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Will They Tell Your Story

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You’re going to get a very complicated picture of my Mom, here. My childhood was hell for the most part. She was a (very functional) drug addict (there are a lot of people who will refute that. They didn’t live with her). She was violent at times (same). Erratic and unstable (same, same).

She’s also one of the women  I admire most in my life.

My Mom could revive anyone and anything, like raising Lazarus from the dead.

She was brilliant and insightful and… fearless? On the surface, yes, but so many people’s fearlessness is born of their fears, much like a narcissist’s ego is born of their weakness. But she was undoubtedly courageous in the face of nearly every assault. There were no red flags about people that were big enough to keep her from trying to connect with them, extend them a hand, or simply share a moment with them.

I could write books about all the people she helped in ways ephemeral, and more concrete. My most poignant memories of her are of the times she would veer from our plans because she saw a heart in need. At the time I was always annoyed. Now I try my damndest to carry on her beautiful legacy.

She had infinitely more patience, grace, wisdom, and openness than I will ever have. I’m jaded and mistrusting and I don’t really like to let people too close to me. I’m learning and growing and want nothing more than to fill the enormous hole she left in her wake.

I fear that I’ll never come close, but it’s never stopped me from trying.

One of the things I’ve embraced from her example is to speak great truths with great love. The last years she spent working, were on a small military base mainly tasked with the production of weapons of war. An ironic job for a long-haired, pot-smoking, rabidly pacifist hippy. She had no compunction at all taking the officers on base that she worked with to task for the failings she railed against in our military. And these big, strong, uniformed men listened. With great respect and significant fondness.

When she died, they held a small memorial for her on base. Not quite the protocol for a civilian, but in spite of their differences, they cared, and they wanted to send her off with the respect she deserved.

I don’t really think in terms of my own legacy.

I’m too busy trying to grow hers.

 

It’s A Sad Sad Situation

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Whether or not you’re a fan of Dennis Prager, I once heard him compare relationships to bank accounts. Something along the lines of some people are savers, and they will make deposit after deposit but rarely make a withdrawal. Some people will put just enough in to open an account and establish some credit and then will bleed you dry until you finally drop the hammer on them. He made the comment that those people were the definition of being “morally bankrupt”.

As helpful as that was, I’ve used the concept of triage in relationships, particularly friendships, especially those where there is an element of mentoring going on.

It’s not just about pouring resources into someone or something. The person or situation has to actually be ready, willing and able to benefit from those resources. By my way of thinking, if I continue to use resources for someone who isn’t ultimately benefitting from them, I’m actively stealing from others who may well be able to use what I have to offer.

As an empath, knowing when to call it quits has never been my strong suit. Having some kind of metric to help me make these decisions about gifts and help and relationships has been incredibly helpful. My instinct is never to say no to a wounded soul, knowing that sometimes it’s the person who says yes that makes the difference. I can’t say this metric has stopped me from making that first attempt, rarely is someone so far gone that I know they are beyond my help. It has taught me to be more measured in my approach, and more watchful for the ensuing response.

I’ll admit, I still struggle with this conceptually. On some level it feels heartless to be that… calculating about the welfare of others. But I have extremely limited resources, and as far as I can tell, the people who are pulled back from the brink usually turn into healthy givers when they get their own house in order. So the most efficient and effective plan is to give to those you know can be returned to solid ground. Thinking about the long term chain reaction helps soothe my empath soul a little bit, and keeps me focused on the long game.

But walking away is never going to be easy or natural for me. It’s at best a well-practiced skill.

Lately I’m Foolish, I Don’t Do This

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That first week was a whirlwind of texts and dates, and spending our first night together.

I’m generally someone who operates at turtle speed, but he had this way of getting under my skin. We talked and texted endlessly, and it was all so easy. The fun, flirty banter, the drives, the long, intense conversations in my car, the kissing… It all felt so natural and right. There were moments, little blips on the radar, but they were almost reassuring in a way. The conflicts, oh so fleeting, were the only signs of normalcy amid the dreamlike clouds of fantasy.

Or so I thought.

They weren’t signs of normalcy, they were warning shots across the bow.

Not that I saw that at the time, they lulled me into a false sense of security. It was only when I was finally ready to look at the situation as a whole, when I finally reread the novella written over the months we spent together that I recognized them for what they were. They were the tests that I passed; before the ones I “failed”.

At the time I was just happy. Not just to be embarking on this journey, but because I knew that healing hearts was what I did well. I thought I had something to offer him, something that would help him find a happiness I knew we couldn’t share. I could never give him all the things I wished for him. But I thought we could share a moment in time and both come out the other side ready to take on the future, healthier, happier, and stronger.

