Saturday, June 15, 2013

Real Love is NOT a Big Diamond

The other day I was working a booth recruiting potential employees from the graduating high school’s senior class. As each candidate visited my booth I gave them a quick overview of what my company offered, then gave them a referral card and a lollipop. As the day progressed my presentation got shorter as did their attention spans. As I handed one young woman a card, she grabbed my hand exclaiming that she LOVED my wedding ring. “It’s gorgeous!” she gushed. “And big! Your husband must really love you!” And then she moved on to the next booth.

Oh, honey! I thought. The things you have yet to learn about real love!

First of all, my real wedding ring is a cubic zirconium. And I don’t wear it much because it means the world to me and the prongs are wearing thin. My husband bought it for me the first Christmas after we got married, as we’d used every spare dime we could scrape together to buy out his former wife’s share of the equity in our home. As mature adults, we realized the house meant much much more than a glittering third finger. And really, I’m not a diamond or a name brand kind of girl. I like being able to spend $30-$40 a couple of times a year to sport a new ring I really love. I never have to tire of the style of just one ring. Also, after the movie “Blood Diamond” I don’t have to worry about who or what is sacrificed for my piece of jewelry.

And to those of you who bought into the “This is an investment” sales pitch that I did in my first marriage? Wrong! I ended up getting about a fourth of what it was worth when I sold it for the down-payment on my bright red Chevy Beretta.

Enough about rings. Now let’s get to the down and dirty of real love. Little girl, Love is NOT the size of a ring or the cost. Love doesn’t have a thing to do with money.

I know because I have more than my share of the first, and very little of the second.

The girl was right about one thing though: My husband does love me. Very much. Here are some of the ways I know:

He always drives the rattier car. He drives all summer with no air conditioning so that I can drive the car where A/C works. He once spent every spare hour for a whole summer rebuilding the engine in my car to save us money, when he would much rather have been doing other things. He taught himself how out of a book. Now that’s love!

He always makes me feel like the most valuable thing he has. He spends every spare minute with me, preferring that to other activities. He will go to the mat to do anything I ask of him. If I say I’d like a certain book or CD, he remembers. And someday, months later, I’ll come home from work and that particular item will be on my pillow. He surprises me with flowers the same way. If it’s Valentine’s Day or my birthday or one of two anniversaries: he always remembers. Once he came home from work without telling me, hid the car, left flowers on the porch and rang the doorbell. When I opened it no one was there. I picked up the flowers and he stepped out of hiding to tell me he took the day off just to spend it with me. Another time when money was extra tight, he took a few dollars out of his weekly discretionary income to make payments on some angel figurine bookends. He did that for a whole year just so they’d be a surprise since it’s me that balances the checkbook and I’d have known otherwise.

And he always tells me how beautiful I am.

He does things few other men would do. Like I’m always telling him he has a beautiful singing voice and that someday for a gift I’d like him to sing a song for me. So a year or so later he sent me an email of himself singing a romantic song via a computer file because he was too embarrassed to do it in person. It was beautiful. He wrote me a poem once too, which is pretty brave as I am a writer who reads a lot of it. He did a great job!

When I was hospitalized for a blood clot this spring, he rarely left my side even though he was terrified. When I got nauseous, he got sympathy nausea. He wants me around for a long, long time.

Another way I know is that he loves dogs more than people. He doesn’t care if they pee on the carpet or stink up the bedspread. But he knows I care, and that I don’t like them all that much, and so he will agree to have his beloved pets only on the bed a couple hours a day, and cleans up dog messes like a trooper.

He’s not much for housework but often surprises me by cleaning something because he knows I am feeling overwhelmed by life. He loves all of our children, taking on some pretty big challenges when he took me as a wife. Not once has he been anything but an amazing and patient father.

 He is loyal to a fault, and boy can that man make me laugh. And if anyone tries to hurt me, look out! He is fiercely protective. He really loves me.

