"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Loss in the Month of December

It is so hard sometimes to find out who people really are. Especially people you admire. Especially people who are mentoring or helping you. Especially if you find out bad things.

The last month of the year 2014 has been particularly painful. Several months of me being unemployed and searching for the right career home had finally ended, and after barely surviving financially—and I do mean barely, we had just let ourselves breathe. Note to self: exhale with caution in the future.

We were behind on everything—bills, Christmas, anniversary pictures that we usually have done in November—all of it. But it all seemed like it was going to be ok, finally.

Then, I was kind. We were kind.

We were kind to someone whom I had already started to doubt, and that gnawing doubt felt awful. I wanted to deny it, but it wouldn't go away. 

For the last year, I had finally made some progress in my writing, particularly for my book, in workshops and through guidance and support-- and the very person who had been a key part of that, who I had thought so much of, turned out to have a different side, and I had seen it. I was pulling back, but one last time, I got pulled in again. And that one last time cost us dearly. Emotionally, financially, and for me, something went dark afterwards.

The first loss is too painful to write about here. It was the worst and most emotional.

The second loss--all the confidence I had felt in my writing-- swirled away in that one day; a mad rush of all the positive words and moments throughout the last year that were tied to those classes and interactions—all of it got sucked into a black hole and poof! it was gone. Almost instantly. I couldn’t associate any of it as good or true if it came from that person who I now knew as not a good person—even a really bad person. And what did it say about me if I had been fooled or charmed by someone who told me things that may or may not have been true? How hungry was I for compliments and positive feedback? Then, what if it was real? What if she meant those things? What did it matter if it came from her? All that I had learned, all that I found valuable—the things I had written, the progress I had made—the notes, the time, the lessons—I wanted nothing to do with it.

It wasn't just drama or emotion. The writing that I have been doing is so personal, and the most important thing to me has always been that I am doing the right thing in the right way. Now, so much of it feels wrong, especially if the inspiration and guidance has come from someone I now feel is just really, at the core, not a good person.

So what of all this good vs. bad? Who am I really? I can tell you that I have done a lot of soul searching in the last month, and that’s saying a lot, because I feel that in my 45 years I have done my damn share of that already. But really. I asked myself over and over if I am truly kind and what motivates me and if I am a good person. What motivates me to be that? Do I want praise for it? Do I want some kind of reward?

I can remember my mom promising me over and over when I was a little girl, that if I was a good person, good things would happen for me. She would lay the whole thing out—in detail. That if I would do well in school, behave, not get into any bad things-- that I would meet a prince charming-type guy, get married, have lots of money, no worries, and lots of babies, and be happy forever. She would get so excited telling me this. I asked her one day if she had always been good, and without a beat, she said “yes”. I remember my little seven-year-old self, standing there on our green linoleum kitchen floor and I looked around and said, “But you don’t have all of those things”.  She didn’t know what to say. She was clearly annoyed and told me to go play or do something else. I was worried even then. I already saw how the world worked-- or didn’t work--and I didn’t like my odds. But I wasn’t playing for the odds. I wasn’t trying to win a game. I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t nice or kind, or didn’t do the right thing. I didn’t understand how people just did whatever they wanted with little regard for the consequences. I actually envied those people—and at times— I still do. How did they not worry or fret about things all the time the way I did?

So, the sequence of events that started on December 12 seemed to keep going. We ended up financially wiped out, suffering a huge loss to our family, and then having to further deal with someone who each day just seemed to show me how foolish I had been to trust or believe or be kind to them in the first place. It was both painful and humbling.

Then other little things kept happening, and I honestly felt like I was going to lose it. I was driving home from a work meeting, in a rain storm, and I was stopped at a red light. I was actually sitting in my car thinking perhaps we had gotten through the worst of it. Then – BAM! A car rear-ended me. Seriously. In the second after it happened, I actually laughed and said out loud- “You have to be fucking kidding me.”

It felt like a hard hit. I motioned in my rear-view mirror for the person to pull out of traffic with me into a parking lot. I feared the person would just drive off, but she didn’t. As I waited for her to pull in behind me, I thought- I have had it. I am going to let this woman have it. I am not going to be nice, screw being nice.

I actually got out of my car and slammed my door and almost ran into a woman a little shorter than me, already pleading her case, already in tears. I heard at least one kid crying in her car. She had been Christmas shopping, she was distracted. It was her fault, she was so sorry. Was I alright?—she should have asked that first. She was sorry.

