Archive for category Love

My Son: Holding Tight, Not Letting Go

He fidgets. We wait. He jumps up, runs over to the machine and looks all herky-jerky, happy, just wanting to play with one of those toys they give to kids. You know the toys, right? They’re packed into this glass case, and a kid deposits a fake coins into the dispenser after he gets done with the pediatrician.  In the old days, we got lollipops for our troubles, but modern kids, they’re all obese, or heading that way, so they get these cheap toys. Or so they say.

I look in the mirror and I see a fat woman and for the life of me, she won’t seem to go away. Stop, El. This isn’t thinking. It’s abuse, another form of it, and deep down, you don’t want that anymore.

 •••

  “Mom! I want this one! The jelly-wiggle!” He grins, all dimples and elbows, and dances around, in a circle, each hand raised with index fingers wagging toward the ceiling. When he dances like this, his face breaks into sharp angles that accentuate his Eastern-European chin dimple, which is, I just learned, caused by some strange genetic malformation of the chin bones. My husband has it. So did Kirk Douglas, and so does his son. The funny thing about this chin dimple is it makes a man look incredibly handsome.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The things that are malformed, not right, a little off, unique, can be the things that make a man, a boy, most loved. I always was taken with a chin dimple, and the fact that it’s a mistake, a genetic error, makes me even fonder of it.

“Shh,” we whisper. “Calm down, love.” He runs back and sits next to my husband, who wears a dark gray suit. Before I can count to ten, he jumps back up again, and stares, intense, eyes narrowed, at the jelly wiggler toy.

•••

She leaned over and scribbled something on his chart. I squinted. 160/102. No. The muscles around her eyes flexed and then she let go, and as her eye muscles retracted, she undid the blood pressure cuff, all the while speaking to my son. Rip, it went, and it sounded so loud in that coffin-quiet office with the pictures of our aging doctor and her three sons on the walls, and I leaned over and shut the office door.

“160/100,” I whispered to my husband, who was watching Dr. M while I held onto my tiny creature, not so tiny now, but in my mind’s eye, I see him as a baby.

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“Mama, was I this big?” He asks, holding his arms about a foot apart.

            I grin.

            He grins, and the grin is as big as his face. “The size of a football?”

            “Yeah,” I nod.

            “I could fit inside a football?” The light dances inside his eyes.

            “Yep.” Now I smile back at him. “That big. No bigger.”

She ripped off the elastic that makes the cuff grip his right arm so tight, and wheeled around, writing something down in his chart. It’s a thick chart for a six-year old. After all, we always joke, he’s our medical scare baby. When I was pregnant with Maddie, I got laser surgery on my eyes, and with those surgically-repaired eyes squinting, I could read her handwriting. 160/100.

It passed quickly. The appointment, I mean. But how fast will this pass? How fast will he pass?

Just a few days ago, he stood in front of the fridge in a Cambray button down shirt and baggy khakis, all serious and tiny, and in my mind’s eye, with both eyes fixed on all fifty-two pounds of him, I saw him as a fifteen or sixteen year old. He was tall and lanky and searching for a glass of water. For some reason, I often see him projected, his tiny form onto his future form, older, taller, a vision, a future ghost of the man he is becoming. It always makes me smile, he always makes me smile, this little boy of mine, this unique, quirky, challenging imperfect child, this sunshine, my sunshine, and I know I can hold on only for so long.

I never wondered if God was giving me this vision to comfort me, to let me know what this youngest son could have been, because he was no longer to be. But it’s weird, because I never see my other two children as older versions of their little selves. Just the baby of the family, my baby, this dimpled man-child of mine. Is God sending him to me, this future man, as a message, as a reminder, a letter of love and comfort and a promise that he will make it through this okay? Or is God reminding me to hold tight, so tight, because his time here is fast fading, fading?

 

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The Stigma of Connecting Mental Illness and Violence

I’ve been quiet since Friday.  The Connecticut tragedy incited a PTSD reactive response, and to keep myself safe, I pretty much shut down my online presence.  Everything I read, whether it was pleas for better gun control or essays on the prevalence of mental illness in the psyche of your typical mass murderer, sent me spiraling into a place I find difficult to describe.

