Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Cats Of My Life: One Day Cat

Photo Copyright http://www.bojesphob.com/

That’s what I call the cat in my mind – one day cat. He (or she, I don’t know) was allowed in the house for one day after our cat, who I hadn’t talked about yet, died.

The cat that passed was the one my mother got after Georgie died. She loved the cat and he loved her. But then he was hit by a car. I still remember how upset I was that he was hit – and that my mother decided my coat was the one to wrap him up in as he coughed up blood on the way to the vets office. We thought he was going to live, but alas, he did not.

After he died everyone was distraught. We had only had him for two years, he was so young. Outside was this white cat with a deformed ear that was always friendly. I wanted to keep him – we were now catless anyway. Remembering how my mother woke up every morning with either Georgie or our last cat, she relented.

One Day Cat was sweet – and curled up next to me keeping me warm all night. S/he followed me everywhere in the house and I felt so loved.

The next morning my mother threw the cat back on the street saying that she heard it was a neighbor’s cat and was being looked for. I doubt it, I always saw the kitty on the street.

So then she said the cat was dirty and diseased.

But I liked One Day Cat. I was comforted that night.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Last Word

Photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org

Ah, the things in childhood you never forget. The power of the last word was such a pain in the ass my entire life. It was insisted that only ‘the mother’ get the last word in any conversation as she was the one who was most important. After her, my brother.

I still remember the way these conversations, arguments, even greeting could go.

Me - “Welcome home ma, how was work.”

Her - “That guy was being such a shit again. Insists because he went to college he’s better than me.”

Me - “But who has more responsibility? You do, right?”

Her - “Yeah, I do all the work in that f*cking place anyway.”

Me - “Well, I’m off to R.s now to do some homework. I’ll have dinner there.”

Her - “Wait”

Me - “Why, you told me over the phone this would be fine?”

Her - “You can’t just leave until I say you can.”

Me - “Fine, may I please go to R’s house.”

Her - “Did you do your homework?”

Me - “I’m doing it there.”

Her - “Did you do your chores?”

Me - “Yes, and your dinner is in the fridge.”

Her - “Then you may go.”

Me - “Thank you.”

Her - “Your welcome.”

Me - “Do you want me to pick you up anything from the store on the way back?”

Her – “Why do you do that. I said you can leave now go, just leave. Don’t say another word.”

Me – “Why?”

Her – “You little bitch, I see your game. You’re just trying to get the last word again.”

Me – “What do you mean the last word? I asked if you wanted me to pick you up something from the store!”

Her – “Right. You know exactly what you’re doing. I get the last word. I’m the mother.”

Me – “Fine, then say the last word and let me go.”

Her – “Good, as long as you realize that.”

I roll my eyes as I turned around.

Her (grabs my bag) – “Oh no you don’t missy. That’s the same as saying something. I get the last word, got it?”

Now I’d get confused because if I said something, she wouldn’t get the last word!

These types of ‘conversations’ happened with enough frequency for me to remember them. Sometimes I would say ‘fine, I understand, you got the last word’ just to piss her off further because it would get absolutely ridiculous. Does having the last word mean anything? Not in my book – just means you are power hungry if you won’t let anyone else be the last to say something. With her it was very much “I am the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega” she wasn’t just the top dog, she was every dog and we, her children, were there merely to put her shit in little plastic bags and dispose of them in a sanitary manner.

I still don’t understand it though. Does the last word mean anything? Does it mean you won the argument, or are worth more than the other person? Obviously she thought so, but what about others? Someone else have the last word here :)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Special

Photo Copyright http://victoryachasegoestotherapy.com

I have a fondness for this photo. I remember our Latin teacher giving out Necco wafers one day as she taught us that it meant 'to kill.'

I'll admit it, I adore Necco wafers. What is better then a thin wafer of sugar with some artificial flavoring? You can just place it on your tongue pretending it's a communion wafer and enjoy the sweetness as it dissolves in your mouth.

And just to clarify, the Necco in Necco candy stands for New England Confectionary Company.

My favorite flavor? Chocolate. It tastes like a cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows all smooshed down into one little circle of goodness.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Letter to My Brother

I went to bed last night with every intention of finally cleaning up the blog a bit and putting up the Memes/Awards I've gotten. I love the support I've received from people such as Amel and Michelle who have tagged me. Time is just flying so fast right now.

So I sat down, wrote out my sentence to motivate me, and put on some music.

The music is the Prince of Egypt soundtrack. I got it at a dollar store. Brian Stokes Mitchell just has an amazing voice.

Then the lyric comes on, "Once I called you brother. Once I thought the chance to make you laugh, was all I ever wanted."

And it totally changed my writing focus, so I wrote a letter instead. But I won't mail it, can't mail it. I'll explain why at the end.


Dear Brother,

I’ve been thinking of you lately, but don’t know how to anymore. Does it mean anything that we are related or is it time to just think of us as people forced to live in a situation that was sometimes good but more times than not the most opposite of ‘good’? We’ve both had to overcome a lot to get to where we are today, wherever that may be. I don’t know if I want to hear you are doing well or not. I wish most people well, but the past sometimes overpowers me as much as I try to rationalize behaviors away. From both of us. I don’t like thinking how angry I was during that time, how much I hated you. I hated you because you betrayed me at every chance to our ‘mother’ – in quotes because it’s by birth only, not nurturing.

You told me you loved her. That is something I can’t understand. How you can love someone like her.

Is there a chance for us to ever have a relationship after ‘the war has ended.’ That’s how I feel – like our childhood was a battlefield. Now that we’re far away, is it time to clear the mines or just stay away from the area completely?

I wish I had an answer. I wish I had the strength to deal with everything. I wish I didn’t fear that you would immediately call up ‘mother’ and tell her I contacted you. Tell her that I don’t love her. I try to understand why you used to do that – was it to hurt her by telling her that her only daughter didn’t love her or to hurt me because you knew she’d come after me when she heard? Was it to bolster yourself as you continually confessed your love for her though you never showed it?

In the end I do wish you peace, whatever your definition of that word may be. Peace, quiet, a chance to get away from the storm and reflect and learn and grow. Or, if your peace is to forget, I wish that as well. Maybe I’m forgotten already.


The reason I won't mail it is because I don't know what he feels, if he wants to remember. If he doesn't want to go back there, I would be intruding. I also don't know if he is still close to our 'mother' - and what he would do. I don't want to be dragged into anything with her again. I don't want her to think I care or to try and contact me again.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Part of My Family Tree or What Happens When You Can't Say No

Being young is hard. Being young and female, in a time when a woman’s education is to be in the home arts can’t make things easier at all. Add a good dose of poverty and the dominant feeling that at the time a woman without a man is incomplete, and you have a tough life.

You have my grandmother.

I often fantasized that had she been born in my generation we would have been best of friends. She seemed like she had a lot going on in her mind, but just lacked the words to express it. And she lacked the family to support her. My mother was always one to condemn her and applaud her at the same time. I heard tell that my grandfather controlled her, but I only saw him once or twice so can’t say. I do remember he made me doll furniture and grandma said he loved me very much.

My grandmother was amazing when it came to crafts. She made pillows and dolls and knit and just everything you can imagine. At Christmas time the house was filled with decorations and not one, but three trees that she proudly displayed and showed off to everyone who came in the house. The light in her eyes outshone those from the trees.

It was hard talking to her at times, as she didn’t have the words. When she worked it was usually doing things such as sorting books at a shelter or other such tasks. She was so proud when she was around intelligent women though, and loved telling me those stories as best she could.

“So she went to whatchyoumcallit sweetie, she did. She’s very smart. And she did this thing, you know? And she’s retired from the thingibob and now we work together sorting clothes.” She’d tell me, as she explained her day. At times it seemed like every third word or so was a replacement word – a ‘whatchoo’ or ‘thingie.’ Was it just excitement or did she really just not have the language? Unfortunately, I think it was the latter because even in calm times I just couldn’t understand her.

Yet, I loved listening to her stories. I should clarify that this is my father’s mother. I never met my mother’s mom. My mother reluctantly ‘allowed’ her to baby-sit my brother and I one year, as there was no other option that was affordable. After that summer the visits tapered, even though my grandmother never condemned my mother or blamed anyone for the divorce.