So, young almost-an-adult who thinks a big ring means love? I hope you find real love, and that you quickly learn it’s not measured by the carat, but by the caring.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Writing Prompt: The Word: leaf

Writing Prompt: The Word: leaf

Ghosts of Baseball Past

The park was little more than a matted, grassy baseball field-- the orphaned stepchild of the brick and manicured grass ball fields that exhausted most of the county’s recreation budget for the year.

It was surrounded by a circle of wild-haired willows, sister trees gathered to watch the ghosts of players past stir the dried leaves as they run, steal and slide around the bases. Their whispers become hisses as the breezes turned to wind, and the once-peaceful sisters, once waving on their favorite sons, become hair-pulling, arm-slapping, leaf-spitting banshees as the gusts ride in on the backs of the autumn storm.

The square clapboard houses that sit as spectators squint their windows against the ruckus – a row of pastel blocks, shabby as the building blocks of a giant’s child now grown and gone. Lawns are root-bound and bare, being begged by sprinklers and aeration to last just a few more years by the third-generation welfare families who now fight over what used to be the bright and shiny neighborhoods of their grandparents.

Lunchtime finds porches littered with smokers who brave the storm to feed their habits while listening to the last remnants of the news through the torn screens that separate them from their garage-sale recliners and moldy kitchens.

Suddenly the winds ebb as quickly as they’d flowed, leaving the willows to contemplate the bare lot they guard, like dry old women wishing their children back into their laps.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Height of Absurdity

This is an excerpt from my current writing Work in Progress which is entitled "High". It describes my experiences with people I love who are addicts ( in this case Bryan, who is on this date unhappy in rehab). *Names have been changed to protect them...

Oct 25-26, 2012 - The Height of Absurdity

In the middle of a personal life that leaves me feeling like a dazed, bruised, and losing prizefighter, I have to move around in the everyday world where everyone else lives and functions. This means I have to set my mangled heart on a shelf somewhere, and make a brave attempt at navigating a regular life, that in comparison to the one I am describing in this book, can seem absurd in itself.

Nevertheless, I am (or at least can be) a strong, capable woman right? So I set this morning’s alarm for 5:00 a.m., leave the house by 6:30 and pick up my companion for the day at a quarter of seven. She is a crazy, delight of a woman who I have hired to help me in a part of my job you couldn’t guess if you tried. Okay, I’ll just tell you and we’ll get the finger-pointing and giggling over with right off the bat. I do drug screening and breath-alcohol testing as part of my job managing a staffing agency. And no, with all that equipment at my fingertips, I never once asked my son to submit to a test. I know. It’s absurd. And it gets worse.

The upside of trying to make it as a normal person today is that my passenger, and roommate for the night, is one of the single most hilarious women on the planet. She can talk faster than any human I have ever known, and regales me with a long string of deliriously, deliciously crazy family members’ stories.

We swap anecdotes until we both have to cross our legs to keep from…well, you know…and that is a trick while I am driving, let me tell you! In what feels like seconds, it’s three-and-a-half hours later and we are at our hotel, unpacked, caffeine-charged, and entering the conference room.

All day long, stories are told that I won’t relate here as they all involve the privacy, and urine, of the not-to-be-named, but the important point is we had a blast! We laughed till we cried, did mock testing on each other in ridiculously bizarre role plays and learned of the many creative excuses for and ways of beating a positive drug test. Enough said. For now.

It’s amazing we can stop laughing long enough to go to sleep, but we do.

The next day is more of the same. At one point, Trixie*, whose research had taught her that a certain Zinc-something in Fixodent could render a drug screen negative, decides to experiment further. She takes a big ol’ swig of the stuff and… (I’ m already laughing so hard that if I wasn’t typing it, you’d never hear this story)…She. Cannot. Swallow. Seriously, the stuff sticks to her teeth, her tongue and will NOT go down her throat. She tries to no avail to talk, and even sticks objects on her tongue while it’s lolling out of her mouth to prove her theory. It takes hours for her to clear her mouth of the stuff. (Aside to reader: next time I attend training with Trixie, I’m wearing Depends!)