Even worse, I’m having a manic episode, or I was having it right up until yesterday.  I don’t like talking about my own mental illness.  I’m ashamed of it.  But I try to have courage and talk about it because I hope that by speaking out, I can educate others and help other people who are mentally ill.

This country needs to be willing to look at mental health issues even when there isn’t a tragedy.  We need to attend to it when the small defeats and victories of friends and neighbors take place around us day in and day out.  And for the love of all things good, we need to be really, really careful when something tragic occurs.  Before we blame mental illness or gun control laws or try to assign blame to anyone or any single condition, we’d better take our time to research all the issues and get the answers right.

I’ve read a lot of articles, or to be honest, skimmed the ones that were too painful, that blamed the shooting on mental illness.  Every time I read something like that, I cringe.  The mentally ill are not more likely to commit acts of violence; in fact, they are much more likely to be the victims of violence.  As painful and scary as it is for me to seek help when I’m feeling ill, it’s tenfold times more painful and scary to get the help I need in a charged atmosphere of blame-storming for a heinous mass murder.

As S.E. Smith wrote:

As always in cases of rampage violence, mental illness has been dragged into the mix, and I’ve been watching the Internet for the last three days with a growing sense of both deja vu and horror. None of the things being said are new — all of them are in fact very bone-achingly familiar — and all of them are extremely unhelpful, dangerous and counterproductive.

The American Psychiatric Association states that the vast majority of people who commit violent crimes do not suffer from mental illness.

Substance abuse is a much bigger risk factor for violent behavior; in people with untreated mental illness (a shockingly large number due to the difficulty involved in accessing services), drug abuse is a confounding factor in acts of violence in many cases, not the underlying mental illness. Socioeconomic status, age, gender and history of violence are also more significant indicators of the risk of violence.

You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to be injured by someone who suffers from schizophrenia.

And yet if you believe the stories and anecdotes widely published this weekend, you will do what people typically do: you will stay the hell away from mentally ill people.  Each time a tragic event like the one in Connecticut occurs and mental illness is raised as a proximate cause, people pull away even more from the mentally ill.  In other words, the very stigma associated with mental illness intensifies, and those of us who most need love, compassion and support receive even less.mentalillnessstigma

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I get the treatment and the care and the compassion that so many of my ill brethren do not receive.  Most people don’t even know that I’m ill.  You see, I know the warning signs.  In the case of manic episodes, my mind starts racing.  Creative thoughts pile onto creative thoughts, and then it gets faster and faster and I can’t stop working won’t stop working don’t want to stop working and it’s amazing the things I can get done . . . but I feel an overload, an imbalance, a systems shutdown approaching.  But like a jet plane hurtling through the air on cruise control, I cannot switch directions, not even when I know exactly how it’s going to end: nose down in the mountainside.

Crashing hurts, and it makes no sense to an outsider, but with time and medication and therapy, I’ve gotten much better at engineering less destructive crash landings.  The most important thing I do is to radio ahead to the tower, or tell a few friends that I’m losing altitude too fast, and that I am, frankly, feeling ill.  In other words, despite the stigma that attaches to my illness, I reach out for the help I need.

I was on the phone this morning with one of my best friends, and she just sort of sat with me.  She told me that she loved me no matter what, and that she wasn’t going anywhere, and that my illness didn’t make her not want to be my friend.  In fact, a few of my friends called me.  They won’t let me fall through the cracks, and when I crash land, they’re there to pick up the pieces.

That’s what grieves me about so many of the articles I tried so hard not to read this weekend.  For every one that begged for compassion, three more confused mental illness with violent propensities.  And you know what this does?  It rains down shame, ugly, dark sickly-familiar shame on those of us who suffer from mental illness.  As gut-wrenchingly difficult as it is to seek treatment, this sort of fear-mongering makes it that much harder for people like me to seek help.