She stood in front of me, defeated…in a Santa hat.

My car was fine. The woman was apologizing, pointing to a small dot on my bumper that I couldn’t see, as we were both getting drenched in the rain. She didn’t do anything on purpose. It was an accident. It was life. And no matter what had happened to me in the last few days, I couldn’t be horrible. I couldn’t be unkind.

I told her to let me drive home and make sure everything was ok, but not to worry, I didn’t think there was a problem. She stood there relieved and we exchanged information. We started to walk away and she asked if she could hug me. She didn’t wait for an answer. As she hugged me, she said, “You are a good person, thank you. Merry Christmas!”

I got back in my car, let her drive away, and started to cry. I don’t know if I am a good person. I don’t. I know that it hurts me if someone mistreats an animal, or a child, or another human being. I know that I lose sleep over these things. I know that I am not perfect. I know that I am not always kind, and that bothers me, especially when I slip and say the wrong thing in the wrong moment—or when I think I have hurt someone.

I know that in December of 2014, I lost a little part of myself and it will take a long time to get it back. That may not be a bad thing, but I think it is a sad thing. I won’t go out of my way to trust or help as easily for a long time, if ever. It was just too costly. But I will hold those dear to me a little closer.

I haven’t revisited my book, and I honestly don't know if I will. I can’t imagine it at the moment. It breaks my heart. I was just so far down that path and in that mindset; it is hard to go another way. I will see what the new year brings.

That’s all I can do for now as the year comes to a close, and as I say goodbye to December…and all that I lost. Wait and see what the new year brings.

Artwork: Head and Heart by Charlotte Salomon


Sunday, October 5, 2014

One Year with Boone

A year ago today, we brought a twelve-week-old puppy into our home. We named him Boone. I have written about that day before. We already had a bit of a full house of rescue animals—one dog and three cats, but I very much wanted a sibling for our dog Bear, a built in playmate to keep him active. I saw a picture on a rescue website, and sent an email asking about him. One thing led to another, I sent an application, and then, we were off to an adoption event to meet him. I will never forget one of the volunteers picking him up and bringing him to us. He looked so small and scared. Boone had been in a high-kill shelter before the rescue pulled him and saved him. He would have been put down. The thought of him in a shelter alone and scared still bothers me. His foster mom was at the event that day, and she told us he was special. She clearly loved him. Everyone was surprised at how fast he took to Bear, jumping and playing. We all immediately loved him. He fell asleep on Shea’s lap during the long ride home, and never moved.

We came home and Boone found a place on the couch and didn’t move for hours. We petted him and gave him kisses, and Bear snuggled up to him. I finally picked him up to give him a bath, and it was if that was the moment he knew he was home. He came to life and never looked back. He bounded through the house, happy and boisterous. He played with toys, ate a lot of food, played with Bear, ventured outside in the back yard, and made himself at home. Leaving the house was another matter. This is still one of the things that breaks my heart when I think back on his first months here. Since Boone had been transported a lot in his early life, I am sure he never knew where he was being taken. When we had to leave our house for the vet or the dog park, he would stop, and run back to the front door and press against it, wanting to go back in. He would scratch the door, begging to stay. I was in tears the first few times this happened, because there was no way for me to reassure him that we were coming back, that we weren’t taking him away – that he would get to come back home. Shea and I would sit on the sidewalk and tell him this, but he couldn’t understand. He would shake in the car and actually get sick and throw up. It killed me every time. The only thing that made it better was to watch his reaction and relief when we would pull back in the driveway, and he would run in the house and know he was back home. Today, he loves to go to the car, he knows it means something fun, usually a trip to the dog park—his favorite place. His anxieties are behind him now.

It is amazing how different Boone’s personality is, compared to Bear’s. Bear has always been so confident, even as a puppy. He was always fearless, even though his background was similar to Boone’s. Boone is more timid, in some ways, but he is definitely hilarious. He makes us laugh all the time. He is also one of the most perpetually happy creatures I have ever known. He is truly the most grateful rescue dog I have ever seen. When we give him a treat, especially a particularly big one, he will almost always come and give us a thank you kiss. He has this huge Boone smile on his face almost 24/7. His tail is wagging all the time, so much so that somewhere in the house you hear its “thump, thump” throughout the day. However, like Bear, patience is not his strong suit. One of the things that amuses us most is Boone’s ability to stomp when he feels he is being ignored. He has done this since he was a puppy. He loves to go outside, and barks to go out pretty constantly. When we say no, especially when he asks to go out immediately after being let in, he will huff and puff and stomp his front paws. We nicknamed him “wrecking ball” almost from day one for his lack of understanding of personal space boundaries. His idea of asking for a piece of your sandwich is sticking his face in your sandwich. Likewise, his way of waking us up in the morning is jumping on your chest (all 90+ pounds of him—at full force) and swatting your face with his paws. It’s all done with love, he just doesn’t understand how huge he is—AT ALL. During his first vet visits, the vet told me there was no way he would be as big as Bear. How wrong he was. He has surpassed Bear. He his taller, and will weigh more once he fills in.