Grandma also loved to cook. Not that she was good at it. Many a time did we have gritty candies and an odd mixture of flavors (think garlic brownies), but her family praised her as the domestic goddess she was taught to be.

When Grandma told stories they were seldom about herself. They were about some relative she was proud of who was wounded in war and ended up with a metal plate in his head. I think he was in a truck that hit a mine. He was her hero, I believe in her story he was riding around saving people when the fighting got in the way of his adventure. Sometimes she spoke of the craft fairs she went too and how people praised her dolls, but usually it focused on the other people in her life – how hard her husband worked, how proud she was of her daughter the butcher (who lived with her as well).

This also led to grandmother never really showing me how to sew, or crochet, or knit as she didn’t want to talk about herself (other than to say she had no choice in the matter when talking about her lack of education) and she encouraged my education. In fact, she paid for a party to celebrate my graduation from highschool. One that, unfortunately, she didn’t attend (she couldn’t drive and I think my mom said she wouldn’t drive her back home). So we had it without her.

But, what is the point of me writing this besides some nostalgia for a woman I once knew? The point is the one story she told my brother and I, a story she had kept bottled up inside for a long time.

It was about my father.

And her father.

Between her sobs she spoke about how she didn’t have the strength to say no when her father wanted to take her son. Through tears we heard little snippets of how she knew what he would do, because her father had done it to her when she was little. But she felt responsible now for what my father had done to my brother, because she didn’t have the strength to stop the cycle from continuing.

It’s a harrowing moment to have happen. All the moments there are- she was taken by her dad and couldn’t say no when he wanted our dad. My brother was taken. And now, there we were, both under the age of ten listening but not quite understanding what she was saying.

We held her hand as she cried, knowing she needed something and not really cognizant of the weight she had carried so long. This was her story – the one she never wanted to revisit but it was eating her up too much not to. She had been taught to always do what her father said. Even though she knew he was wrong, she couldn’t say no.

She just couldn’t say no.

But while she felt that was her legacy, it’s not. She loved me. She loved her entire family and always did what she could to keep them clothed and fed and clean. As powerless as she felt, she still fought hard to love everyone. She was proud of everything anyone accomplished – no matter how others might have viewed it. The problem is now, when I’ve tried to reconnect with her it’s just apologies. I haven’t seen her since I was young, it was forbidden after a time (even though my mother still accepted money). She is sorry she didn’t stand up to my mother more, but was afraid we wouldn’t be allowed to her house anymore as eventually happened. She’s sorry she didn’t talk sooner about things that were going on. I do hope she forgives herself soon as I have. She was an oasis for me. I loved going to grandma’s house. And that one story she did tell of herself, it shows me what I have to face, an evil that goes back a long ways. I’m glad she had the strength to tell us what had happened, and what does happen when you don’t have the strength to say no.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who is To Blame - The Illness or Person?

The blame game is something I know a little about. As I’ve talked about before, I got a lot of guilt, blame, shame, etc. placed on my little shoulders. Then, if my mother ever did anything or someone questioned her behavior, it was PMS or stress from dealing with us kids or society or any number of things.

Now, when I bring up that my mother was ‘evil’ as I say, I get told mothers can’t be evil. If I say she was bi-polar kind-hearted souls try and rationalize that mother’s can’t be bad and tell me it’s the illness talking, not them.

I’ve actually had long deep conversations with people about the subject of illness in a person. In the legal system there is ‘by reason of insanity’- can I attribute that to my mother as well? Abuse by reason of insanity? What are the qualifications? How can I separate one from the other?

Okay, so the assumption is she was bi-polar. She vacillated wildly in her emotions – there was never solid ground around her. One minute she’s the momma bear protecting her children and the next the cannibal bear chewing us up and tearing us to pieces. I know some of her history, even if that changed daily too, her life wasn’t easy. But then again, neither was mine.

The thing is- a person isn’t an illness, they’re a person. Also, in her case, she had medication. She took medication. Then she stopped. When I asked her about it she said it didn’t make her ‘feel like herself.’ And, yeah, the highs and lows become addictive. But she recognized at times that she was hurting her children, hurting herself, and everyone around her. I saw the recognition. She confessed that she understood. And she still chose the ‘disease’ over her children. In fact, she seemed to love the sympathy she got and the ‘excuse’ it gave her. When Sally Field appeared on ER as the bi-polar mother of the nurse Abby, my mother was absolutely thrilled. It totally, in her mind, validated her decision to not take medication and she missed the whole point of the story arc (how much it hurt Abby the way her mother acted.)

I can never give my mother an ‘out’ for the crap that she pulled and the pain that she caused. She was cognizant of her actions despite the illness. And I see this all too often, “oh, she’s depressed,” “oh, she has this, she has that, she had such a tough life,” and I do think it’s a cop-out for behavior. I also think it allows the illness to take control if we give it the power and responsibility for our actions.

The above image was found in http://commons.wikimedia.org

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who Will Save Me?

photo from http://churchoutlet.com

When I was talking about R. with my therapist the other day she brought up something interesting – that R. had said she saved me just like my mother did. That hadn’t occurred to me before. In fact, I forgot the story of the times my mother claimed she saved me the minute I told them to her. But when she mentioned it they came back.

I don’t know how much I mentioned about my father, or how much I really remember. A lot of my memories are tainted by my mother’s ‘retelling’ of events where things changed each time until she became the hero of every situation. There are some things I have a vague recollection of, some I know for sure, and some that I only remember her telling me, not what really happened.

There is a scar under my bottom lip. Just a thin white line that used to bother me more than it does now. It’s not like anyone sees it but me when I stand, biting my lower lip, and examine it in the mirror tracing its ethereal translucence. Do I remember how I got it? Not really. I only remember the story my mother told of how my brother and I went into my parent’s room when they were sleeping. “He didn’t mean to hit you honey, he meant to hit your brother.” Was one way that she told the story. Another is that my parents were having sex when my brother pushed me in the room. Either way the story ends with me getting hit in the face and my tooth growing through my lip. Considering snippets of my father’s temper that has stayed with me, it seems plausible. It also seems plausible that my brother would push me in front to deflect the blow.

What I remember most about my father is lying down on his thick fuzzy arm to watch television. Nothing was as soft as his arm. I remember he loved science fiction and M*A*S*H and he taught me to love Star Trek. He read to my brother and I. I used to love this picture of baby me slumped in his lap as he reads some thick sci-fi book, presumably out-loud. However, I also remember him swinging shoes at me as he kicked us kids out of his apartment when we were there for visitation, before it became supervised visitation only. I remember him admonishing us when we didn’t thank him for his generous Christmas gift after the divorce – two dollars and shoelaces. I also remember what he took from my brother, an innocence he can never return, and I can’t forgive him for that.

In terms of saving – my mother was the martyr who sacrificed her life to save her children (her words.) She gave up sex and a husband. But there is one more specific to the task at hand – which is me figuring everything out. She often used my father as a threat, that she would send me to him to get raped if I misbehaved. And in the same breathe as the threat would tell me how she saved my when I was five years old.

“You were coloring in your room,” she’ll begin as her eyes fade out and move to the past, “and your father walked in naked. You were just sitting there staring up at him so shocked and scared. But luckily I found him in there and got him out. I saved you. Who knows what would have happened?”

Who does know? And who knows if that did really even happen? Much of what my mother said has been, we’ll put it nicely, ‘her reality’ and doesn’t exactly mesh up with others. Was my brother just convenient because my mother ‘guarded my chastity’ when I was a child? Was she my savior because she held ice to my chin to stop the bleeding after he hit me the year before? Plus, if that happened when I was five, they didn’t divorce until a couple years later, so that’s a bunch of questions. Not to mention the fact it’s in the same sentence as her wanting to send me off to get raped.

So R. said she saved me by allowing me a place away from my mother (who she later threatened to send me back to).
My mother said she saved me by taking me away from my father (who she later threatened to send me back to).

