.
The summer solstice so close we only experienced the diamond twinkling of the stars if we happened to wake up in the brief window of the wee hours when the sky was pitch black. It is worth the trip just to gaze in wonder at the big Dipper. The last night we were gifted with the perfect darkness and clarity to be dazzled by nature's sky gems.
Any one of these facts would lure me back but the combination of them all guarantees my return. The one absolute I take away with me after our week at the Lake is this - if there is a Heaven this is it.
P.S. one slight exception to my Heaven FREAKING BUGS ... the mosquitos and no-see-ums dined on me continuously!
Recently I reconnected with someone from my childhood and I realized that time is flying by when you remember things from 40 years ago and know that you don't likely have 40 years ahead of you. Tomorrow is never promised so it is important to share our memories and our lessons with each other. The single most important thing I have learned is to cherish people's presence in my life. It doesn't matter if someone is in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, they all become part of us and our own story. I have always measured wealth in the quality of my friendships, so I can tell you in this way I am ridiculously rich so in this vein of thought I wish to share with you a short story I wrote a long time ago. It has been written and re-written but this draft does it justice. This isn't the story of any one person but many people I have known and I dedicate it to all of you...
We, The Broken People, unwittingly find each other. We avoid personal questions to stay safe from the threat of exposing our broken lives. We find comfort in the presence of other broken people. Our kind understands the need to manipulate conversation; they won’t challenge us when we abruptly change the subject. Our acts of self-preservation, our defenses, are, at their core, the acts of the insane. We repeat the same actions, expecting a different result after each instance. We are each a broken record playing over the same scratch in the vinyl that materialized when we realized we were not like everyone else, something inside of us broke and, emotionally, we froze in that moment. Like Adam and Eve, we were ashamed and wanted to hide. The past we so desperately wanted to conceal now smothers our future. We know we are searching for something but we lack the ability to recognize what that something might be.
It is night and the darkness allows me to feel anonymous. I enter the high school; a building that represents to me the time in life when one becomes acquainted with labels and the power they possess. The halls smell of chalk and quiet desperation. The angst of adolescence clings to the corridors and makes a fitting venue for the night-dwellers around me. The night school classes are already in progress, but Monday is also the day assigned to meetings that end in “anonymous.” A casual observer could see the difference between the two kinds of people: the student, whose steps are purposeful and deliberate, eyes full of determination; and The Broken, whose gait is unsure, eyes darting or fixed to the ground, carefully avoiding eye contact. I skulk about in the shadows, on the fringe, hoping I am not easily identified as one of the broken.
Cautiously I move toward Room 203, making sure the hall is empty before I enter through this door. I take my usual seat in the last row, washed by the dimness of the flickering bulb. The tales of the other broken people are riveting. Their words cause me to grieve for them and for myself as I relive the horrible memories but I cannot bring myself to share my own. I come and listen, and perhaps I even convince myself that I am not actually one of them. What do I believe will happen if I stand up? Still my fear is greater than my need to be free, so I remain silent.
After some tears, some applause, and a prayer at the end; the meeting is over for another week. I slip out of Room 203 and into the world beyond just as anonymously as I had entered it. I blend in with the crowd in the corridor and follow the masses.
I hear the muffled discord of words from a distance as I approach the cafeteria. The vending machines offer up stale snacks and coffee, but mostly people are just gathering to study or socialize. The sole reason for my visit to the cafeteria is a woman. I watch her from a distance week after week. Various people join her to chat. I imagine they are classmates, talking about their assignments. I absorb the way the curls in her hair dance on her shoulders as she tries to suppress a laugh. The room is well-populated. I can hear only random pieces of several conversations at once. I strain to hear her voice but my safe distance from her denies me the good fortune. Mentally, I trace the dimples in her cheeks, and file the image away with her dancing curls and the sound of her laughter. Inevitably, with the ring of the buzzer, people disperse and carry on to their real purpose. I am the last to leave. I take the closest exit and the door clangs shut behind me.