It takes courage to seek help, and it takes courage to admit you’re ill.  Fallacious arguments that connect mental illness to violent propensities make it even harder.  Please have compassion and use discernment when you address issues of mental illness.  After all, you never know who could be affected by the words you use.

 

 

 

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What Makes a Good Mom?

My daughter with light sabre.

When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.

I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.

Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time.  Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.

But.

Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again.  God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love.  And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line.  We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon.  And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.

Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?

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4 Soccer Games, 17 Library Books, 6 Donuts, 4 Slurpees . . .

Three kids, four soccer games, seventeen library books, six donuts, four Slurpees . . . such is the first equation that best describes the math of our Autumn Saturday.

Between soccer games, we all ended up in the kitchen.  With a bottle of water in one hand, I leaned against the countertop, watching as my husband ate a “Muffeletta” sandwich we’d bought yesterday from The Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia.

Our middle child, Travis James Farris, Jr., or “Jim,” sat facing my husband.  “Dad, when I write ‘Junior’ after my name, it makes me proud to have your name.”  Jim’s voice, still high pitched, echoed against the red walls in our kitchen, and I smiled.

Before I could say anything, my husband set his Muffeletta down and wiped his hands on his paper towel.  “Well, son, I’m very proud to share my name with such a great kid. I don’t think I’ve told you today just how awesome you are.”

I glanced at Travis, who was once again grasping his “manwich,” and nodded at the clock.  He sighed; I sighed; and we started to check shin pads, cleats, water bottles and soccer balls.  Fifteen arguments, three Facebook status updates, four missed calls and an entire box of obliterated Munchkin donuts later, I sat in my husband’s big, striped fabric chair in the kitchen, typing up some research notes about angels on my silver Macbook Pro.  My youngest child whizzed around me, and we played our “I love you game.”

I started.  “I love you more than all the leaves in the backyard.”

Ben’e eyes lit up as I spoke.  Before I finished, he danced in front of me.  “I love you more than all the trees in America.”

“Sun, moon, stars.”

He grinned, all dimples showing, and yelled, “Mom I love you more than anything, even God.”

I smiled back at him, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Not more than God.  You must love Him most.”  I paused mid-negotiation long enough to mix a smile into my sober response.  “How about except God?”

“Oh, okay, except God.”  He hopped around again.  “And I won’t let anyone hurt you.”  My six-year old, 48-pound boy grinned at me while he sipped his Slurpee. “And if anyone tries to hurt you, I will protect you.  If someone comes at you with a knife, I will hit them, or cut their head off!”

“Um . . .”

Ben jumped up and added, “Look at the picture I drew for you, Mom!  It has pink hearts on it, and me, and you.”

I glanced over at the drawing of two blue-colored people holding hands on a scrap of wrinkled white paper.  Admittedly, I was a little relieved to see that there were no weapons mixed in with the pink hearts that circled the blue-colored sketch of mother and son.  I knew, just as my husband knew–just as my entire family knows–what it means to feel loved, and my soul rang out with laughter and with light.

 

 

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Sleepless in Virginia

I can’t sleep tonight.  My husband, a Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scout Troop, is out at Burke Lake on a campout with our two sons.  My daughter is asleep and I am approximately 393,234 sheep from sleep.  Here are a list of things keeping me from sleeping tonight:

1. Is the new air mattress comfortable?

2. Are the boys too cold?

3. Did Travis take his meds?  Did I?

4. Will Ben’s scar go away soon?  Damn.  We forgot to put on the scar-reducing lotion.  I need to buy some Vitamin E from Freshfields.

5. Did I really shut the garage door? Would it be neurotic to check it for the third time?  If I went and checked it, I could get the clothes out of the dryer but I can’t find the brown laundry basket and the white one is full of clean laundry.

Ben’s scar

6. Will my headache ever go away?  I think I gave myself a mild concussion when I knocked the contents of the top shelf of Ben’s bookcase on my head.  I cradled my head in my hands, sunk to the floor, and called for a medic, or the chief medical officer of our household.  That’s the Cup Scout leader of course.  I’m so grateful it was only a passing head wound.  I lay there on the floor thinking about all the doctors and nurses who have taken care of me in the past.  They comforted me each time and promised me I’d be okay, and I was.  I could tell from their faces that they’d seen far worse injuries than mine.