Luckily it’s only those two I can think of now, though I’m sure my brother claimed to be my savior on more than one occasion. This makes me wonder if saving me was addictive at that point in time. But as I mentioned before, I hate that idea. You can only save yourself, to claim it over another just seems like a power ploy. And really, I think that’s all these people were doing – trying to lay claim to me in ways they could rationalize.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stories of Friendship - R. (Part 2)

"Friendship quilt" from http://static.howstuffworks.com

The thing that began to bug me about R. was that she was sexual, and I was not. While we talked of being chaste and she was a ‘good catholic girl’ she’d always come back with stories of acts she’d done with her boyfriends – and in public spaces. There was a disconnect between her actions and her words that really set off alarms. For instance, she cried when her boyfriend went off to the army and sent her back letter after letter saying what he did with other women because she wouldn’t. So the minute he got back she ‘serviced him’ at a local park. She did the same thing with her boss at a fast food restaurant who said he was in physical pain and needed her help for a release, and later when we lived together for a few months had an affair with someone because she ‘always wanted to do it with a man of his profession.’ But after each excursion she’d come to me in tears asking for redemption. Redemption isn’t my job.

My mother loved R. and even called her her other daughter. R. called her ‘Mommy #2.’ She was included in all our functions. When my brother was dating some woman, that person tried to call my mother ‘mom’ and was cut off at the pass – “You do not call me mother, even if you marry my son you will not call me mother,” was her response. Only R., my brother and I could.

R. was older and thus went to college before me. It was her first time away from home. The next year I ended up in NYC. We sent letters back and forth and the every important packages. I swear, the other kids at college measured your worth in boxes from ‘home.’

I remember thinking how grown up R. was the first time I saw her in a suit. This was when I went to visit her after she graduated when she had a ‘real’ job.

As I think I mentioned in another post, there were so many times that I wanted to quit being her friend for all those ‘odd’ feelings I had about her. If we went halfsies on some candy at a store, and it came out to say, 1.27 she’d want that extra penny because ‘we can’t split a penny.’ She always argued about such things, and I’d give in. Plus she was just so sexualized and it made me uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that if we were out and a man would whistle or whatever, she’d always preen and say it was at her, like I was denied that right to be worthy of attention. She would also always comment on the largeness of my breasts, which was unnerving to say the least. But my mom loved R., and I loved her mom, so we stayed friends.

By the time I finished college my mother had helped R. get a job working with her. I had no career plans to speak of, was just amazed that I graduated, but couldn’t take living with my mother. Thus, R. and I got a place together and I got a job working at the same place as the two of them – who by now had gotten really close and made life plans for me (which I didn’t realize at the time). We got a two bedroom in a nice area and had drawn up a plan that I would take the small room (less than half the size of the master one) in exchange for proportional rent. Since we each had a cat, we each would pay the 150$ deposit and realized we would only get half back.

Shortly after we moved in R. told me that she spoke to other people and proportional rent was stupid. I told her that’s why she got the big room, or else we could have found another way to figure the rooms out. She told me “No, you pay half and if you don’t like it you can go back with your mother.” Bear in mind she had been in her job for over a year now, and I was just interning for the summer at $10/hour. Not much money. I, as always, acquiesced.

I started interviewing but wasn’t really finding a job in our area that I liked, I wanted to go back to Manhattan- it was my goal. Every time I said that R. got really upset with me.

Another rule we had made going into the place was no men allowed ever. That included our brothers. The simple reason was a friend of ours had been killed by her roommate’s boyfriend. We both realized you could never really know someone and it was agreed that we wouldn’t put each other in such a position. Of course, not soon after she had her military boyfriend over, the one who cheated on her across the globe.

Everything just went from bad to worse and I was trapped. I hadn’t yet gotten my license, so was dependent on her and the bad public transportation in that city. When I did have another guy that was interested in me, she asked him right in front of me if he wouldn’t prefer a slim brunette like her. Not to mention that her cat was like her- unpredictable and controlling.

I was there for three months before I got a call that my roommate from college found me a place – her boss got a new apartment and the first month would be free. After that I only had to pay about 300$. I left with no job prospects, my cat, and $30 in my checking account and never doubted that it was the right choice. All my furniture was still at the place with R. and she never allowed anyone else to take it, saying I had given it to her. When I went to get the pet deposit back it turns out I was the only who paid it, and since there were two cats on the contract (and they keep half for allergen cleaning) they were just keeping all my money. R. was also furious that I had turned in my key as she wanted to give it to one of the men in rotation on her mattress. There was no way I wasn’t going to hand it back in to the rental office to make sure they knew I was gone.

I swear, each person feels like a novella. There is so much, good and not so good, that went into the relationship. I suppose it’s that way with everyone though. In the end, she was bad for me, I realized it, and that’s that. But it’s still a part of me somewhere.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Stories of Friendship - R. (Part 1)

Picture from http://www.fairfield.edu

I forget how we met. Oh wait, Biology, my freshman year. We were in the same class. In my high school it was mixed ages in some classes, since there wasn’t much of a sequence to the sciences. She is older than me by about two years, but was held back a year so while I was in 9th grade, she was in 10th. There were other people in there that were ‘older’ and cooler too. One, I forget her name, my goodness, where is my mind? But I hung out with her a lot. We’d go to her house and she’d get drunk while we played nine men’s morris. We were partnered a lot in Biology and for one experiment we had to place a live fish under the microscope. She kept stirring up the beaker and I was getting upset that she was traumatizing the fish needlessly. Then I saved him from her and started singing ‘fish out of troubled water’ and she couldn’t get it out of her head.

There was another time when we had to dissect the live frog. I refused to do it but instead of taking the F this girl let me copy her work. I do remember thinking it was cool though when its heart was still beating on the scalpel. When we put coffee on it, it beat faster (that was part of the experiment).

Anyway, that is how R. and I met. It turned out we lived close to each other so we were walking home, saw each other, and started talking. She had a keychain that said, “how a woman is like the discovery of the U.S.” or something, about how at first they are exciting but soon become run-down. I thought it was funny at the time, if a little ribald. I was invited for dinner that night and went, it’s always nice to go to someone else’s house.

We studied a lot together, she had problems with schoolwork and I found out this was her second year taking biology. Back then, they hadn’t lowered the Regent’s state mandated test scores like they have now, so it was harder to pass. I worked with her a lot. We’d sit in the little strip of land in the middle of the roads to concentrate. There was a study guide we had to buy, I couldn’t afford it so the teacher had given me his. With it, he gave me an answer sheet so I’d know my progress.

The day we went in to take the test she and I were the first to arrive. This meant the pick of the seats. I went in and the first chair I sat in the legs gave out. This made me laugh hysterically. I joke about my weight, but while I have always been heavyset never THAT big. So after the laughter we set the chair back up – noticed how it was rigged – and waited for someone else.

I think she just passed that test by one point- but that was enough to pass the class.

Her mother was the real gem. Old world Italian she spoke very little English. R. told me that she had only up to a third grade education. She cooked and cleaned and forced you to eat and admonished her children when they did badly in school and absolutely loved her garden and later, their dog.

There was also an older brother. His voice was like cats being tossed at a blackboard. He had many learning disabilities. It was hard sometimes to talk to him because I couldn’t take his voice at all.

I couldn’t stand her father. He was big and gruff and always yelling at everyone, and was very sexualized. There were signs of pornography around the house. He refused to let his wife learn English – even when we had found out free classes were being taught at a local school. Her job was to cook and clean and care for him as well as bring in some money. She worked in factory jobs mostly, steam press and other textile things. I remember asking her about it once. She sighed and said, “He’s my husband.”

R. and I had a lot of fun riding our bikes all over the city, studying together, playing video games on her computer. She had compuserve – one of those initial internet providers – so that was a novelty. Her father also spent hundreds of dollars on telephone psychics, so we talked about that a lot. There was a time when she slipped down her stairs, twisted her ankle, and needed an air cast. Shortly after that I twisted mine on a welcome mat and ended up in her air cast.

We shared what we could, mainly junk food, and her mother always had a place for me at the dinner table. There was a time period when my brother went completely off the handle, more so than usual, and I remember walking to her house, in a blizzard, my school books in tow. My mother laughed that in my hurry to pack I left the clothes until last, but education was way more important to me than fashion. Her mother took me in with open arms.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday Special

I figured I do something a little different from my usual fare and take Sunday to lay back, relax a bit, and just post some photos or artwork or things I find cute.

So the pictures below chronicle an outdoors art project that some of us on another website kind of dared each other to do. We were not allowed to use any modern tools and could only use natural objects. So I'll go through steps for the creation of mine and at the end you'll see the final product. This was done over a year ago I think.