Boone has a funny, deep, gruff, growly bark that often turns into a howl. He will banter and argue with us at the drop of a hat, which I must admit we enjoy a little too much.

Boone watches television more than any other animal I have ever witnessed. He is, however, most interested in animals on tv, in particular, dogs. He will freeze if a dog is on tv, whether it’s on a commercial, or in a movie or program, and remain transfixed by every movement. He sometimes cries out and then looks at us, amazed by the dog –right there in the room with us! He will cock his head and lift his ears and change his facial expressions all while watching his fellow canine friends on television.

He is also a bit of a tattle tale. If anyone in the house hurts his feelings, for instance me, when I catch him in the trash…he will run to Shea to let him know that I was unfairly targeting him for no reason. I can be in the back bedroom and Boone will run to me with his feelings clearly hurt and I know that he has been reprimanded for some reason, just by his demeanor. He will fortunately quickly recover with a treat, especially if cheese is involved.

I have said before that Boone is the biggest love on four legs that I have ever met. I tear up at the dog park, still, when I watch him go up to everyone and get endless attention, because when we first brought him home, other people terrified him. It took him awhile to warm up to people and trust them. Dogs were fine, but people were another matter. He loves us so much. I can’t count the number of Boone kisses I have gotten in the last year. He snuggles up to me at every opportunity, and he adores Shea so much, that he cries out when Shea leaves the room.

And does he ever love Bear. Bear has been the best big brother we could have ever hoped for. He was patient with Boone from day one, and in turn, Boone has helped Bear stay active and has given him a playmate to sniff the back yard and guard the house with. Boone absolutely adores Bear. Bear still struggles with sharing toys, but luckily for everyone, Boone doesn’t care too much, as long as he can hang out with Bear.

In other words, Boone has been the perfect addition to our home in so many ways. This year has flown by. It was all luck and chance that brought him to us. I just happened to see that photo one night, everything just happened to click into place. Today, I am especially thankful for all the little pieces of luck that brought this sweet boy into our lives. It’s hard to remember a time without him.

Thank you for a great first year, buddy, we love you.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Loss of Robin Williams and Why We Must Keep Talking About Depression

Yesterday, along with the rest of the world, I got the horrible news that Robin Williams had died. Even worse, he had taken his own life.

I found out via a breaking news email, tiny text in a few sentences on my cell phone. I gasped, and had to read it twice before I could answer my husband’s cries of “What’s wrong?”

I felt sick. Of course I didn’t know Robin Williams personally. I was just a fan. But anytime I read of anyone losing a battle with depression, committing suicide, I feel this way. It can be a stranger I read about in a newspaper article, a random obituary. It makes my heart hurt, because I know that pain.

After I read the email, my husband and I immediately turned to the 24 hour news channel on the television, and watched as the story unfolded. Already, stars and mourners were sharing their shock and memories of Robin Williams. I watched as social media turned into a place for people to grieve openly, and I was pleasantly surprised to see compassion dominate the postings. People were so shocked that someone who had given them such happy and touching moments in their lives was, in reality, suffering so much. They wished they had known--wished they could have helped somehow. It was hard for people to fathom how someone who had brought so much joy to the world could have possibly not felt that same joy returned to him.

Suddenly, total strangers offered their contact information out to the world—if anyone needed someone to talk to, just call, just write. YOU are important. YOU matter. People began to realize that if this could happen to someone like Robin Williams, it could happen to any one of us. They wanted to help. I found myself tearing up at the outpouring of love in honor of this man’s passing.

All I could think about was his last moments. I cannot claim to know his personal suffering, but like anyone who has battled severe depression, like anyone who has attempted suicide and been in that low, horrible place, I felt I knew something few people know. There is just a darkness that is like nothing else, that you can’t escape, that you can’t see a way out of, that envelopes you and hurts like nothing else. You feel worthless in a way that is bottomless. You feel like such a burden to everyone and everything and that you will be relieving the world of you and your problems if you are gone. There is nothing more painful, more confusing, and more horrible than those moments. You want to die and you don’t. You want to the pain to end, you want so badly to be anything other than this dark, horrible thing that you are.

