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Maybe my aunt loved my mother; she once said she worried what taking me away from her would do to her. Maybe, as a mother, she couldn't imagine inflicting that pain.
I have no answers; I'm just telling my story. The only thing I definitively know is that parents with mental illness need lots of loving support. Even when they seem unlovable.
My aunt refused to make regular calls to my mother, years later when I went off to college and my mother threatened suicide: "Your mother is a very sick person; I've always tried to say clear of her."
Mental illness is scary. Studies show that people are more afraid of people who are mentally ill than of people who have committed crimes and been to prison. Perhaps mental illness is scary because deep-down we know we're not immune. Who hasn't become at least a tad depressed after a life event, or had an irrational thought, even if fleeting? Of course the stigma is counterproductive--people who need help, even if they recognize the need, are likely to avoid it. People who wouldn't throw around the ugly word "cripple" find it easy to laugh and talk about people being "nuts."
What am I grateful for today? I appreciate writing at Dunkin' Donuts. Love its free Wifi, that you can sit here for hours and they don't care. Coffee's great, and they don't charge for flavors: blueberry, peach, toasted almond, coconut, hazelnut, French vanilla. The peppy pop music, from Pink to Pharrell, is fun, and the atmosphere is decidedly non-yuppie--a bunch of high school boys at a table, cussing occasionally, senior citizens chatting companionably, moms and dads treating wide-eyed kids to sundaes. Most writers hang out at more traditional cafes, with more expensive coffees and a snobby air--but I'm happy here.
Sunshine used to make me sad. As a child, excruciatingly shy, living with a mother who suffered from mental illness, I had no friends, no one to play with. At least during the school year I could be around other kids; summers, I was alone. And my mother in her paranoia would cement-shut all our windows, afraid of prowlers breaking in and poisoning her Folgers coffee. Our apartment became stifling hot. So instead of counting the days until summer vacation, I dreaded the last day of school and counted days until school began again. Warm sunshiny spring days were ominous.
What story can I write about being the last kid picked at basketball? I'd want to focus on the child seeing his/her good traits--but that doesn't erase the horribleness of being publicly recognized for being lousy at something. Maybe a story about a klutz? Caitlin the Klutz? Listing the things she klutzy at--but she's not klutzy when it comes to being a good friend or having a great imagination. She tells jokes, and her best friend thinks she'll be a great comedienne someday. Would that be too cliche a story? I feel like all my story ideas are cliches, sigh.
Nature and the City Kid
Riding past cemeteries on gas-belching buses,
Their thick-ringed oaks and elms were forests.
Dandelions in fenced-off geometric lawns were bright
Sure, streetlights and high rise lights blocked stars.
What big dipper? What little dipper?
Rainbows hidden, too.
Rainbows in puddles surprised you
And rainbows in sidewalk squares.
If you looked closely at pigeons
Amidst their boring grays you could find iridescent colors.
And in a skyline of buildings scraping the sky
You could see mountain's majesty,
And nighttime skyline building lights
Magnificent as any dipper,
Roaring el trains as awesome as thunder.
"I want to start a club," C. said.
It was after gym class, and they were straggling their way back to home room. As usual, C. looked dejected. Being yelled at by other kids for forty minutes wasn't fun.
"Why?" K. asked She wanted to comfort her friend but didn't know how. Gym was her favorite subject. She was always first to be picked, and Caitlin last.
"I'm C. the Klutz. But I want to be more than C. the Klutz. I want to be a club President. Or Vice President," she added quickly.
"Sure. But what kind of club?
I remember May Crownings at OL of L; we little girls wore first communion dresses and held roses as we lined up outside the steepled church. The overpowering sweet aroma of roses filled the air--I loved it, and I loved the pageantry, marching in and singing songs like "Immaculate Mary," and one amazingly lucky eighth grade girl had been chosen to do the crowning, to climb on some stepstool and place a wreath of roses on the statue of the Blessed Mary. Seems like the entire parish turned out. As a lonely kid always bored, I treasured events like these.
My class never went on field trips when I went to Catholic school, but in seventh grade, when I changed to public school, field trips were planned regularly. I never went on any--my mother wouldn't let me, made me stay home, terrified something would happen to me. Another reason for kids to tease me, another way to be different, another way to feel shut off from the world--but hard to rebel when you're twelve. For me it was, anyway. As I write childhood memories, I feel anger--but at whom? Relatives recovering from their own childhood wounds? Fate/Life/God? Myself?
I try a new writing spot--a neighborhood bookstore cafe--but I feel out of place. No one smiles; everyone seems yuppie, projecting superiority to customers who don't seem young or well-to-do and probably not likely to sent the world aflame with their gifts. Little do they know--although with my tendonitis and recent weird eye exams, I do wonder if my writing days are numbered. For now, I'm writing as much as I can, enjoying my almond decaf Americano even if served without a smile, and I feel, like back in Northwestern scholarship days, as though I'm green and everybody else purple.
What good things do I remember from childhood?
-I liked church bells that tolled every hour, even quarters of the hour.