First I had to search for the materials. I found a fallen rotted tree, water reeds, and flowers as well as other petals and grass that soon rotted and some seed pods. I decided to play around so first made a giant spiral with the crushed tree:

Then I experimented with the seed pods and found a form starting to come out:

"Ah! A snail!" I thought. "I would have never thought of that!" I like to let the materials do the talking. I am just the helping hands.

So then all I had to do was give the spiral shell some decoration:

and then, voila! Herman was born:

Unfortunately, he didn't last longer than a day. But, for a while he lived and was beautiful. And all materials used were found on the ground or in the water - I didn't break off any flower or part of a tree.
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Wednesday the steam pipe explodes and sends us running. I question how I feel and what’s going on. After a lot of trouble I get home. The only reason I stayed late at work was because of class.

Thursday I call and hear class wasn’t canceled even though it is quite near the site. I couldn’t get to that side of the city anyway. I’m on edge- I feel it. My back feels tight, my arms. When I stretch everything fights against it. I’m jumpy. On the subway, I’m looking around, moving if a kid sits next to me because their movements are too unpredictable.

I have a lot of papers to critique before Saturday and was hoping to get a lot down on Thursday but I found I couldn’t focus. I’m agitated and my leg is going up and down, super antsy. I finish two but they aren’t my best effort. I’m dizzy, a headache is waning, and my only desire is to eat junk food (nachos for dinner), which is bad as I’d been good on my diet and gone down a wee bit. But I don’t feel satisfied. Then, even though I hear my neighbor open her door and know she’s coming to visit me because we had talked about it earlier, when the doorbell rings (or buzzes incredibly loud) I jump. In getting to the door I hit my leg against one dresser type thing and then stub my toe on my shopping cart folded against my closet door and kind of fall into my door cussing. I hear her asking if I’m all right through the door.

That night I just can’t get to sleep at all. It’s late and I still have to go to work. The whole time my head is swimming and I can just feel everything is tight.

“Damn,” I think, “it has gotten to me. My foundation was shaken again.”

And it has. I end up needing that glorious Ambien to get some sleep at all. And the dreams, ah, gotta love the dreams.

In my dream I have given birth to a child. That child’s father has another child from another woman. We are living in the house together. That woman has quadruplets from another man. Shades of Jerry Springer for sure. Add to that a bulldog and a standard poodle. Remember, standard poodles are huge animals.

Something happens and everyone goes away leaving me with six kids and two dogs. I’m trying so hard to balance everything, then the poodle goes to the bathroom on the floor – I hadn’t had a chance to walk it. Next one of the kids is upstairs, I’m trying to tend to mine, and can’t find the quad. Then I start wondering where everyone went and realize I have to go to class and finish my homework. My heart starts racing as I try to find someone to take care of the kids.

Now that part is easy enough to analyze – it can simply be that I’m stressed out and feel overloaded. I have my students (my kids) to take care of as well as work and school. I’m not one to miss a class, and finding out that one still went on bugged me a lot. That’s fair enough and wasn’t too bad.

But then it shifted and I was sent into this stock room to go get a new handbag. When I was in there it was really crowded, floor to ceiling with boxes of bags in plastic rap. But then the door opens and a loading truck starts pushing in more boxes. I’m there screaming for them to stop, trying to find a way out, to claim over the boxes, but can’t. It just keeps coming and coming and pushing in these huge pallets of boxes until I slip and fall under them.

Now again, it’s not too hard to figure out what that is about. The boxes are this rude woman who insisted on shoving herself into the subway despite it already being past capacity. Many of us couldn’t breathe it was so tight and we were screaming at her to at least let us out but she was calling us all idiots and refused to move out of the doorway saying she had a right to get in and get home. It was awful and at the next stop when the doors open she still wouldn’t move and a good number of us finally pushed her to the side so we could get out and breathe again.

Anxiety dreams.

My anxiety levels are high. When I woke up Friday I had scratches up and down my arm. This is also something I used to do in my sleep. There are just a few, I’ve only counted four so far, but they are there and will be for a bit. Granted, I’m not at my highest levels, but I do feel the change. Which is a start, I’m listening to my self and my self is agitated and unsure. It’s a bit confused and processing a lot of information. The “I’m safe” thing hasn’t kicked in because it looks like a war zone outside – there are officials walking around with gas masks and barricades and the streets are all torn up.

What I need to do is focus. Take some time this weekend and go for a long walk to calm down and just breathe deep. I need to at least take control of the eating and start back on a healthy diet as I was before. I notice the difference. When I start getting agitated and sleepless the first thing I reach for is the caffeine to wake me up in the morning and it only increases and intensifies the jumpiness, yet I do it. Unfortunately, I have so much to do (teach as well as my own homework) that I don’t know if it’s possible to relax for a few more weeks.

Saturday and I’m still on edge. It doesn’t help that there is construction outside and I can’t concentrate. I forgot some students names in class, even after I just did roll call. Ugh.

Friday, July 20, 2007

What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Per the National Center for PTSD:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening.

They go on to say that:

Many people who go through a traumatic event don't get PTSD. It isn't clear why some people develop PTSD and others don't. How likely you are to get PTSD depends on many things. These include:

  • How intense the trauma was
  • If you lost a loved one or were hurt
  • How close you were to the event
  • How strong your reaction was
  • How much you felt in control of events
  • How much help and support you got after the event
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years.

What I think it leaves out in the bullets above is the duration of time spent in a situation. Would I have PTSD if say, I was taken away from my mother before I ended it myself in my twenties? If someone, any one had helped me, how would I be today? I had no control over my life, thoughts, or actions for so many years. In fact, for most of my life the only thing I could do was react, never act. I reacted to her moods, to her actions. It was pure torture for those 18 years I lived directly with her, and to think I didn’t cut ties until I was twenty-something!

No one knows for sure why some people get PTSD and others don’t. Is it brain chemistry? A hormone, a release of some chemical when trauma happens? There is a lot of controversy still about an experimental PTSD drug. I think it’s still in clinical trials. What it does is deaden the emotions during a traumatic event. Thus, if say something explodes like happened Wednesday, and you take the pill it won’t attach the fear to the memory so the theory is later in life if something like that happens again you won’t experience PTSD symptoms.

So what are PTSD symptoms? They vary a lot. The DSM-IV lists three different groups of symptoms, the first are intrusive:

  • Distressing memories of the event
  • Distressing dreams of the event
  • Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring
  • Intense psychological distress when reminded of the event
  • Physiological reactivity (sweating, heart racing, etc.) when reminded of the event.
But leaves out the symptoms associated with each of these. For instance, when memories starting coming back that cause ‘distress’ or ‘anxiety’ one can feel dizzy, faint, light-headed, confused, start to shake, get chills, have stomach cramps or nausea, etc. I suppose some of this is listed under Physiological reactivity. I always thought the dizziness was from something else, but had a clean bill of health. Yet when I start to remember or something happens my mind swims. Like all things, symptoms differ with people.

Others are listed as ‘numbing’ symptoms:

  • Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
  • Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people which arouse recollections of the trauma
  • Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Feelings of detachment from others
  • Restricted range of affect and emotional responsiveness
  • Sense of a foreshortened future
Which really blew me out of the water. I thought my personality was gloom and doom, even though I remembered fighting against my mother to not watch COPS and other such programs about the worst in society all the time. My favorite color was yellow for a long time and then suddenly I wanted the world in black. I felt every one of those above so strongly, especially the last. I never thought I’d live past age 21 and when I did, didn’t know what the hell was going on. I still have problems with feelings of detachment, like I don’t belong anywhere and can’t connect with people. And of course the third on the list – inability to recall an aspect of the trauma – there are a lot of black holes in my memory. But considering what I do recall, it’s probably best they stay that way.

Lastly are the ‘hyperarousal’ symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance for signs of danger
  • Exaggerated startle response
I always know something is up when my sleep patterns change, because damn, I love to sleep.

There are many theories on treatment and I am doing what is called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT. Per Wikipedia, “The particular therapeutic techniques vary according to the particular kind of client or issue, but commonly include keeping a diary of significant events and associated feelings, thoughts and behaviors; questioning and testing assumptions or habits of thoughts that might be unhelpful and unrealistic; gradually facing activities which may have been avoided; and trying out new ways of behaving and reacting. Relaxation and distraction techniques are also commonly included. CBT is widely accepted as an evidence-based, cost-effective psychotherapy for many disorders.”

