Bedside Conversations

“Mom, I want you to know that I don’t harbour any ill will toward our past. If I seek to know what happened, it is only to understand myself so that I might heal.”

Mom nods, considers my words. “There is so much I could have done differently.”

“No. You did what you could with what you had. They were difficult times.”

It is funny how, faced with imminent death, perspectives shift. Throughout my life, I have had a love/hate relationship with my mother: cowed by her criticisms, angry at her life choices, disappointed that she didn’t protect us. It all seems so petty now.

“The greatest regret I have concerning you,” she says, reaching a frail hand toward me; “is that I never comforted you after the rape. What kind of a mother was I to turn my back on you?”

Her words catch me off guard. I tear up. “You didn’t know.”

“No, but I’ve come across it in your writing.”

I thought I had filtered that part out, usually careful about what I let her read.

We talk about it. Clear the air. She cries with me and shares her own story of rape at fourteen. I’m the first person she’s ever told, she adds.

How life can chew us up and tear us apart. Good thing love’s bonds are so strong.

I ask her about earlier days – parts of my childhood that are foggy. We laugh at some of it, and shake our heads at other bits.

Then exhausted, we both withdraw into ourselves, and in the silence, nod off.

When it’s time to go, she tells me that I have always been her strength, her rock.

“It’s good to have you home.”

I wish I could do so much more.


“Apprenticed to Venus”: a Review

Subtitled My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin, Apprenticed to Venus is the part memoir, part novel of Tristine Rainier, who mentored under the famous diarist.

Although  I have been inspired by Nin’s words, I have known very little about her, so I was eager to read this book.  Rainier, on an errand from her artist aunt, encounters Anaïs at her home in New York, and from there becomes part of the bizarre and tantalizing underworld of Nin’s complicated life.

The story begins with a very naive and impressionable Tristine, who is anxious to stay in her idol’s good books.  In modern day terms, Nin is a classic narcissist, who uses others for her own gain, and even though Tristine experiences the warmth and distancing characteristic of such a personality, she remains loyal to Anaïs, questioning her own motivations right to the end, and defending the lessons that Nin’s influence has taught her.

Rainier’s commitment to Nin is contagious, and I found myself also drawn in by the eccentric’s charm, wanting to know more.

Interspersed with Nin’s story is Rainier’s own story, from shy teenager to accomplished literary figure in her own right.

Apprenticed to Venus is primarily the story of two women and the bonds that define their relationship.  It is also about celebrity, and love, and the search for women’s equality.  There is nothing conventional about Anaïs Nin, as witnessed by Rainier’s account, and I think that is perhaps why I shall continue to be inspired by her.

Another Piece Published

(The Story Circle Network published two of my pieces in their quarterly e-journal.  The category is “True Words” and the following article plus my poem “Retirement” were both accepted. )

Dead Ends and Surprise Beginnings

The emails started arriving the morning after I presented at the regional conference—invites and accolades validating my life’s passion. Here I was at a critical juncture, poised to take my work to a new level, and only I knew it would never happen.

My hands hovered over the keyboard, mind searching for a way to express my regrets without conveying the darkness that was settling in. I had gone to the conference knowing it would be my last hurrah. There would be no encore presentation.

Sweat dampened my forehead. Please, God, I begged, give me just enough time to finish things up here.

Within days, I would be incapacitated, barely able to lift myself out of bed, brushing my teeth a monumental effort. Life had chosen a different path for me.

“How do I cope?” I asked the doctor, really wanting to say, “How do I reconcile who I am with what I’ve become?” But words, like movement, had lost their fluidity.

“Set a timer for yourself,” she replied. “Seven minutes for standing, fifteen for sitting. Stay away from television— it’s too much stimulation—and limit phone conversations. You may find it difficult to read, and if you listen to music, try to avoid lyrics. Visits should also be regulated. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is characterized by exhaustion after exertion, and it is systemic.”

My already slumped body felt like collapsing onto the floor.

“Is there anything I can do?”

She took my phone and downloaded a relaxation app. “This will help; try it a couple of times a day.”

Then, as an afterthought, she added: “If you write, you might be able to do that.”