I hated so badly that someone so gifted, so genuine, who had given so much, felt that way, and was alone like that in his last moments. But everyone who dies like that is alone in those moments, and it always hits me the same way when I hear about it. I hate it.

If we learned anything from Robin Williams’ death, we learned that depression can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter how rich, how talented, how popular, or well thought of you are…depression doesn’t discriminate. It can crawl in on shadowy feet into the minds and souls of any one of us. It isn’t a choice or a mood. It is a disease, and it can be fatal.

I was so, so fortunate to have survived my battle with depression, that lasted most of my adult life. I am one of those people who will always have to be careful, always aware that depression will be just below the surface for me, easier to inhabit my psyche. For me, it feels like a rope around my waist, loosely hanging now, as I am healthy and fine, but with the threat of it always being able to pull tight and drag me down. I have to know and understand my triggers, take care of myself, not let myself get too stressed by work (or life), get enough sleep, take medication, and seek help if I feel myself slipping.

What I think was also apparent as I watched social media erupt with love and grief last night, was so many people shared their own battles with depression. It’s almost absurd that we have the stigma that we do, when almost everyone either has suffered from depression or is close to someone who has. It’s as if we are all keeping this big, stupid secret about something that is painfully obvious and happening all the time to all of us right before our eyes. Because it is. Life is so hard. We all struggle. We all need help sometimes. Keeping quiet is what leads people into lonely rooms to take their lives. We have to keep talking.

If Robin Williams had been just another comedian, he wouldn’t have touched people the way he did. Sure, everyone loves to laugh, and someone who makes you laugh is always welcome. But the reason Robin Williams was so beloved is because he surprised us. He was one of the most gifted funny men out there. He could truly make you belly laugh like no one else. But then, almost out of nowhere, he appeared on screen in serious roles and showed all this heart and made us weep. There was such a true genuineness in his dramatic roles, they were as touching as his comedic roles were funny. There are so few people in the world with that much range, that much depth—to be able to pull off both comedic and dramatic roles the way that he did. I believe he felt things so deeply, he gave so much and we, his audience, felt that too.

To me, he always seemed a little tortured, fighting something—in a beautiful way. You could tell he felt everything, deeply. That’s why his performances rang so true. I have just felt so sad by this loss, all the performances we won’t see, what we will miss out on now that he is gone. But most of all, I can’t quit thinking of his last moments, and I am haunted.

My hope in all of this, in all of the compassion, the sadness, and the realization is that out of this huge loss, a conversation will start and continue. This is the best example of the fact that depression can affect ANYONE. Robin Williams has left an amazing legacy of his work onscreen, but my hope is also that another legacy will be that so many lives will be saved because we all kept talking, and more people came out of the shadows, and stayed out of their lonely rooms and more people reached out for help.

I think he would have loved that. Don’t you?

Please, if you are contemplating suicide, know that you are not alone. YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOU MATTER. No matter how bad things are right now, they can get better. Reach out for help.
Call this hotline—I have called this number before—they save lives and they can save yours:

1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Into the Night

When I was in college, when I found life too challenging, and I felt too overwhelmed to face and handle everything coming at me, I often did something that the adult me now knows wasn’t exactly safe. I would often, usually in tears and exasperated, in the wee hours of the night, grab my keys and head to my car. I didn’t have a planned destination, a map, a route, or anything other than my pain as my guide. Very often the gas tank wasn’t full, but I took my chances, driving into the night, the windows down, my radio blaring, and tears flowing.

It all sounds melodramatic. It wasn’t done for dramatic effect. This was before the days of cell phones and selfies. No one knew my whereabouts. I definitely felt I was running away, or rather, trying to out run everything. Pain, depression, loss, my family, my own failures, the very life I was leading. Sometimes I dreamed of just driving and driving until I ended up in a new, unknown town-- leaving everything behind and starting over. 

In my heart, I knew it wouldn’t all work out as easily as all that. I couldn’t ignore all that was behind me—college courses, work, bills—it would all still be there even if I took up residence in some other zip code.

Ultimately, and usually depending on the amount of gas in my tank, I would decide it was time to turn back around. I would drive slower on the way home, letting the cool air dry my tears, trying to breathe in slowly and take in the night’s movement, the weird, lonely pace around me. I would finally make it back home, exhausted, spent, and fall into bed.