7. Is lip balm addictive? What if it is found to cause cancer, like saccharine?  Oh crap.  How many bottles of diet coke have I had over the years? How about regular soda?  Coke is usually too sweet, but I love Slurpees, especially with Coke mixed with Cherry and that blue stuff. How many calories does a regular sized Slurpee have?  And why do they have to make them with Aspartame in the lemon-lime flavor?

8. What if the anti-diarrheal tablets are expired and I get diarrhea? That makes me giggle.

9. It’s so quiet I can hear my heartbeat.  My resting heart rate should be 60 BPM or lower but I’m not resting.  I should check it right now but if it’s above 60 BPM, I’ll stay up all night wondering if I’m going to get a panic attack.  If I get a panic attack, I’ll have to call Travis on his cell phone and what if his cell phone is out of batteries?  Will that mean he doesn’t love me enough to keep batteries operational?  Crap.  Did he replace the batteries in the black flashlight?

10. Did the boys brush their teeth?

11. It’s too quiet.  Why are the frogs gone?  I miss the frogs and they won’t be back until spring.  In spring, the pollen returns and Maddie is allergic to pollen.  Remember when she had to take Xopenex 3-4 times a day for months at a time?  Or the time she had to stay on the Nebulizer for the entire winter after I took the kids out in the rain in December and all three of them got pneumonia . . . man was I scared.  And I was secretly convinced thay it was my fault they all caught pneumonia.  That had to have been my fault, right?

12. How far away is Florida from Seattle?  Baltimore is what, 2,700 miles from Seattle?  Remember when they showed the flight plan in Harry Met Sally?  And can men and women really not be” just” friends?  What’s my friend Sam doing right now?  I should text her.  It’s only 9:30 in Seattle.

13. The Marine Corps Marathon is in seven days and seven hours. This time next week I’ll really be freaking out.  Damn.  My heart just sped up.

I should stop at 13.  Wait.  I’m supposed to write out “thirteen.”  Speaking of number thirteen, I refuse to believe in silly superstitions.  So does my Maddie.  Obdurate and strong, she wears the number thirteen.  That is one of the many things I like about her.

She and I watched A League of Their Own Tonight.  It’s the first time she’s seen it, and the fourth time I’ve seen it.  I still cried at the end, and after it was over, we talked about it.  She wanted to know my story.

I grew up as a serious ballplayer . . . but tonight was the first time I could really explain it to my daughter.  We talked some, and then she hugged me and gasped, “Wow–so that’s the sport you grew up playing?

“Yep.  I won championships.  I was a pitcher, like Kit.”

Madeline stared at me, a little breathless.  “You were?”

I grinned.  “Come on Maddie.  How many moms throw like I do?”

With her arms wrapped around my neck, she replied, “None. You throw like Dottie.”

I nodded.  “And I can teach you how to throw like that too.”

Goodnight friends.  It’s one a.m. here in Northern Virginia.  I’m not going to bed yet.  But I hope you are sleeping in the arms of the person you love most.

And if you’re in the mood to chat, please tell me some of the things that keep you up at night.

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Unmarked Gay Graves: Persecution and Death by Hatred

I looked up when I heard the angry tone.  I searched the faces in the crowded classroom.

Who was she talking to?  Why are they staring at me?

The more she said, the more they stared at me.  Like a confused, sleeping child hunting for a lamp in the dark of night, I looked for someone’s hand to grab but the only thing I could find was my desk, so I held on so tight my fingers hurt.  I was twelve years old and this white-haired, plum little old art teacher, with words stark like winter sunshine on a ski slope, screeched, “Why must you act like such a dyke?  You should be ashamed of yourself, wearing boy’s clothing.”

On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.