And in that moment, the clouds parted and the glorious irony struck me: I’d finally have time to write.

“Hillbilly Elegy” Worth a Read

th-1J.D. Vance grew up in white working-class America, with roots in Kentucky.    His memoir is an examination of what happens when substance abuse, rampant unemployment, and lack of parental stability strips children of the perspective to strive for better in their lives.

Although Vance did rise above his tumultuous beginnings and graduated from Yale Law, his narrative voice indicates the connections with his past are strong and haunting. ‘Hillbilly Elegy” asks the question:  What hope is there for children still caught in the cycle of poverty and hopelessness?

In this era of Trump politics, “Hillbilly Elegy” may just shed light on the state of angst that lead America to this point.

Vance’s perspective is honest, and revealing.

A worthy read.

“Beautiful Affliction” Resonates

The riddle closes in.  I can hear its heavy footsteps, echoing in my ears.  The dark brings out that which the day hides.

(Excerpt from Beautiful Affliction)

th-3Lene Fogelberg knows what it is like to live with an undiagnosed medical condition and to be turned away time and again from doctors.  In Beautiful Affliction she tells her story with poetic flourish and deep insight.  She expertly captures the fear and suffering of living with the unknown.

Beautiful Affliction, however, is more than just a diary of medical disclosures:  it is a testament to love, and the importance of trusting that inner voice even when contradicted by authority.

Fogelberg’s memoir weaves together the past and the present – each chapter a snapshot of life from her perspective – thoughtfully selected and transcribed.

Although we do not share the same disease, much of what she has written resonates with me.  This is an excellent read for anyone dealing with health care issues, whether patient or caregiver.

 

 

 

 

Disability’s Rage

I am not always in possession of my own faculties and the resulting anger lashes out, mostly at my husband, whom I hope recognizes it is seldom personal.

I hate myself in these moments – not all of me – just the malfunctioning parts.

It happens when I overexert myself.  Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease is the new name attributed to ME/CFS, and it is appropriate.  Even my brain suffers from exhaustion. th-2

I have been pushing myself extra hard lately – partly because I am tired of being tired, and partly because I have some things I need to get done – and the result for my brain is that it is losing ground.  I forget things, become confused easily, and cannot process information.

We have been prepping here for a yard sale.  That means making a lot of decisions.  Decisions involve executive functioning:  Is this object redundant? Can I see myself needing it down the road?  How much should I ask for it?  While these may seem like fairly straightforward questions, to the disabled mind they can be taxing.

Mid-afternoon my sister dropped by to help out.  Conversation was difficult as the words just would not come.  She took home a couple of things to try out in her own home.  Later, she texted me money for the items.

This is when it all fell apart.

I have never received money via texting before and my brain, instead of seeing a new learning opportunity, shut down.

“I can’t do this!” I bemoaned to my husband.  “Why would she do that to me?”

He tried to talk me through it.  My brain rebelled further.

“Can’t I just forward the text to you and you do it?”

“You can try, but I don’t think it works that way.”

Money, my panic was telling me, is suspended in space and you better hurry up and grab it!

th-1I tossed my phone aside, laid back and took some deep breaths.  It’s a technique I’ve learned when my muscles get in knots – better to breathe through the stress then try to conquer it.

Awareness of how to proceed floated to the surface.  I deposited the texted money to my account – not the right one – but I had received it, nevertheless.

My husband tried to talk to me about what I can do differently next time, but I hadn’t lost the combative edge yet.  He left me alone.

Sometimes, I just have to grasp the rage by the neck and wrestle it to the ground before it destroys us all.

“I got a lot done today,”  I said aloud.  “And I’m proud of myself for resolving that problem.”

“You’ve done very well,” my husband responded, re-entering the room.

I looked at this man, so brilliant and accomplished, and marvelled that he puts up with the lot of me.th-3

“I am happy, you know,” I tell him, “and excited about where our life is going.” I reach out a hand to him.

“I know you are,” he says taking my hand.  “I know you are.”

Neither of us speaks of concern or worry – it’s all been said before.  What if I never do get better?