The problem is, what he wanted from me was not what I was ready or willing to give him. If we both had been clear about the realities, we could have saved each other a whole lot of time and trouble. Maybe. Maybe the trouble is exactly what he needed to get what he really wanted. I hate to think that, it’s too nightmarish to contemplate.

It’s a reality with ample precedent.

At the time, I was too lost in the fantasy to see the entirety of the truth. My gut was yelling endlessly. I didn’t ignore it, but I wasn’t willing to walk away from someone so special without some evidence. Evidence was not what he was selling at the time. What he was selling was fairy tales. Potent ones.

Resistance in the face of his relentless onslaught was laughably futile. I could barely catch my breath and he knew it. He planned it. He capitalized on the confusion he created.

You Were Always There For Me When I Needed You Most

I get a ping, and after some roaming around the block and a few false starts, an unspeakably handsome Englishman (who shares a name with my youngest, and I share a name with his daughter, hello Kismet!) gets in. He tells me we are picking up his friends.

Two more shockingly adorable young brits get in the car and we’re off. And I’m about in heaven because they could just chatter the whole way to their hotel and I’d be happy as a lark.

But the delicious accents aren’t all that’s worth telling here. Nor were their very notable looks. They were charming, highly intelligent, and funny, with such impeccable manners that they were simply a joy to have in the car.

Me, being the bigmouth that I am, I was full of questions and they were for the most part very talkative. Particularly the young man in the seat next to me.

Being from LA, and hearing them talk a bit, I had a suspicion they were musicians and had played one of the larger venues that night. They were also much closer to my son’s age than mine, and I mostly listen to passengers’ music if any, so I’m not really conversant in what the kids are listening to these days.

Finally I couldn’t take the curiosity anymore (major violation of native Angeleno standards, but when in Denver… was my rationale), and I asked, “so what band/performer?”. The young man in the front seat says “well, that’s ….. …… back there, innit?”. And I gasp “no”… and they go “so you know his music”? And I say “that song” and they go “that song” and proceed to tease me about my utter lack of knowledge about his music (in a completely charming and friendly way, no malice intended).

Inside I’m kicking myself because I can’t remember the name of that damn song. Because I’ve got it saved on Pandora, I love it, it’s breathtakingly beautiful and for someone who’s spent her entire adult life married to the same man, only to have her entire world crumble to pieces… That song is both too hard for me to listen to, and in those moments when I feel stronger and happier, I listen and I believe again in love. I believe that people really do feel as I feel and that all can really be right with the world, and that the heartache I see too often around me doesn’t have to be the norm.

But I couldn’t remember the title because every time I hear it the tears flow freely from my eyes and I’m too busy experiencing it to worry about things like remembering words.

Which, let me tell you, that’s a rare occurrence for a singer. Usually we’re all about those words, yo.

There aren’t many songs that impact me with quite that level of emotional intensity, and here I felt like I left this young man with the impression that his music was unremarkable, when nothing could be further from the truth. That song destroyed me in the most beautifully epic way the very first time I heard it.

I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Talent like that truly deserves to be honored, even if it violates my LA “code”.

And young men that remarkable in every possible way deserve to know they are admired, even if it’s by a lady old enough to be their mother.

Maybe especially by a lady old enough to be their mother. It is certainly my fondest wish that I’ve raised my sons as well as these young men were clearly raised.

I Say A Little Prayer For You

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I think one of the reasons some passengers have such an impact on me is because I love differently than some people.

I was never one of those people who knew what career I wanted to pursue. I’m not sure I had any concept of myself as someone who had choices in that realm. But I loved science and became fascinated with heritability when a high school psychology teacher sparked an interest in Psychology Today.

Eventually a family friend who is a physician made the old joke about “What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? About $75/hr!”. I started to research medical school and the more I learned, the more enamored I became.

One fear I had was that admonition about not getting attached. I wasn’t sure that was something I could pull off. Another family friend was a nurse, and she wasn’t someone who embraced the “don’t get attached” advice. Patients often became a part of her non-work life. And as patients sometimes do, they would occasionally exit the mortal world.

I asked her once, how did she get through that? She said she went to the chapel and she cried and prayed and grieved, and then new patients came in needing care. They needed her to care for them just as openly, with just as much concern.