Years later, my brother’s voice startled me.  “E!  Mom needs to talk to you!!”  Setting my copy of The Fountainhead down, I took a deep breath and tried to loosen my right shoulder.  It was tight from all the pitches I had thrown that morning.  Each summer day between my senior year and first year of college, I threw 150-200 pitches, lifted weights for an hour, and ran at least three miles.  I had a crush on Jon and a best friend named Tracy and we were inseparable—closer than I’d ever been to any of my friends.

Too close, apparently.

I opened my parents’ white bedroom door and tripped on a stray piece of loose carpet in their otherwise pristine room.  My parents sat on fabric-covered bedside chairs and I wondered what I had done wrong because Mom’s brow was furrowed and Dad’s mouth was tight and he was glaring, not leering, at me.  They assured me that “I needed help,” and that they wanted to help me because no one should be condemned to a “homosexual life sentence.”

I still didn’t understand what they meant until she held up my once-gay uncle’s letter as if channeling Senator McCarthy when he brandished his infamous list of Communists.  This uncle of mine had undergone a spiritual awakening.  He had seen the light and stopped his sinful fornication with other men, and ever since, he spent his days searching for other gays to save.

In his mind, I was yet one more gay in need of salvation.  You know, because I dressed in jeans and white athletic t-shirts and didn’t wear makeup and wasn’t screwing some guy . . . and had a best friend that I hugged and even held a lot . . . surely, he reasoned, they reasoned, I needed help.  Because I was gay and all.  So my parents read his letter and asked all of these questions and told me I was going to hell and their words poured over me like cascading water falling fast, so fast, over rocks in a waterfall and I was falling, falling . . .

falling.

On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.

So I grabbed the keys to my Subaru, and my journal that my mom has since hidden from me, and I drove down I-71 toward Pennsylvania, playing chicken with the guard rails for hours and hours.  I wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t sure.  Was I going to hell?  Did they know something I didn’t?  I had never had sex with a man; then again, I knew what it felt like to be turned on and boys, not girls, got me going that way.  I pulled over and wrote in my journal that I wanted to die, and then I kept moving west on my drive of death until the rain poured down so hard I couldn’t see.  And then I chose to keep living and figuring all of this shit out and I gripped the wheel and made it home and once home, I drunk whatever I could find that night until the pain . . .

receded.

A few days ago, the phone rang and I answered it on the second ring.

“El?”  She whispered, her voice ragged and ravaged by grief.

“Yes?  It’s me.  Talk to me.”

For a moment she cried too hard to speak.  I knew what it was about.  Someone we both know said that gays are sinners, destined for hell’s fires.

With my left hand, I swung my strawberry blonde hair out of my eyes and pressed the receiver into my right ear, and I waited.

Trevor Project at LA Gay Pride Parade

Photo Credit Karen Kartjen.

“God loves me!”

“I know, hun.”

“GOD LOVES ME!! He loves me!”

“I know.  I know He does.”  I repeated the same words and felt her grief in my cold heart.

“Enough!  Enough! How many more children need to die?”  She was howling, like an animal wounded and left to die, and I held still, very still, trying to breathe, and listen, and find the right words.  We both know the statistics: four out of five teenagers who commit suicide have been bullied on account of their sexual orientation.

I nodded and mumbled something useless.

“How can he say I am a sinner?”  I pictured her tear-rimmed, blue eyes with dark rings circling them and her own hand gripping the phone, and my mind danced between knowing and not knowing how to comfort her.

“How can he say God doesn’t love me?  HE MADE ME!!  He knew me before He made me!”  I could barely understand her because she was sobbing so hard.

“I know.  I love you.  I know.  I know.”  I said the same words over and over, as if I was hugging her and patting her back.  I felt so fucking useless.  “I am so sorry,” I added, as I sunk into my rocking chair, my throat gripped by her grief and my own pain.

On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.

There are many ways to die.  A piece of me felt broken and grief-stricken as I sat there in my rocking chair, wishing I could hold my dear, precious friend, as she wept at the persecution she and so many others face.  This inward death is my marker for each gay child who dies when the vocal violence of human hatred drives her to choose too soon her own death.