-I liked hymns at Mass--"Immaculate Mary," "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," "Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above.
-Loved my year at St. A's and the lunch table of friends, we girls playing in the blocked-off street--the boys got the walled-off courtyard.
-The summer before sixth grade, living in a flat in a house with green stairs, playing outside with other kids, making some sort of potion out of flowers with red centers.
-Going to Goodwill and finding Nancy Drews!
How do I end a story about a little boy waiting for his dad to visit, and the dad doesn't show up? I show the boy's anticipation, growing disappointment, and anger--throwing pillows and puzzle pieces. Then he and his mom take a walk; she says the standard mom stuff about how he's a great kid. But kids aren't stupid. He wonders--if he's a great kid, why doesn't Dad visit? Symbolically, the kid and his mom put puzzle pieces together, and he plans for a fun tomorrow. How can the ending be not unhappy when the real-life ending would be unhappy?
So many times I wake up feeling an overwhelming sadness. No matter how wonderful my life is, it will end; people I love will die. No matter how wonderful my life is, people in other parts of the world or even across town are suffering. True--but not a healthy perspective. Optimism, seeing the good in life, keeps you well. And as the day goes by, I become immersed in my work, take my lunchtime 7-11 walk, chat with my son and with friends, immerse myself in a good book or watch a fun TV show, and I feel happy again.
As a kid, I was a TV addict, plopped down in front of the set every evening with my imaginary friends--I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, That Girl, Julia, Archie Bunker, Garfield Goose, Frazier Thomas, Petticoat Junction, Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, My Mother the Car, My Three Sons, Gidget, The Flying Nun, Love American Style, Perry Mason, I Dream of Jeannie, The Newlywed Game, The Dating Game, The Carol Burnett Show, The Gary Moore Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Lawrence Welk Show, The Micky Mouse Show, The Monkees, Superman...enjoying their exploits, I didn't feel lonely.
The little kid, my sister-in-law's nephew, confronts me in the cabin: "This is just for family. You're not family." I have trouble understanding his three-year-old lisp, but he continues: "You're not family. You shouldn't be here." I sit stunned, taking toddler abuse; others are probably more upset than me. My sister-in-law explains the family tree (although the tyke keeps disagreeing), his dad takes him outside to explain further, my sister-in-law's dad apologizes. It's OK. Inside again, the little boy spits at me. I know he's little, but I feel slapped with reminders of my father's rejection, aunts wanting me aborted.
I hate feeling sick. I want to be at my haircut appointment, take a mile-and-a-half walk for a 99-cent iced green tea, or sit at a Dunkin' with my Chromebook and write. Instead, I drink chamomile tea and wait for my doctor to call and hope I tell her the exact symptoms and don't forget any, and that the communication goes well, as she has a little accent and my ears aren't great. Of course, I have so many things to be grateful for--that I have a Chromebook and can afford a Dunkin' Donuts iced tea--still, feels good to complain!
I have to see if I can write 100 words because now "Written Kitten" lets you choose to see pictures of bunnies instead of kittens when you meet a word goal! My son would smile, shake his head, maybe pat me on the head from his six-foot-five height. "You're eight," he says. But I don't mind that my inner child isn't all that inner, that I enjoy getting rewarded with pictures of kittens or bunnies for meeting writing goals, or that I still pluck the first dandelion of spring and sniff it and put it in my pocket like treasure.
I love my swimming routine. In the Y locker room, I no longer feel the need to modestly change in the restroom but yank off my clothes right by the locker, just as everybody else does. Then the shower and the cold dip into the pool--but then, reaching out my arms into the blue water feel wonderful, and being able to kick my legs again. At the end, the shower and hair washing feels nurturing--the whole process reminds me of how my cats lovingly groom themselves. And afterward, I treat myself and go to Dunkin and write on my Chromebook.
I remember Mrs. K threatening to fail me in gym, end of senior year, because I'd missed class to go see my high school counselor. She had a point--I could have missed a different class. I hated gym--always the last picked for teams, continually screamed at for running the wrong way during games. But on the other hand--I wasn't cutting class, had signed permission slips from my counselor, and--not that the counselor saw or addressed it--I was pretty depressed at the time over my fallen class rank. Why couldn't Mrs. K have talked to the counselor instead of threatening me?
Domestic violence. It's hard to address because it typically doesn't start with the physical stuff, and some of the non-physical stuff is hard to pinpoint. Abusers want to control you, and they pretend it's out of "love," to "protect" you. If you didn't have the healthiest upbringing, with the world's greatest parents, it's easy to believe them. When they loudly proclaim dislike of your friends, and your friends don't like them, so what, you think. It's a pattern, but if someone tells you it's a pattern, you're indignant, because your true love isn't just part of a pattern, of course.
It's comfy writing at Dunkin' Donuts. I'm surprised more writers don't take advantage of its eclectic atmosphere--parents with toddlers, chatting senior citizens, teenage counter workers in brown and orange aprons. Free wifi, cheaper coffee with unique flavors--peach and coconut and hazelnut and toasted almond and French vanilla and blueberry. But maybe what I like about Dunkin--its nonyuppiness--is why a lot of writers prefer Starbucks and other more expensive coffee shops. Maybe they enjoy the pretentiousness. Of course, I shouldn't judge--isn't the reason I beat myself up about not choosing U of C years ago is that I lost bragging rights?