When the training is over, we drive home in a fit of hilarity that is at once exhausting and healing. I drop her off just as my phone rings. It’s my daughter, Katie. The second sentence out of her mouth is “How’s Bryan?” It’s like taking an unexpected punch to the gut. I have spent two days laughing, having fun and not thinking, even one time, about Bryan. What is wrong with me? It’s the heighth of absurdity that I can think to try to enjoy myself while my son suffers.

I haven’t even remembered to say a prayer today for him. What if he relapses because I haven’t been at my post? I feel ashamed. Scared. Sorry. Worthless. What kind of mother can do things like this? I stay awake most of the night imaging scenarios Bryan might be finding himself in (and not telling me about because of the no-family-contact boundary currently in place). Like a virtual self-flagellation, I beat myself up in every possible way for every hint of every smile I’ve had today. And for every time I ever yelled at him, or ignored him, or did something I realize now should have been done differently.

I am a mother of a beautiful son, and once again, I have failed him. I know. It’s absurd to hold myself so totally accountable. If I had that much control, I could have made him sober. At the same time, it feels absurd to feel any kind of success as a mother when a child fights this gigantic a Goliath without me. I feel like I’m naked on a stage, all my flaws and flab exposed to the spotlight of an audience pointing accusing fingers at me. I hope they start throwing stones.

And I also hope they don’t.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Everything They Never Expected

June 5, 2013
Everything they never expected...

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will live its whole life feeling stupid and worthless.”

Yesterday I attended my granddaughter's graduation. I've attended a lot of them in my day, but none so unique and moving. You see, it was an alternative high school. You know, the ones we way too easily stuff chock full of humans we have insensitively labeled as unwed mothers, druggies, credit deficient, stoners, goths...losers, even.

We'd be wrong.

What I learned is that Valley High School is battalion of heroes. It was full of them...all these fish that, no matter how they tried, could never climb that tree of mainstream education.

Their graduation theme was: “Everything we never expected.”

Which, in fact, was true for everyone attending. All of them, at one time or another (or for a long time), never expected this particular group's graduation to be their reality. But here they were, graduates surrounded by loved ones, experiencing what this coming of age ceremony really means.

They were as diverse a group as I've ever seen all in one room together. There were limos parked out front, right alongside beat up sedans on their last leg...or tire, so to speak. There were sassy women all dressed up like a Sunday fashion show with skin-tight dresses straining against their ample girth. Some were wearing wide-brimmed hats calling each other “Miss Thang” and being hurried down the aisle by the menfolk, who book-ended neon shirts and pants with fedoras and white shoes. There were girls with hair the color of blood against their white graduation gowns, and every other color of the rainbow. Most heads had at least one part shaved or dyed, most bodies bore multiple tattoos and piercings. Some were scrawny fragile little victims of bullying, or bulky, tough girls used to being the only one to stand up for themselves. Some were laid back islanders wearing shades and stacks of leis. At least one was chock full of artistic talent no one used to know about. (Yeah, I mean you, Gabby!) All of them smiled, the amazement of reaching this day reflecting the miraculous in their eyes.

Their speeches were not typical, not focused on all the future holds for them, or how they'll change the world. Instead, they talked about the battlefields of their lives, how the world changed them, who was and wasn't there for them, and the paths full of punishment, neglect, indifference, and trauma that led them to today. They spoke with love about the family they had become at VHS, and how their lives were different now because of that. They shared their most vulnerable moments about eating lunch alone in the bathroom, and having nearly two years of clean time. One even had to leave high school to care for her mother, who'd had a severe health issue and found this school that would work with her towards graduation. This motherless girl caring for her mother still found a place to have a high school experience uniquely designed to meet her needs.

I was most impressed by the speech of a girl whose pale face was framed by paler blue hair. She spoke of diversity and what happens when one does not fit in. She was powerful, eloquent and intelligent. She moved me, made me want to be a better person. I later saw her without the graduation gown in booty shorts with lines of cut marks down her thighs. She was at once walking wounded and warrior.

If you are listening, powers that be, this is how quality, compassionate organizations touch the lives of the fish who don't climb trees!! If you give them a place to swim? They will change the world!

-S. Westenskow, grandmother of graduate Gabrielle Ann Jeffery, Class of 2013