The death I almost chose.

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My Thoughts on Love and Marriage Vows

This weekend, my husband and I left our three children with his parents and went away to the mountains. He asked me to unplug from all electronic devices and knowing my lack of control, I left my cell phone lying on the floor of our bedroom here in Northern Virginia.

The same night he asked me to unplug, my husband assured me I could blog about our weekend away; in fact, I’ve been trying to write that blog for three days and I am stuck. The ironic thing is, I never get stuck. I write at a gallop or not at all. So I started thinking, “Why in the hell can’t I write this blog about our vacation?”

The answer came to me as I leaned against the counter at 9:30 a.m. eating a bowl of Kashi Crunch: I can’t write it because I shouldn’t. Our time together is special. Holy. Blessed by a minister, we spoke vows. And the vows are familiar and comfortable and they still, after all of these years, send chills down my spine when I hear them uttered by people who are in love.

Fifteen years ago, Travis and I stood in a chapel in Maryland. A sunbeam sent from the heavens lit our faces as we promised to love one another until “death do us part.”  Implied within those words was an unspoken promise. My love for him is not for hire.

Hold gently.

 

“Lighten up,” you might say. “It’s just a blog post about a vacation!” But writing about three days we set aside to recharge and remember why we love one another so damn much feels wrong. It feels like it diminishes my love for the man I married.

You know when I realized this? I arranged a collage on the living room table of our condo at the Wintergreen Resort.  The collage told a story about our weekend away. Travis said very little about it, which for him isn’t unusual. He doesn’t talk much. He wasn’t annoyed or upset at me. But he wasn’t amused either. I snapped a few pictures and then I felt dirty, bothered and disgusted with myself.

Crabtree Falls

My love for him is not for hire. And yet there I was, trying to capture the elements of our shared time in a picture so that I could share and in a sense sell. Our love is bigger than that. It cannot be bottled up and served like a bowl of ice cream for my readers.

If I wrote THAT blog, replete with staged pictures about my weekend, I would have been guilty of turning my life, my marriage, and the object of my romantic love, into a stunt. How screwed up is that? We do not live the minutes and hours of our lives between blog posts and status updates. Even as we try to capture the precious milestones that mark our lives, the seconds tick past and if we forget our purpose here, we lose sight of the brighter hues that paint our lives, and our love, with depth and meaning. I am more than that. This one is for you my love. I love you always and forever.

Readers, do you ever feel like you lose sight of what really matters? And fellow bloggers, have you ever gotten carried away with a blogging stunt and regretted it?

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Writing a Novel is Like Running a Marathon

“I’m going to make it.”  That was my mantra during the first marathon I ran.  I felt unequal to the task, and yet I knew the course and the hills and the pain in my own body would not stop me.  Even if it killed me, I would cross that finish line.

The same mantra got me through writing a novel.  At 2:33 p.m., May 22, 2012, I typed “The End” on the last page of Ripple, my first novel.  Don’t get me wrong: I still need to do edits and deal with the business aspect of publishing it, but all of that is comparable to getting my beaten body back to the car and home after the race has ended.  And believe me, that is not an easy task.

For example, my fourth marathon took place in the mountains that surround Harper’s Ferry and the Antietam battlefield.  The day I ran that, I had bronchitis (hey I am a runner which means I am a lunatic) and the temperature was 43 degrees.  And it was raining.  At the finish line, I stood there in the rain and waited a half an hour for my husband to finish.  My man took one look at me as I stood there shivering from head to toe, and escorted me to the medical tent to be treated for hypothermia.  And then we walked a mile, and caught a bus to the car.  From there, we drove 90 minutes back home.

Like birthing a novel, running a marathon is an odyssey of pain and guts and determination.  One step follows another like one page piles on the pages before it.  When I run marathons, I must overcome my own weaknesses; indeed, I must forge strength from the fear and pain that chews away at me.  When I wrote Ripple, I had to stare down my own history of abuse and addiction and continue creating a story that in so many ways was rooted in my pain and troubled past.