I can often remember dropping my keys on my nightstand and laying down and just hoping beyond hope that I would make it to a time in my life where I never felt this way again. Where I felt settled, safe, and happy. Where I didn’t need to run or out run anything.

The funny thing is, for so long, I thought I had. Then, over the last five years, even in the best of times, there are moments where I would think about those midnight drives in college and feel that tug. Sometimes it was because of work stress or life stress. Sometimes it just felt like I was lost and needed to go looking for something…myself maybe?

Recently, especially, there have been nights where I try and go to sleep and my mind won’t stop racing, won’t stop fretting, thinking, turning over every little thing. Sometimes it’s after a bad day, sometimes I am worried about our bank account or my career, but some nights I just get myself into a spiral of thinking that is beyond anything I could possibly catch up with by pacing or normal worry. I start to wonder if I will ever really finish my book—the dream I have wanted forever—to be published. Then I wonder what I am doing with my life. I feel so far away from the core of who I am and who I want to be. I start feeling like I am paying the bills and losing pieces of my soul more every day. I try and remind myself that we all have to work, that everyone feels this way, but I feel a clock start ticking so loudly that I mentally start searching for my keys. I want to jump out of bed, into my car, and drive quickly into the inky dark night. I want to roll down the windows and feel the night air. I want to drive until I can smell the Pacific and hear the waves and see the moon reflecting in my windshield. I want to drive and drive and drive until the sun rises in a new place altogether.

It won’t solve anything. I will end up right back here. This isn’t a bad place to be. Everything and everyone I love is here. I just wish I was sure about the choices I make every day. 

I have said so many times that I don’t have regrets—that however I ended up where I am, I have made peace with. As long as I ended up here, I am fine. That is not all completely true. I am thrilled with where I ended up—and I believe this was fate—and exactly where I am meant to be. But I do have regrets. And a part of me believes that I would have ended up here (since this is my fate), even if I had made different choices, and maybe after not having gone through such a painful journey.

At one particularly low point over 10 years ago, after our company had just gone through a series of layoffs, I found myself unemployed and unsure of my next steps. I had just enough money in the bank to survive another few months or so where I was, or, I thought, take a leap. I seriously considered buying a plane ticket to Paris, landing, and figuring out the rest from there. I was going to leave everything—my apartment, my belongings, my life—everything behind. I couldn’t decide if the plan was brave or stupid. Now, looking back, I know that it probably would have been disastrous. I was depressed at the time (never a good time to make decisions) and I didn’t have nearly enough money to take a chance like that. I had nothing that even resembled a plan B, and the list goes on. I know all of that. But there is a huge part of me that wishes, very deeply, that I had bought that ticket.

I think my late night obsessive thinking and worrying sessions are a bit of a mini-mid-life crisis. I am just realizing that there is so much I want to do, and I am not making progress on a lot of the things that matter to me. I look at my life five years down the line, and I am so afraid I will still be in this same place. I worry about the person I am, the wife I am, the human being I am. I want so much to do more, to give more, to be more. I worry.

Back in college, on those midnight drives, I was truly trying to run away, out run things, drive towards another place. Part of me wonders now, if when I am dreaming of grabbing my keys and driving, if I am not trying to go back, take the wheel from that younger me. I want to take control, change the course, lead her in a different direction. 

I want to tell her: We will end up here, in the same spot, I promise. The way we get there will just be far less rough, dangerous, and painful.

I can’t go back, I know. I can only worry about the road I have left-- it stretches out before me. I can chart the course from here. I have to remember that, when I am laying here worrying. My hands are on the wheel. I can only plan so much. I can only worry so much. For now, I will sleep, and try and reassure myself. At the end of the day, I will end up back here, right where I am supposed to be, with everyone and everything I love. 

Oh, and to that younger me, so sad, driving in the night, I also want to say, No matter the path we took to get here…we made it. Somehow, we made it.

The beautiful photograph at the end of my blog post is entitled "Time Reverse" and is by Amy M of TruBlissPhotography. Check out more of her amazing work here.


Friday, February 21, 2014

The Book: A Teacher's Gift of Love

In the summer of 1980, I had just finished the fourth grade and also my last year of elementary school. I would be crossing over into the unknowns of middle school the next year, and I didn’t know yet how different things would be. My third and fourth grade years in school were two of my best. I was so fortunate in those two years to have been in the same classroom, with the same teachers each year, in an environment where I felt safe, supported, and even loved.