That helped me make peace with the idea of working in a clinical setting and dealing with the losses that every physician faces. While I never got to put the idea to the test, it definitely impacted how I approached being a foster parent. The one thing I was very clear about, is each child deserved to belong, to be fully loved, to have a parent (in the day to day sense). No qualifiers. Their experience should not be impacted by my fear of losing someone I had come to love. So I put my heart on the line with every child, and when they left I prayed for the best, did my best to demonstrate confidence in the plan the state had developed for their future, and sent them off with a wish for a wonderful future. I cried, and I grieved, and then more kids came needing love and someone to embrace them (and at times, their parents).

I think some of that shapes my experience with some passengers. When I sense that someone needs a compassionate ear, I’m not afraid to offer whatever they may need, to open up my heart. I know that separation is nothing to fear, and I hope to model, even for a brief time, a depth of connection not everyone has experienced. I’m not a platitudes and superficial smile kind of person.

Recently I saw a Facebook post from Glennon Doyle about her “love letter“, in a somewhat non traditional sense. I had to laugh because it was exactly how I conceptualized this blog. These were my “love letters” to the passengers I connected with, shared surprisingly intimate moments with, and came to care for in a shockingly small amount of time. I felt those connections deserved to be honored in some way, and my wish for a wonderful future for people I so admired needed to be set free to come to fruition somehow. As always, for me, the way to breathe life into those visions for the future and resolution of the past is through the written word. It’s how I so often process the complexities of life.

If in the process I could inform, entertain, or inspire others… well, even better

When The Evening Shadows And The Stars Appear

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When the unavoidable discard was lingering in the wings, he finally told me the truth about some of his past relationships. I’m not sure if out of some rudimentary sense of fairness, or out of self-preservation. But up until that point, he had cast himself as the sad victim of all of life’s tragedies.

For an empath, there’s not a trumpet’s call that is more rousing than that one. We usually have a track record of nursing broken hearts back to health, of patching them together with liquid gold. We also have a multitude of stories of being raked over the coals and taken advantage of, but we generally know what it’s like to be misjudged. We’d rather commit the sin of loving too often than too infrequently.

As witty and charming and endearing as he was, that wasn’t what hooked me. In fact, that’s usually something I mistrust. It was the wounds, the allusions to past suicide attempts, the weary “I shouldn’t be alive” that I found impossible to resist. I’ve been given the gift of being saved from my own self-destruction, and I so longed to give it to someone else. I thought I saw a spark in him, something that could be fanned into a flame of self-preservation. I was wrong. Or maybe I was right in a way, and it was simply our definitions of self-preservation differed. I am more of a long-game girl, while he’s all immediate gratification. Maybe to him, it looked like a win, to build him up enough that he could put himself out there again, play the game and score some points.

But putting a few points up on the board was not what I wanted for him.

I wanted him to finally win the game; but lying, evading, cheating, manipulating? Those aren’t what win you the game. You can ask Lance Armstrong how that plays out in the end.

What I mistook for strength was nothing more than cowardice and false bravado. Where I thought I saw resilience, there was merely a predator who would throw anyone under the bus, friends, neighbors, coworkers, family; who would take and take from any and all, giving as little as he could in return. What first appeared to be compassion and concern was nothing more than twisted self-interest.

If you glue that back together with gold, you’ve simply created a more powerful monster.

Congratulations.  

Picture Perfect Memories

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When do you know? How do you know? Is finding the love of your life a one-time thing? Does lightning ever strike twice? Do the beautiful memories fade enough to allow a new love to take root and flourish? Or do you simply learn with time to value new things, and stop missing the old ones?

I was with my husband for 22 years. We still live together. We still co-parent. And because I can’t risk anything but comprehensive insurance coverage, we are still married. Not ideal to be sure, but for us, it works. By virtue of a complete fluke/utter disaster, we are able to be friends again. It’s great. We’re all happier. Our kids are far happier. They have their parents who aren’t constantly fighting, angry, defensive, or in my case, traumatized. The downside of that is I’m remembering what I used to love about the man I used to love, and it makes dating unbearable. Every new opportunity leaves me awash in memories, acutely aware of what’s missing.

There were ways I connected with him that I have never connected with anyone else. Without that, is intimacy even worth all the work? Because after one nightmare (whatever the hell it was, I can’t really call it a relationship) and what has become a bad habit of serial dating, I’m beginning to think friends with benefits is all I’m capable of; and it’s depressing as hell. I want love. I want all the good stuff in my marriage back;  I just don’t want the trauma.

But I have yet to date a man I can imagine spending an afternoon in bed with, my head on his shoulder, drifting towards sleep as we talk the day away. That for me is not negotiable. That’s like the best part of my day/week/what have you. That’s the moment I finally let down my guard and relax.