When I run marathons, I fed off the crowds of strangers and friends who lines the streets.  As I have written Ripple, I have shared my struggles with the followers on my blog and Facebook page.  Their support has propelled me to the finish line.

To train for the marathons, I relied on the love and support of my family.  When I left my husband with the kids so many Saturdays and Sundays, they accepted my absences with grace, just as they respected and supported my need for solitude while writing Ripple.  I missed some family movie nights and some trips to the park, and never has my husband complained.

For two of my marathons, my husband, my soulmate, ran at my side or sometimes a bit behind me.  At the Marine Corps Marathon, we held hands and crossed the finish line together.  It was one of the best moments of our lives, and surely the stuff dreams are made of.

Throughout the writing process, I have had the great fortune to work with, laugh with, and even cry with my writing partner, Renée Schuls-Jacobson.  I wrote many passages with her on the other line, listening, adding, and improving the words I suggested.  When I called in despair, and asked, “Does this suck,” she promised me it didn’t.  If I wrote a “disaster chapter,” she was honest with me, but like a running buddy, rode shotgun with me and helped me fix it.

Toward the end of Ripple, I almost fell apart as I penned an especially graphic abuse scene.  It brought my demons back.  I had reached “The Wall,” which is what marathoners call it when the lactic acid builds up in their muscles at around the 21-mile mark.  I wanted to quit because writing the scene made me want to start drinking again.  She listened to me.  And then the best writing buddy in the world pushed me to keep moving.  And I did.

The best thing about writing Ripple, aside from finishing it, has been the friends I’ve made along the way.  Thank you so much, all of you.  And most of all, thank you Renée.  I love you.  And you’ll finish the 26.2 miles soon.  I promise.

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A Writer’s Refusal to Remain Ashamed

 ***TRIGGER ALERT***

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve come to expect the raw honest truth.  I hesitated to talk about this with anyone.  I was afraid that the subscribers that have signed up for my blog and who follow my Facebook Page would run for the exit, but something more important is at stake here than popularity.           

Those of you who have been kind enough to follow me for a while know that I walked a difficult road to get where I am at now.   You know about my childhood.  Some days are easier than others.  I had a difficult one today.

I sat at the keyboard and struggled again to write a scene from the perspective of a douche bag child molester and it got to me.  It hurt me so bad, I threw myself down on the floor and lay there until I felt safe.  This is what I learned from therapy: make sure I am safe, and then assess my condition.  To put it simply, I was in a lot of pain.  I was facing demons, ghosts and that ever-present dark shadow cast by shame.

I didn’t panic, but I did reach out to a few friends to talk through what was making it so hard to write about the rapist and child molester.  My novel, Ripple, is a psychological thriller, more fairy tale than crime story.  And like all real fairy tales, there is sex in the story.

One of the things I wanted to show in Ripple is that victims of rape can overcome that trauma and can go on to fall in love and enjoy sex.  So my main character falls in love, makes love to her gorgeous husband and enjoys it.  I have no trouble admitting that it can get a little steamy when I write these scenes.  Sometimes I get turned on, which makes me giggle because I am really uptight about sex.  But it is what it is, and the novel is by no means erotica.

Here’s my problem.  The scenes written from the child molester’s perspective bring back body memories of my own rape and incest, and damn it, I get turned on just like I did when I was a kid.  Yes.  There it is.  Yet again, I am that 5-year old little girl, making Lone Ranger and Tonto rape my only Barbie doll and feeling a sexual response that I lacked the words to describe.

I am sorry if this makes you hate me, but I refuse to remain silent and ashamed any longer.  What happened to make me feel that sexual response as a 5-year old, sweet little girl was not my fault.  I did not sin.  Someone else sinned against me.  And I, as a child and now as an adult, stand and face the wreckage.  And I rebuild.