So I have a checklist of symptoms that once a month we check. When a traumatic event happens, I go through and see my reactions. I do feel like a computer doing a system check, but since neither my body nor thoughts were ever really mine growing up, I’m just beginning to learn how I work. She goes through relaxation exercises with me and we talk about situations and how I feel during them. It may sound simplistic to some, but it is so hard for me to understand how I’m feeling at times and with everything, once it has a name, you can begin to control the beast.

I hope to post more information and get more links up soon. I’m new at this and still feeling my way around.

That great painting above is from http://www.refuter.com painted by Dmitriy Kedren

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Camp Long Point

*Quick update before I get to the post today - I'm still a bit shaken from yesterday, but not stirred. I'm one of a few people who made it in and the place is on high alert. Never fun. I also have a huge lump and bruise on my arm, probably from all the pushing and shoving this one woman was doing on the subway yesterday.*

The Salvation Army was a force in my town. “Give me your tired, your weak, your souls longing to be free” has nothing to do with America, but everything to do with the Army. Everyone knew about them. But, while many saw it as the place to get free food or clothes, I knew its philosophy that to feed the soul you need to feed the body. Many hours were spent at the Salvation Army. I was one of God’s Sunbeams – then later a Girl Guard. I played coronet in the band, sang with the choir, and learned how to play the timbrals. I abhorred the timbrals, but it kept me out of the house. I still remember some of those moves to this day.

During the summer the Salvation Army has camps with ‘scholarships’ going to the poorest of parishioners – as in – most of us. It was two weeks where we would be free from our homes, given three meals a day, and at least the hope of compassion. Granted, the workers were just as damaged as we were as they came from the same pool, only with more years of abuse under their belt, but for two weeks there was some freedom and fun.

At night we’d go to the shore and skip stones by the lake, attaching a hope and dream to each one and praying we could toss it deep into the enveloping night and far away from us. Every morning we’d have to go to the center of the camp and sing as the flag was raised. We went to church services at least twice a day, thrice on Sundays. The day was filled with a mixture of play, arts and crafts, bible study, and choir. There were different sections of camp – ones for the sunbeams, for the choir, for the boys club, for those whose parents were in prison, etc. I usually went to the first two.

When I was old enough I fought against my mother and into a job at the camp to provide the whole summer away from my family. It wasn’t easy there, everyone was so used to distrust that there was no attempt made to connect. We sneered at the one girl whose mother worked there and was kind to all of us. Jealousy easily dominated. There was another who dreamed of being a singer and we, those who had already died, hated her for her hope of a life beyond the inevitable suffering. While what we did to her is one of those moments in my life I wish I could take back, or apologize for, I do recognize that we were the living dead at that point.

I suppose there always has to be a balance, a yin and a yang, to everything. There are a lot of memories attached to that camp. Heck, it could probably be a book – Memories of Camp Long Point. There was one man, Cliff I think, who was a lifeguard. Ever girl wanted to be with him. He had dreams too, but we didn’t hate him for them. I remember one night he and I sat up late talking, philosophizing mostly. We ended up past curfew in the musty cafeteria breathing in the mixture of decay and harsh cheap bleach used to clean the place.

Perhaps refection is its own end to the means. Those times were, I was, and now I am. As I think about Long Point all the scents and emotions come back. There was excitement that night I spent talking to Cliff. There’s remorse for what we did to that one girl. There’s fear and trepidation and just downright uncomfortableness. There’s also some freedom, happiness and laughter. I remember one night I spent sleeping on a picnic table outside under the stars, the gentle lapping of the lake my lullaby. There was one girl who always ate onions and the joke was, she ate so much that she only had to breathe on the spiders that made our way into the cabins and their legs would curl under their bulbous bodies as they die. I learned how to blow bubbles there. 14 years old and could never blow bubble gum. I remember when the girls were first teaching me, I spat the gum straight across the room and on to someone’s bed.

There were other memories too – nice bookends perhaps. Something had happened and I didn’t want to stay. There was a lice outbreak, but I don’t think that was it. The burden of being surrounded by people but still alone probably had me dreaming of the mother I wished mine was. I remember calling her crying, asking for her to pick me up. Her answer was that unless I had been raped she wouldn’t come up, and even then she’d have to consider it. Thus, it was kind of fitting that in the end she had to come and pick me up, called by the camp as I ended up in the emergency room three times. It was hives. No one could figure it out – was it something I touched in the cafeteria? Or perhaps some unknown allergen to nature. There was a fruit grove nearby, and I was allergic to the fruit but could the pollen have caused such a reaction as well? When my mother came into the hospital room she walked right back out crying. I must have looked a mess, completely swollen, tubes in and out, the hives had gone internal and I couldn’t even speak.

She came back in after I got my antihistamine shot (every hour or so) and could talk. The hospital was nice – it was small and everything was home cooked. I remember sharing the meal with my mother. It was a biscuit with chicken and gravy and some lemon cake. She took me home and was instructed to wash everything. Apparently she didn’t as that night I ended up in the ER again. Turns out she didn’t bother to wash my pillow. For that summer I broke out in hives every time the temperature got above perhaps 70 degrees F. It was horrible; I was stuck in malls all day. The doctors couldn’t quite figure it out, some diseases were thrown about, something about my cooling system needed to rebuild (I still break out when the temperature changes drastically, like going from an air-conditioned environment to outside or vice versa, but not bad), but nothing definite.

It’s amazing how it all swirls back now once I open the gate. There was the wilderness camp and cooking food in tinfoil over coals. I remember having to walk back and forth for, I think, 25 laps because I had walked between the tents. Then there was the time Tiffany fell through the cabin floor. There was a song I created to get through the long hours of washing tables, “When Mr. Frown has got you down try- pep,pep, peppep-pep pep!” I was just playing with jingles. Per kangaroo court I was banned from singing it the rest of the summer.

Truly, what would I have done without the Salvation Army? And now, as I remember this, I feel my mood shifting so much, it’s weird. I was told that dizziness and disorientation are part of the anxiety/PTSD, but it’s amazing when it hits. I feel like Jello as these memories flood in and fight for their time, time I don’t have right now as I am, technically, at work. But there are a lot emotions of loss mixed in there. Along with smiles, I loved the arts and crafts, the greenery. I have had so many dreams about Seneca Lake, even recently. It does feel like one day I need to go back and confront that lake again.

*note: All photographs taken from the Salvation Army site. Donations can be made here. It's through such donations that kids like me can get a chance to experience a different type of life, at least for a week.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Three Strikes and You're Out

Picture taken from cellphone, making rounds on the internet, of a place a lot farther away than I was.

Three guesses where I work. Yup, there. I was on the phone arranging for a computer lab for my class when the lights flickered. I heard a low rumbling, thought I felt it, but rationalized it as a co-workers radio. Then I hear him ask, “Why is everyone running?” I ask what he means. “Outside, they’re all running away.”

No alarms went off. No sirens, no evacuation instructions. People were running around seeing who was still at work – because the earlier storms had knocked out some train services many had left early – but I was still there because of a late night class. We ran down the stairs to smoke billowing into the sky, or what was left of the sky. Not everyone was walking in the opposite direction, as some were taking photos or video with their phones.

I was with two women – one a manager of another group and one another ‘worker bee’ like myself. My first thoughts were, ‘will this trigger me? What’s going on, what’s going to happen, will I get home? How will this affect my PTSD, my emotions? How do I feel now?”’ The manager asked how I was doing, I told her I don’t know I just hope my PTSD doesn’t flare. Then I began to berate myself for telling her that. “Will she try to use it against me?” I thought, “What will she do with that info. Even worse, am I defining myself through this too much? Why am I thinking about my PTSD now and not about the other people? But, wait, the therapist wants you to focus on triggers, is this not a trigger? You’re security threatened?” It was an exhausting inner dialogue going on. So much so that neither my manager nor I noticed that we had lost the other woman.

She was leaning against a building in complete shock. She was shaking and her eyes glassy and vacant. That is when I started to freak out and almost cry. My hairs stood on end. I’d seen that look before – on the faces of people at 9/11. She didn’t know where she was, and when we asked how she was she repeated ‘three strikes.’ Then she told us that someone in her family had told her that having lived through the Trade Center attacks and the blackout it would be three strikes you’re out. She was out of it.