I miss the way we circled the wagons as a family whenever adversity struck. The way we pulled together as a team and got through it all. You mean that’s over? Forever?

I miss remembering special days, our wedding, the birth of our children, without seeing them through this ugly veil of tarnish. I miss those memories being dear and beautiful and unblemished. Now I can hardly bear to remember them. Someone please tell me this phase passes.

Learning that your entire adult life was a lie, well, I’m pretty sure they haven’t invented a word for that yet.

Fearing that you’ll only love like that once is… Yeah, there’s no word for that either.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

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I remember the day my sister was born like it was yesterday.

I had just moved in with my Dad and Stepmom. Theoretically she was supposed to have been born before I moved in, but school was in progress, and she was making her entrance when she darn well felt like it (if you know my sister, you know that getting her to do what she doesn’t want to do is nigh on impossible).

So a day after I moved in, I sat on the floor at Mama’s feet, trying not to cry. I failed. Miserably. I wasn’t always the best at showing it, but I loved Mama dearly and seeing her in pain (no matter how skillfully or gracefully she bore it) was too much to bear.

For a kid who once asked Santa for a younger brother, having a baby sister wasn’t exactly all I’d wished for. She cried. A lot. Life got louder, the house got more chaotic. There was a lot less playing with cute baby than I thought, and when I did get to, it was less playing and more, yuck.

I was an utter ingrate as older sisters go.

Still I was utterly enamored.

Mama and our Dad divorced and we were not in contact again until my sister was 16. I was the married mother of a toddler, and even then, I was awestruck by her. In many ways, she was more mature than I was, and certainly had herself more together than I had yet managed.

As I’ve navigated my way through the complexities in life, particularly in the last 5 years, she has been my role model. Always reminding me what it means to be fierce, something she got in spades from her Mother. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the strength or resilience either of them have. I know I don’t have the drive, although it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, and they are my most dependable examples. I completely lack her confidence, or self-esteem. I often joke she’s the belle of the ball, and I’d swear on a stack of bibles she knows everyone in her town.

I’m still a work in progress, and she’s one of my main sources of inspiration.

As I look back over the last year, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I owe more of that to her than I’ll ever have words for.

We’re Gonna Get Married

Paul and Ashley hopped into my car Thanksgiving Eve. I asked how their evening was. There was a tinge of meh in Paul’s response, which I quipped about. He said “well, she’s happy, happy wife, happy life”. Ashley looks at him and says “wife”? And he says “well yeah, someday”.

We chatted a bit, and turns out her brother (his friend) isn’t on board. And they both respect his opinion, so they are waiting for him to come around. But I joked “darn, I thought I was finally going to check that Uber proposal off my list!”. They decided to make my simple rideshare dream come true then and there (okay, not for real, folks). And Paul spontaneously launched into the most charming, beautiful, and utterly endearing proposal I’ll probably ever witness (since, you know, I’m no Ashley).

Fake or not, it was a privilege to witness the moment and swept both the ladies in the car off their feet for a moment.

They are an adorable couple with the world at their feet. I’m crossing my fingers that brother/friend comes around and soon, because these two starting a life together just makes me smile.

Sometimes just seeing all the good in the world is all it takes to renew your faith in humanity.

Miss Independent

There’s a woman in our singles group that I can’t quite figure out.

I don’t get why she’s single.

It’s as if a winning Powerball ticket were alive and walking around in the world and nobody stopped to claim it.

It baffles me. It’s confusing as hell. And it’s the surest proof that everything we are told about relationships, desirability, and being loved is bullshit.

I think we’ve all known that woman, right? Unspeakably beautiful, successful, intelligent, fun, caring, truly the total package. And sometimes women will talk about men being intimidated by them and I know a lot of people think that’s just ego talking, but I don’t know how else to explain it.

Are men truly that threatened by a woman who knows her own worth? Who insists on being treated like the Queen she is? And if that’s the case, where have we gone so horribly wrong? Because she’s exactly the perfect embodiment of what every man claims to want. And there she is. Still single, (and not upset about it at all, BTW. Because she is a Queen).

Some part of me wants to shake every man within a certain radius and tell them to wake the hell up, your dreams are waiting; right.over.there! so why aren’t you talking to her? Part of me instinctively knows the futility of this.

I don’t know what else to do so I pray. I hope. I wish. I want to believe. And I wish her to have all the happiness she spreads to others so effortlessly.

But on a fundamental level, this whole phenomenon just challenges my concepts of life and love in some really difficult ways.

I don’t know where to go with that, or how to make peace with it.

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