Lately, I feel more fussy about the people I want to hang out with and have cut some former friends and feel ready to distance myself from yet another. Some just bore me, or I don't trust them to be honest with me, or they only talk and never listen. I'd rather spend time with friends who are interesting and continually trying to improve themselves, who also listen to my dreams without looking at them with cynical eye. Those friends have a sparkle about them; when I'm with the people I'm pushing away, it's like being pulled into boring quicksand.
This year I'll be with family again for my birthday. It should feel cheerier than last year; the day after my birthday was my brother's funeral. He was the only half-brother who'd never accepted me; at our dad's funeral, I'd heard him refer to me as a step-sister. Yet, the minute I walked into the funeral home--the same funeral home where our father's wake had taken place twelve years before--I had a sobbing meltdown, and my niece and my son comforted me, hugging me. I grieved that I hadn't known my brother--I grieved the sibling relationship that might have been.
Camp T on Memorial Day weekend, here with my son, brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, sister-in-law's parents, sister-in-law's brother and his family. Right now, I sit outside the guesthouse on a bench overlooking a river. Birds chirp, fast-beat pop music plays inside the guesthouse, and people chat in happy vacation tones. Peaceful. This alone me-time with chirping birds and sunlight glancing off the tree-lined river ripples is nourishment I need. Why do I feel sad lately? Even today? Of course, when my brother--really my half-brother--talked in the ride here of his childhood, it brought back memories of my own separate childhood.
I sit on an old wooden bench overlooking the Tippecanoe River; the sun beats down on my arms and I hear birds--some chirping back and forth, others nibbling in overhead trees. Different types of chirps--one like a warbling whistle, another like a pleasant-sounding car alarm. A ball floats incongruously in the water, lost from some game, and I hear kids' screams. Odd that this camp was so much part of my brother's life, and I knew little about it, or that he didn't know that I worked one summer at Interlochen. It's wonderful, reconnecting with long-lost siblings, but bittersweet, too
How do I end the story about the child whose dad doesn't show up? Mom tells him he's a great kid. He and his mom symbolically put a puzzle together. He decides he'll have fun tomorrow, going to the park, etc. Maybe his dad will show up, maybe he won't. But his mom loves him, his friends like him, and he is a great kid. How else can he come to terms with his dad not showing up? I liked the ending with relatives showing up for an ice cream party, reassuring him that he's loved--but that's not as realistic.
Tendonitis, how I do not love thee. This flare-up has been going on for a month, and I can't take Aleve or ibuprofen. How I wish my orthopedic doctor hadn't kept me on Celebrex so long, temporarily wrecking my stomach! But--I'm grateful for wrist braces, ice packs, and beaded microwaveable heating packs, and for an occupational therapist who's always willing to answer questions, who respects quirks. She gets that, unlike most patients, direct manipulation of wrists and hands doesn't help me but triggers flare-ups. And I'm grateful I love writing so much that I have to force myself to rest!
The guy working here at Dunkin' reminds me of a long-ago, younger me working at the Art Institute. He tells the people sitting at the table that they have to buy something, or leave, but he says it gently, apologetically. "Want to try our new sandwich?" "Munchkins are only a dollar." I remember calling after people who'd read our suggested donation and start to walk away--"It's suggested--you can pay what you want--really!" The bosses hated me doing that; I was scolded regularly. Still, I'm proud of that younger D, and I like that the Dunkin' worker is a kindred spirit.
The last day of Grateful May! I'm grateful that after two knee surgeries, I can walk miles again and was even able to hike uneven ground last week (although hanging onto my son occasionally). I'm grateful for a son who still takes walks with his mom, who has a great circle of friends (the "Honor Guard") and who will be a wonderful teacher. I'm grateful for my own friends, and for long-lost siblings and their families who are now part my life. I'm grateful for life and waking up this morning! Last but not least, I'm grateful for Grateful May!
There's something decadent about checking emails on a Chromebook at a Dunkin' Donuts. True, it's the cheapest laptop-like device you can get, and the cheapest coffee shop around--still. To be away from home and get messages from across town or oceans while listening to pop music, people-watching, and drinking blueberry decaf (the flavors are free) and four Splendas--this is my kind of luxury, and I don't need coaxing or bribing as I do with going to the pool or taking walks, even though I love those activities, too. Writing is fun; how I hope my tendonitis or eyesight don't worsen.
Must finish 100 words today. Sometimes I feel I use 100 words as a diary or venting place, rather than trying to convey deep thoughts about life. I remember starting 100 words, thinking it would be good training for trying to win an essay contest, or in newspaper column writing, and I think my earlier 100 words strove to be something more. But then I'd become end-of-the-month desperate, sometimes just writing idea lists to make my daily word quota. I've become lazy. And I've been doing 100 words so long I forget other people read them; I'm not as private.
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