You see, my friends, I am not the only one whose body betrayed her; I am not the only woman who has fought (sometimes still fights) a constant battle with her own body to respond appropriately to sexual stimuli.  There are many of us.  So I stand tall, no longer along, but with a band of sisters, who survived similar depredations.  We are proud.  We thrive.  And we are not afraid.

Like the characters in my novel, our strength was forged in darkness.  And yet light, and love, will be our guide.  Sisters, rise.  Do not feel ashamed.  And know that you are loved.

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8 Going On 28

I stride toward the elementary school’s front door and set my jaw.  I am wearing my usual jeans and blue oxford button down shirt.   Blue, gray and orange trail running shoes complete my outfit.  I’ve rehearsed all of my lines.  I will meet with the speech therapist and decline further services.  I will not whine or beg or complain.

“My daughter has had services for 5 years and I appreciate all that you’ve done for her, but she feels like a nerd when you pull her out of class.  Yes, I am sure.  Thank you so much for everything.”

She’s 8 gone on 28.  Then she is 8 again and I’m so confused.  I want to hold her tight and promise her, with all of my might, that it is all going to be alright.

My daughter, age 7

My image reflects back at me from the long, tall windows that line the lunchroom to my right and the office on my left.  I try not to pay attention to how I look because lately I have been feeling self-conscious.  Runners should be thin and I don’t think I look thin.  Instead, I gaze through the lunchroom windows and try not to gulp.

One year ago, a boy had said unspeakably inappropriate things to my little girl in that lunchroom and I’d gone into school to talk about it with her teacher.  With a helpless shrug, she had murmured, “I have no control over the lunchroom.   It’s not within my jurisdiction.”  We did not let this Lord of the Flies mentality stand; instead, we requested that my daughter switch to a teacher that did not shrug at bullies.  This whole incident, however, had shaken me to my core.

She’s 8 gone on 28.  Then she is 8 again and I’m so confused.  I want to hold her tight and promise her, with all of my might, that it is all going to be alright.

Last night, we were walking in the woods and Madeline whispered, “Gary and Joey told Lizzie that she sits at the loser table at lunch.”

I scowled as she continued, “And they tell me that too, because I always sit at that table.”

My scowl turned into a howl, “That is UNACCEPTABLE.”

Words strung into sentences and when I was finished, my bespectacled daughter remonstrated, “But Gary can’t help it Mom.  He’s popular.”

Photo by Ann Nguyen

So as I pass my daughter in the hallway, I wink at her and promise to swing by the lunchroom after meeting with her speech therapist.  A look that mixes anxiety with hope and unconditional love passes over her visage like a summer thunderstorm.  Then I pull her teacher aside and explain the “loser table” matter to her, and she nods with a sage, somewhat ironic, controlled expression of discontent.  I know she will take care of it, so I square my shoulders and rehearse my lines and walk into the speech therapist’s office.

She’s 8 gone on 28.  Then she is 8 again and I’m so confused.  I want to hold her tight and promise her, with all of my might, that it is all going to be alright. 

I am in the meeting now, and I deliver my lines right.  It’s hard.  I don’t do well in these situations, which is crazy weird for an ex-trial attorney, but the truth is, I deplore confrontations, so I usually avoid them.  It turns out that her speech therapy was going to end anyway, with just a few more classroom observations.  She will suffer through no more special pullouts that breed a sense of inferiority.

I keep my promise.  I amble down to the lunchroom and find my little 8-year old sitting with four other 8-year old girls at the “loser table.”  I do not glare at Gary and Joey.  They are children too, and at some point they will find the light or fall into the darkness.  No matter.

I sit beside my daughter and she pulls her hands up to her head and pushes her hair behind both ears and a question forms in the crease between her wide-set eyes.  This will turn into a vertical thinking wrinkle by the time she turns 28 and someone will love her vertical thinking wrinkle as much as my husband loves my three horizontal thinking wrinkles.  I don’t hear her question, so I lean toward her and ask her, “What did you say?”  She draws close to me and hugs me tight with all her might and I know it is going to be alright.

Do you identify with this conflicting need to hold on and let go, dear reader? She is my only daughter, and my eldest child of three.

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