After getting her up and moving about we ended up splitting as we each live in different directions. My emotions were still all jumbled with fear, anger, the need to cry, and just that need to get home. The manager gave me 50$ in case I could find a cab. I had called my friend in New Jersey – she hadn’t heard about what happened – it wasn’t even on CNN yet so there was no word about transportation.

I just kept walking, convinced ‘up and over’ to the Westside would bring some transportation home. Along the way I ran into another boss who lived three blocks up and meekly asked to use her bathroom. This is a big stress thing- I’ll admit it. The more stressed I become the more I have to pee- heck, I can go three times in a five minute span. She invited me with open arms, gave me some granola bars and water, and told me to stay as long as I wanted. She also let me leave my heavy books there from school.

With that I went off, still wanting to cry but not sure how. The thought had crossed my mind about calling my therapist, but I felt I only wanted to because I thought I should, not because I really wanted to. The site of billows of smoke and other stuff shooting into the sky isn’t an ordinary one, and would rock anyone. It did rock most people down there, some more so than I. Did some shock kick in? Probably, my main idea was ‘away’ but is that a bad thing? Not really. Am I shaking? I have shivers. Let’s see the other things in the checklist – anxiety level is elevated. I’m fatigued and agitated at the same time. Flashbacks? Don’t think so. I can’t say other memories from 9/11 aren’t surfacing, but my breathing is getting back to normal.

*sigh* I feel like I’m running a virus check on the computer. I’m not even going to double check this, let me see how I really thought tomorrow. From my brain to my fingertips to the computer. Huhmm, fear is still there though. I’m jumpy again. I hate that.

The Cats of My Life: Allie

I think I was in sixth grade when I got Allie. It was a big deal. Our previous cat (who I haven’t talked about yet) had died and I’m not sure if we had gotten Cleo yet or not. My mother had a friend at work who ran a rescue group, and for the first time I was to go and pick out a cat for me.

The place was just an apartment overcrowded with cats of every color. I do remember there was this big orange one my mother wanted, but I wasn’t sure, there were just so many! Then this big grey tabby tomcat jumped on a garbage can and called me over. He was the one. Being uncreative in the naming department at the time, he became “Allie” because he was an Alley cat.

When we took him home it turns out he was sick, so he had to stay in my room for a while. At the time I had a ‘big sister’ through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program. We did somethings, but for the post part she just brought me stuff back from her travels, a lot of cat items because at the time my motto was “Animals are my favorite people.” One of the items that she had brought me from Italy was a hand-painted scarf that I used on top of my dresser. Of course, that was Allie’s favorite spot to lie as he drooled out his illness. All the inks ran.

Allie was a big boy, and just a glorious cat. My brother commented on how scared he was all the time. But our house wasn’t exactly quiet. I used to have this one Polaroid picture of Allie curled up in a ball surrounded by my dolls. He was just so beautiful.

Sometime later Allie had urinary blockage and was in the hospital. When he returned I read up on ash and magnesium and how to take care of him so the crystals didn’t build up.

I don’t have any pictures of Allie anymore, I don’t know what happened to them. The only ones I even remember is the one I mentioned above and one where he was, I think, in-between the screen door and main door. My brother used to lock him out on the back porch because Allie would jump up through the hole in the screen door and balance to get our attention.

Should I warn you now, this doesn’t have a happy ending? There is a lot I blank out on about Allie and the memory I do have was the first one I worked on with my current doctor. It’s called ‘Immersion Therapy’ and I have to close my eyes and keep going back into the memory and telling it and connecting to all the emotions and that whole unification process I talked about. I also have to recognize the situation and that what happened wasn’t my fault.

I think there was something to do with cat litter. There is a vague recollection of my mother throwing the litter box into my room, and I put up my hands or feet to deflect it and it spills all over. She’s yelling at me, screaming. I don’t even see her, just the darkness that is her in my memory and those piercing grey-blue thundercloud eyes. She’s raging. Something about not doing my chores, not cleaning the litter box, not being responsible.

The next part I remember is trying to hide Allie and myself. She had threatened to take him away, said I couldn’t take care of him. I know I could take care of him; I already had through two illnesses. But my mother is claiming I don’t deserve the cat.

In the next part I remember I’m screaming, crying. She has taken Allie away, said she was bringing him to the pound to teach me a lesson. I don’t let up all night. How could she do that? How could she take away my animal, one she made such a show of me getting, for whatever her reasoning was? How could she so callously strip me of some living thing I loved?

The next day she says that because I’m being such a brat and to shut me up she’ll go get him back. Nothing about her feeling guilty for what she’s done. I just want her to understand how much she hurt me. That she, the mother, has caused me great pain. When she returns she tells me that he is dead. “They got a lot of animals in that night and put him to sleep,” she tells me. “He was just so frightened they didn’t think he’d do well. You know, if you hadn’t tried to hide him and scared him even more he’d probably be alive right now.” She continues by saying that now we can’t get another cat from the shelter because she has been added to the database of people who bring their pets in.

That was the part that hurt me for so many years – she blamed me. If I hadn’t of tried to hide him, he’d be alive. She shifted all of the blame on me. For so long I carried that burden. If I hadn’t have chosen him but gone with the orange cat, Allie would have lived a longer and happier life. Maybe the orange cat would have died in his place, maybe not. If I had just done the chores my mother told me too, if I had acquiesced, if I hadn’t tried to hide him, if, if, if. They swarmed around.

Bottom line though is she killed my cat and took the coward’s way out by shifting the blame to me, a 12-year old girl, her daughter. Instead of taking responsibility for hurting her children and now, taking a life, she passed the buck and rationalized how she was in the right and everyone else was wrong and ‘caused things to happen’ or ‘caused her to do things.’

How dare she. How dare she take a life that I loved, destroy it, and blame me. It’s taken a while to get to the point where I can say it with conviction, and I’d love to add a few curse words in here, but how dare she ever do such a thing. I think that was a major turning point for me. After Allie died I remember being filled with rage toward everyone. I hated so much. The love in my life was so horrifically taken away and I just blamed myself. However, I think I did begin to realize, somewhere within me, that there was no chance of my mother redeeming herself in my eyes. It started me down the road to total disgust with her, a road that has helped me separate myself from her actions and from believing I could ever be like that monster.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stories of Friendship

Freshman year of college was hard, but I made some friends during that time. There were a few of us that came from hardship and, at least for that first year, banded together. We were a rag-tag group for sure. But none of us kept in touch much after that first year.

My college required everyone to take a year of physical education (on top of a load of other requirements). Everyone fought for the ‘easiest’ and that found me in Badminton class. The first couple days the teacher put us through individual drills then, on the third class, we were to pick partners (after she gave us each a little drill and we passed it). I looked around the room to see who could be compatible. Everyone was so friendly and smiling and slim- I hated them all. I was surly, couldn’t take people who were always happy. “They never knew hardship,” I griped to myself, “They’ll never understand me. Spoiled brats all of them.”

Then, in the back of the room, I saw this other overweight person giving everyone the same evil eye. So I walked up to her and asked her to my badminton partner. We’ve been best friends ever since, always there for each other through thick and thin. She is the only person I talk to now who has even met my mother and knows some of the things I’ve gone through.

We were great together. We’d have our “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” nights in college where we would order Chinese food and sit up doing arts and crafts or other non-academic things. We were roommates our senior year in college and joked around a lot about how my grades just steadily climbed since I met her, and hers went down from a perfect 4.0 to maybe a 3.5.

Like I said, we have been through a hell of a lot and now, at 30, have known each other for a third of our lives. Here’s the thing- I don’t want to be the angry person like I was in college who hates the happy people. I understand happiness is a good thing. When we talk now, I have begun to realize she still feels the way I did. So I opened up a dialogue about it and for the first time we had a serious conversation.

She feels helpless
She feels like no one cares
She feels doomed, like nothing she does matters anyway
She berates herself for everything she perceives she does wrong
She has lost hope and is scared every day

I was happy she talked to me about such things, we were both crying on the phone. I recognized everything, as I’ve been through such a long period of that and I’m still fighting against it. She recognizes she’s depressed and has been for years but doesn’t know what she can do. Then she felt she didn’t have a right to feel that way since I’ve been through so much worse. Everyone has a right to feel how they do! That was one of my main reasons for not talking, how could I complain when my best friend in highschool was forced to bear her father’s child? We talked about options and she was very open to everything. She found the number to call for a mental health professional, covered by her health care.