No One Will Ever Love You

A secret:  I had to teach myself how to receive love.  th-2

Born fifth of my mother’s six children, I was unexpected – an ill-advised accident, given the difficulties my mother had in previous child births.  Conceived during a tumultuous time – after the father of her first children abandoned her, beaten and penniless – I was the unfortunate result of a  depraved interlude with a man she didn’t even like, but because of me, would marry.

Unlike her other children – sons tall, fair with blue eyes, both talented musicians; and dark-haired, dark-eyed daughters whose beauty dazzled all they met, one frail bodied (born with congenital heart disease), the second an artist, and model – I had no remarkable talents, bore my mother’s wavy hair and green eyes, and my father’s receding chin (an unflattering combination) and rebelled against all things feminine, preferring my fists to common niceties when resolving conflict.

th-3As I grew, I acquired nicknames like Stretch, or Moose, or Linebacker (my father’s term of endearment), and without the wiles of my sisters, my mother grew concerned about me.  Worse than my lack of physical attractiveness though, according to Mom, was the fact that I had a brain.  “Men,” she’d tell me, “don’t like smart women.”

Every day, my mother would just shake her head, as if not understanding how I could turn out like this – a daughter of hers – and mutter:  “No one will ever love you.”

Of course, I set out to disprove her – married young, and when that failed, married again, had kids, sacrificed everything to demonstrate that I was indeed marriage material:  loveable.

Until, after seventeen years, my second husband told me:  “I do not love you.  Have not loved you for ten years.  Only stayed for the children.”th-1

My mother’s legacy is true, I told myself.  No one will ever love me.

I tucked the knowledge back inside and stumbled about for a few years, jumping from one abusive relationship to another, until I decided to stop and take a step back.  What was I trying to prove?  I wondered.  Why was I so desperate to be in a relationship?  Mom’s words floated back to me.

I needed a new mantra – one that supported healthy choices, and negated the old, self-fulfilling belief.

I needed to know that I was loveable.  But how does one replace such insidious conditioning?

I began but swearing off outer relationships in favour of building one with myself.  I tried to do things that would make me feel loved – bought myself fresh-cut flowers every week, made myself healthy meals, gave myself gifts of chocolate, and while it all felt good on the surface, it only deepened the realization that I really didn’t know what it felt like to be loved.

th-4Flashback to my childhood, and realize that I was born into chaos.  My mother jumped from a physically abusive marriage into the arms of my father, whose abuse, while not physical, was emotional and psychological.  I was an unwanted addition for my sisters, who were, themselves, reeling from the fallout of a divorce that saw their brothers torn from them as their father kidnapped and then disappeared with them.  By the time I was born, my oldest sister was facing death, and I can only imagine that I was one more burden on the back of a broken down family unit.  Love was not an easily accessible commodity.

No wonder I made such bad choices in partners:  I had no conception of what love was.  I vowed to change that program.

I knew, through stories that my mother told, that when I was born my father adored me (I was his first).  She said that she’d never seen a man fuss so over a baby – always wanting to hold me, feed me, even change my diaper.  While I could not remember any of this, I believed that the knowledge existed somewhere within me, and that if I could access this knowledge, I could change my pattern.  th-5

As a lover of babies, I knew that feeling of absolute wonder and joy that comes with holding a newborn, and I set to imagining what it would feel like to be so cherished: to be held in such high esteem, loved unconditionally.  Every day, I visualized myself held in loving arms, allowed my body to feel the comfort of love surrounding me, imagined melting into its folds, and embracing the possibilities of love received.

I did this for a year, until I came to a place where I recognized that we are all loved, that there is harmony to be had, and that the love I sought flowed from within, as well as from a greater source.  I had been looking in the proverbial wrong places.

“Your husband adores you,” someone said to me the other day.  “It just radiates from him.  You are so lucky.”

thMy husband does love me.  I feel it everyday, in the way he attends to the little things, puts me first in his thoughts, has never spoken ill of me, would never do anything to hurt me.

It has taken me a long time, and many trial runs, but my mother’s words no longer haunt me.  It is safe to receive; I am loveable.