The following week is like any other; one day indistinct from the next. I discover I have more questions without answers and I do not know where to look for resolution. Alone in my apartment I observe the bookshelf that is chock-full of self-help books. They all felt full of promise when I read them but each inevitably ended in disappointment. Tools are useless if you have no skills. They are an attempt to find a magic pill that will heal the void. I convince myself that there is safety in my silence. Another week, another meeting, nothing gets better and nothing gets worse. My broken logic sees this as good enough.
It is Monday night and I am running late. I have misplaced my keys. I panic. A frantic search ensues. The Broken often have a need for order and planning. Subliminally, we believe if we have control, we can prevent chaos from returning. By the time I find my keys I am spinning. I find composure and continue on to the meeting. I berate myself for bothering with this sad ritual. My customary parking place is taken. I find another in an unfamiliar part of the lot. There is no time for me to seek my usual entrance. The night is damp. I trip clumsily up the stairs and enter through a heavy door. I think its weightiness fitting symbolic of the emotional baggage that brings me here. The buzzer has already sounded and people are scrambling to their destinations. I get turned around in the confusion and find myself struggling to find Room 203. Unnerved, deprived of the safety of the shadows, I surge on. I make my steps more deliberate and hope I appear confident, important: a man with a purpose. I round the corner and catch a glimpse of familiar curls entering a room. I instinctively wish to retreat. I stop and realize I have arrived at Room 203. Did I see her go into Room 206? I am motionless. My mind is racing. I feel weightless; an unfamiliar, yet intoxicating feeling. I snap out of it and enter the meeting to discover that my seat is occupied and I am unaffected. I find a vacant seat and settle into it. I do not share, but I do not attempt to hide. I am unable to concentrate. I will the buzzer to sound. The meeting concludes and I fight the urge to fall behind as it disperses. I break my pattern and approach the door with my head up, hopeful that I will see her. We surface almost simultaneously and, without any plan, I make eye contact then I struggle with the impulse to look away. She smiles and I can feel myself smiling back. Before I have time to listen to my own negative self-talk, or even over -think what I should do next, I hear her voice acknowledging me.
“Survivor too, huh?”
Survivor. I hear this word and it takes on a life of its own. I repeat it aloud, tasting the word on my tongue. It is delicious and it sounds like music. The experience of saying this word travels through my brain like a million tiny electrodes. My heart pounds like it has just been shocked back from death. In this fleeting moment I see everything in the past flash before my eyes in vivid color. Who could believe this one small word could grant a life-altering moment? In an instant I transformed from victim to survivor. Survivor was a title instead of a label. I am reminded that words are powerful. I have spent an existence agonizing over others’ perceptions, only to change my own, seeing myself through someone else’s eyes. Broken, but not without hope. I nod.
“Yup… and today is the first day of the rest of my life.”
© MELODY FOWLER September 2012
Last year Pharrell William's song Happy was everywhere. I heard it on the radio, in stores, on T.V. and even at my yoga class. I have to admit I always felt better and sang along and I never grew tired of hearing that song. The truth was I really was not very happy. Here a year later I feel like a different person and I can say I am happy. It isn't that my troubles magically disappeared. I still have frustrations with work and bill headaches but I just don't let every little thing eat away at me because life is too short for that. I eat healthier and exercise. I say "thank you" out loud in my car when I drive over the Golden Ears Bridge and see the blue and pink sky foretelling of another sunny beautiful day. I feel so grateful to live in such a beautiful place surrounded by majestic mountains. The simple act of picking wild blackberries near my home and contemplating making jelly and wine from them makes me smile. How did this change come about? It was a series of events both positive and negative that really made me think about the fact I will be 50 years old in December. I always aspired to live to 100 and if I manage that I am almost at the half-way point. Tomorrow isn't promised to me, or any of us, so I am making damn sure that while I am here, in this moment, it is going to be a happy one.