“But I won’t call.” She told me at the end of our conversation. “I never do. I’m not as brave as you- I can’t just call. That first step is too hard.”

“But you already made the first step,” I told her, “you didn’t hang up on me when I brought this up, you listened and responded positively. I’m just sick of seeing you hurting yourself plus, in all honesty, had you said something similar to me a few years ago I would have hung up on you.”

“You stepped away from your mother,” she replied, “you’re stronger than me. Even if I do call, I’ll cancel the appointment. It’s what I do.”

“But it isn’t what you have to do,” I told her. “Therapy isn’t always the answer. You can try yoga, meditation, or just a week without McDonald’s since you are there everyday.”

“Not McDonald’s, just fried food,” she told me.

The other issue is this – It’s so easy to fall back into that habit of thinking. The idea of hopelessness is kind of attractive. It’s like an ex-junkie walking into a crack den. And I did tell her that – that I worry about her but also about me. When we go out she is always self-deprecating and it is something I’m fighting so hard against. It’s been ten years of our lives, and she’s always helped me, and I want to help her, but not hurt myself in the process or ruin our friendship. For the past few years we have been talking less and less and I know it is her depressive state that leaves her cocooned alone.

I did talk to my therapist about this as well, and she stated what I already was going to do, just keep the dialogue going and keep being friends. It can test me and might show her an alternative even if she thinks I’m ‘stronger’ than her. On the other hand, if it gets to be too much, I have to face the reality that for a while, we might have to part. That is the last thing I want to happen.

I had gotten her to agree to go to a social event with me and then, an hour before we were to leave, she canceled (after already paying a non-refundable fee). It’s hard for me, but goes to what I talked about the other day – she has to save herself. Which is what we talked about. I will not tell her what to do, especially since there isn’t just one way. She has to decide when it’s time and go forward. My friend fears she won’t be ready until someone in her family dies and she’s forced to deal with a change. I really hope she gets some help before then. As I told her, I’m not there to judge her or threaten her, I’m here to help if she needs it and still be her friend and listen to anything she has to say without judgment.

It does get hard for me when there are these long lapses between communications. For my first birthday since I’ve known her she didn’t call me. When I finally called her up at work, the day before leaving for Chicago, she told me she had e-mailed me at midnight and wondered why I never responded – I had never gotten the e-mail. We each thought the other was mad over some perceived slight when that wasn’t the case. There are so many long roads to walk down.
picture from http://www.nwf.org via google image search

Monday, July 16, 2007

It’s Not Paranoia if They’re Really After You

Shortly after I changed my name I decided to try one last time with my brother. I don’t know what possessed me to tell him. He knew I lived in New York City, although he never visited, citing excuses such as, “You are living in Gomorrah and I will not be a part of it” to “I heard you don’t have a door to your kitchen. I can’t stay in a place without doors inside the home.”

The phone call was the last one, and didn’t end all too well. Not too long after that I got a letter in the mail from an inmate in a maximum-security prison. It was addressed to my new name, one that outside of work – my brother knew. The letter-writer teased that he’d let me know who gave him my name, but never did. In it, the prisoner stated that he understood we were very much a like, and that he would be released soon and wanted to meet me.

Well, that just shot my sense of security to hell. And really, the main way he could have gotten my name and identifying information (as he said he knew about me) was one way. I looked up the prison and saw that they did have personals for ‘outsiders’ to write the inmates. I figured my brother (or mother, last I knew he still shared a lot with her) had sent in my name and address.

My PTSD is what is called subsympsomal for the most part. That means below symptom level. I ran on high, in a trauma state, for many, many years. However, when my sense of security is threatened I go back into hyper vigilant mode.

There was a time when I was really ill. My stomach was in constant knots and my job absolutely horrid. I was hired to do some quality assurance for a special unit in a hospital, but everyone fought against it. I didn’t have a computer for 3 months and then I found out my supposed ‘manager’ was a secretary who had stolen the new computer I had received, and the one I ended up getting was her old one. Every time the nurses went by my desk they would hit the back of my chair ‘accidentally.’ For a week they harassed a secretary in another unit (but our office space) by posting up signs that she was bi-polar. They did this in the elevators and waiting lobby so even the patients could see. When the taped signs were taken down the ‘perpetrator’ took to super gluing them around the hospital. This should give you a glimpse of the people I had to deal with. They were a vile bunch that even laughed about stuff they stole from the patients.

I was triggered. I had to get out, but couldn’t figure a way, as I needed the health benefits. I needed to save money (money is a major way to trap people). My stomach started gurgling like crazy and for the first time in about a decade I was vomiting. The only other time I had thrown up was in utter disgust about something my mother had done, I can’t vomit to save my life even if a victim of food poisoning, but disgust me enough and I need a bucket.

My mind didn’t yet make the connection between the stomach problems and what was happening at work. I was diagnosed with GERD (Gastro-esophageal-reflux disease), which I was told I had since a very young age. This explains my constant sour stomach growing up, or part of it. It also explains why I couldn’t eat very much which aggravated my mother to no end. I still can’t even tolerate black pepper.

I had a corner desk, as the nurses rounded it they would often leave their coffee cups and wadded paper on my computer. There was one trashcan we all shared, and we all tossed our papers in it. One day a nurse came by and left a broken pen. I asked her to pick it up and put it in the trash, and she denied it was hers. So I tossed it in the trashcan. The next day I was called into a new supervisors office (the old one having gotten a promotion). I had been written up for ‘hurling a projectile’ at a co-worker. I explained the set-up and constant abuse and he just nodded and said he’d need to explore the issue more.

I explored more and went to people higher than him. I asked about the secretary that was sabotaging everything and refusing to give me all the forms I needed to reconcile practices. He told me many horrible things, and that she had a thick file. He also said that they had spent a lot of money recruiting her boss and she was part of the deal. If she went, he had threatened to leave. They believed it was an affair, but they were powerless to do anything about it.

I did finally leave and was there only a year. I stepped out into only a part time job, confident that the world had better for me. But the point of the story is this – during that entire time my security was threatened and I was at hyper alert. I was paranoid about absolutely everything. I couldn’t sleep and was having nightmares about my mother moving in with me and taking over my life. Some times in these dreams I was physically handcuffed to the bed by her, or tied down. I was her slave. One was so bad that I was thrashing around and flew out of the bed, landing on my face. My nose was bruised, but not broken. After months of no sleep whenever I heard noises and thought someone was in the house. I started sleeping with a flashlight under my pillow and my portable phone in my hand. One night after being woken at 3am by a particularly bad dream I took the flashlight and shined it around the ceiling. There is a slight decorative ledge, and a small space between that edge and the ceiling. I was looking for a glare and had it in my head that somehow someone had gotten a video camera in there and was taping me, waiting for me to do something.

Paranoia is a horrible thing when it becomes that consuming, but there are times when it is necessary. I had to watch every step for such a long time and deal with the fact that yes, people are out to get you, that it’s hard to let go. Though, for the most part I have. I don’t think anyone at work is out to sabotage me, we each have our own job to do. I have been told by more than one person that the person who’s supposed to train me doesn’t want to because he is set to retire (by age) in a few years and he doesn’t want to, he’s scared I’m there to replace him. There is a lot of resistance there that annoys me.

But for now I’m safe. And when I’m safe I’m healthy. But when the triggers start one of the symptoms is paranoia. “They can still find you, they’re watching” is the main one. And while, in hindsight it feels like schizophrenia all it is is my mind, upon recognizing a threat, retreating to the situations it knows and back into the thoughts that kept me alive in that time period. It’s a frightening thing when it happens, and something I’m working against. Luckily, I haven’t gotten that bad in a while. At least, not to the 3 am going around my apartment with a flashlight searching for bugs paranoia. But it’s just dormant, waiting for a chance to shoot out into ‘survival’ mode again. Or, more positively, maybe I am gaining more control as each new day is better and safer than the last.

Image from http://www.wpclipart.com

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Chicago - I'm back!

I can’t believe I’m back already. Sure, I was only going to go a couple of days, but it went by so fast!

The weather there was perfect and we arrived on time. The guy seated next to me said he couldn’t believe it, the planes are always late to Chicago. It was a cinch getting from the airport to my hotel via the trains there.

That first day I just wandered all over the place. I went down to Millennium Park and took pictures of the skyline. There was an art fair going on there outside the NBC studios. I was able to see the famous ‘bean’ (which I hadn’t heard of until I saw it and overheard every other tourists oohs and aws over ‘the bean’) as well as other sculptures.

But, what really fascinated me was the stage there for various concerts they have. I loved the sound system, as to me it looked like a fence to keep the clouds at bay.
No clouds allowed!

There was also this really freaky waterfall/fountain thing that kids could run around in. I say freaky because on the side was this womans face and it kept winking or smiling!

My first day was spent just wandering all over the place, as my hotel was right on the loop. What struck me the most was how this was like NYC – only slightly different. It felt a bit like a bizarro world version of my hometown. There were all the same stores as our central district – Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Hershey, Macys, etc – but there was just something slightly off about the whole thing. The architecture was a bit different and I figured no matter how far south I walked I wouldn’t find the Gridiron building, but it was eerily similar. In fact, I even had no problems on the busing system because it seemed like I did it every day.

The second day was the ultimate in faboo. I woke up early and went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. The weather was, again, amazingly clear and perfect. I wandered around for a bit and saw all the animals. All that weren’t hiding in their dens that is. The ultimate for me was seeing the Zebra. When I was a kid in Phoenix my favorite animal was the zebra. I loved them so much but every time we went to the zoo to see the animals, something had always happened to the zebras. I can’t remember all the times we went to the Alligator pits, saw the roadrunners and the prairie dogs and peacocks that ran free all over the grounds but the zebras? Never. So it was a real treat for me to finally see those beautiful creatures. All that awe just came rushing over me, it was great standing there and finally seeing the scrub brush manes of black and white.

They also had this small African Safari exhibit and the meercats were just the cutest of things! They looked right up into everyone’s cameras, used to being the stars it seemed, not afraid of the paparazzi. The animal that was irked was the rhino. There were signs warning about flash photography and I found out why when one person used the flash and the rhino charged. Then it got agitated and started pacing back and forth. I felt bad for that poor thing (and took no pictures of it).
After the zoo I went straight to Navy Pier and had a nice Chicago Deep dish pizza. It really was good, also very heavy. After that trip, it’s back to the salads for quite some time!

Navy pier was gorgeous – the lake was just so crystal clear. There was a stained glass museum there with works from Tiffany and I only wish it had more than a few pieces as it was just magical.
I love you forever in glass

The best part was that night because I had tickets to ‘an intimate evening of music’ at Stone Cutter records. They were having a few of their artists do an acoustic set. It was five hours of amazing artists that should certainly get a lot more publicity than they have! First up was Jen Porter who cited her influences as Janis Joplin, among others. Her voice had such power and conviction and she definitely had me enthralled. After her came Scottish McMillan. ‘Quirky’ is how I had him described to me before I went. He was incredibly engaging and smart and, well, just downright awesome. Everything about him was grand.

After his set was Sarah Potenza. She was billed as country and that had me a little worried. But it was much more folksy/blues and she had a great clear voice. Unfortunately, by that time some of the artists had gone in the back area by the drinks to mingle so there was a lot of conversation going on. I kind of felt like she got cheated as her songs were definitely ones I’d listen to more often, but at the time my attention was divided between the ruckus going on in the back and her in front of me.

Finally were the Lovehammers, a band whom I mentioned previously. They really had the banter going on! There were a lot of comical interludes between there songs and they knew how to take charge of the audience. Their music is more punk/rock with some pop mixed in for good measure. There was one ‘ultimate’ fan who kept using the flash even though it was announced not too, and she was in front of me so I was blinded a couple times myself. But that really didn’t deter too much from the amazing music of that night. I think ‘eclectic mix’ could be a good phrase for the music that night.

I know it's acoustic, but I still want my echo!

I didn’t even get to my hotel until late and, unfortunately, didn’t meet a single architect. I met this very sloshed guy and was invited to a bar afterward, but decided since it was after midnight to prepare myself for the flight the next day.

It really was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I just got up and left. Definitely happy memories from this one. The whole thing was just over too quickly. I need another vacation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I'm Leaving On a Jet Plane

For the first time in about three years I'm going on a vacation. It's just a couple days in Chicago, but I've never been so look forward to just 'chillaxing' as the kids say nowadays. I should be back by Saturday/Sunday, and will have no computer access.

The cute thing is, my boss said she's proud of me for finally going. "It's so nice seeing how well you are taking care of yourself!" she told me over lunch. "And remember, I'm old enough to be your mom, so I can say that."

I do love the people at my job, they really do care about each other.

OMG, I can't wait!

picture from http://www.globalsecurity.org

In The Beginning - Flashbacks

I think it was 2004 when I began to realize something was up. My cat died. She was my life – my little Penny. Only eleven years old. It was hard, really hard. She had been my constant since the age of fifteen or so, since I returned from camp broken. Major hives had sent me to the Emergency Room three times while up there, finally they said I couldn’t go back. They were internal, I couldn’t breathe. And I returned to what was supposed to be my mom’s cat, who became the only member of the family I could trust.

Penny’s story, like all of the ones I have, is a long one. We battled cancer for two years and I watched helpless as tumour after tumour erupted across her skin. Her fur was falling out in little clumps across my apartment, often with decayed flesh still attached.

I expected grief when she passed. I expected sadness. I didn’t expect flashbacks. Especially not ones so vivid that in my sleep I was throwing myself into the wall, scratching at my skin, waking up with bruises and bloody arms and legs. The worst one I threw myself out of bed – hard – and landed on my stomach, face, and hands. It felt like I broke my nose.

First I went to a grief counselor that specialized in the human/animal bond. She was provided free by the veterinary office I had taken Penny too. It was supposed to be ‘group’ but I was the only one there. We talked about how Penny opened the world to me – she visited neighbors, I walked her on a lease, everyone responded positively to her. We also talked a bit about my homelife and that was when she suggested I go see a therapist to deal with that. She also told me to expect a lot of stuff to come back up as Penny was the gatekeeper – the last vestige of that life- and kept the demons at bay. With her gone, everything rushed through.

The one I remember the most, that wasn’t just the huge black shadow deeper than night with storm-cloud eyes, was a dream I had when I was maybe a freshman in highschool. I remember because it was one I tried to tell my mom in an effort to understand.

In the dream I am in the attic and my mother is coming after me. She’s just pale waxy skin and those grey-blue eyes of hers that when I was young envied as more beautiful than my hazel, and as I aged feared as they were just thunderclouds. She keeps coming after me and I’m screaming and screaming and the only thing I have on me is this whistle she had given my brother and I. It was a loud one on a mustard yellow lanyard and we were to blow it if we were ever being attacked – but they were taken away since the only place we used them was inside with her. So the whistle is in my hand as she’s coming after me so I just keep swinging it at her and finally it hits her in the forehead with an awful squishy thud and imbeds in there. I remember her falling, then the look as she is on the wooden floor, hands curled into the wood, her face turned up at me smiling with the whistle in her head and the skin buckled around it.

“But I wanted you dead!” I tried to explain the next day. “I was trying to kill you, but you wouldn’t die. I just remember wanting you dead so much!” I cried trying to understand how I could wish any mother dead. Mother’s are the givers of life, right?

“Are you having troubles at school?” she asked me. “Is someone picking on you?”

I looked up at her in complete disbelief. “The dream wasn’t about anyone at school,” I told her, “it was about you. Me trying to kill you.” I left out the beginning part – that it was self-defense, that she was trying to kill me and I was fighting to live. What bothered me more was that image of the whistle in her forehead, her irises staring up at me from the floor.

“Oh honey, it’s that girl Neetu isn’t it. Is she picking on you?”

For some reason, as all the flashbacks swarmed around and overpowered my senses, that was the image that remained, the one of her attacking me and that damned whistle. The conversation when I tried to tell her what happened and it was blown off – as so much was. At least, that’s the one I remember the most.

I also started breaking out again after Penny died. One cry would turn into splotches then a rash then hives and then the occasional visit to the doctor. I wasn’t getting sleep, I was jumpy, depressed – really depressed – and just walking in a daze. I ended up losing a good thirty pounds in those months (maybe year?) afterwards before I got a better handle on things.