Somehow, within those years, within the walls of that classroom, or “suite” as it was called then, I found confidence in myself. This was no small feat. In those two years, the three teachers in my suite made me feel as though I had something special to offer the world. I had never felt that way until they ignited that spark in me. In particular, they all recognized and fostered my writing talent. I remember my poems being featured on bulletin boards, and my short stories being entered into contests. But most of all, I remember being told that I had talent—and somehowbelieving it. One teacher in particular, Ms. Garwood, always seemed to find opportunities for me to shine, to highlight my writing. Instead of us performing a play from a book, she would let me write one for my classmates to perform. She did this for other students, fostering their talents, finding ways to make the classroom a place where we all found our own paths while learning everything we needed to, and understanding the importance of appreciating one another’s gifts.

Somehow, I knew things would never be quite the same in my future classrooms. I struggled the following years in middle school, as everything seemed to be changing so fast, and being popular became more important than finding talent in one another. I honestly felt like I had slipped into a black hole once I stepped onto my middle school campus. The one thing that kept me going was remembering the love and support of Ms. Garwood, and her belief in me. Even though I felt that I didn’t fit in, and that some of my best friends were moving into different circles and leaving me behind, I remembered that I had someone out there who believed in me and had no doubts about my success for the future. I can’t express how powerful that was.

I don’t think any of my teachers or friends for that matter knew how hard things were for me at home. I couldn’t even articulate it myself. Children that take dance lessons, that have enough food, that do well in school—these don’t add up to things not being right at home. These aren’t the signs of an alcoholic father and a broken marriage at home, and little pieces of my confidence and self-worth were taken away as things got more and more tense. I would tell myself I was fine, when I wasn’t. I would keep secrets and smile when most of the time I felt as if I was so fragile I could crack apart and disintegrate at any moment. There wasn’t anywhere that felt as safe to me anymore. I was still a good student, but the rules of school seemed so different once I left the safe nest of elementary school. A few teachers still called out my writing talent, and many were supportive, but it wasn’t the same cocoon I had felt so safe in. It was the last time I would feel that for a very long time.

But that summer before middle school, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew I was sad that I wouldn’t see Ms. Garwood anymore. I wondered if she knew how special she was to me and how much I was going to miss her. And then, she asked to come by my house. She said she had something for me.

I can remember this moment as if it was yesterday. I was sitting on the kitchen counter in our house, alone, and I looked out the window to see Ms. Garwood arrive. She was wearing a purple dress, and she smiled as she walked up the driveway. I don’t remember exactly what words she said, I just remember how heartfelt her words were as she handed me the gift, a blank book to fill with more of my poems and stories. I remember we laughed as she showed me how the pattern on the spine of the book somehow perfectly matched the material of her dress. She read her inscription out loud to me. That moment, that book, her faith in me…it meant the whole wide world to me. That book was so much more than a book. It was belief in me. It was belief in a talent I had only quietly dared to hope I had. It was love.

She left, and for awhile we kept in touch, but without the magic of social media and email, cell phones and affordable long distance calls, over the years, we lost touch. But I never ever lost the feeling of her love and support. In times when I felt alone and struggled, even well into my adulthood, I would draw strength from that moment and her belief in me.

At first, right after I received her gift, the book almost seemed too precious to write in. I didn’t want to put anything in it except my absolute best work, the most beautiful poems, my most exceptional stories. The result was blank pages for a long time. But I kept the book with me, always. I finally broke down and starting writing poems in it, once I had finished my usual pattern of scribbling on notebook paper, changing lines and words, and finally reaching a finished product in the margins and on the back sides of five or so pages of paper. Once I had the completed poem in its final stage, it would go into the book. And then I added another and another. Then I added a short story. And another. I was still picky about what made the cut. It couldn’t go into that book unless I felt it was worthy of the love behind the gift.

The book traveled with me through middle school, high school, and college; carried in back packs, purses, and packed in an untold number of moving boxes. I had such a fear of losing it, that when I moved, I would always mark the box it was in with a big star so I could make sure that box made it off of the moving truck. If possible, I hand-carried it to my next destination.

I had finally filled its pages seven years after the book was given to me. The filled pages were my heart poured out in ink on sometimes tear-stained pages, lamenting loss, longing for love, and enduring the pain of my first heartbreak. Many of the pages also help me remember what the world looked like to me through my eyes then, the reality of the storm at home, that at times is still foggy in the midst of my mother’s denial. These pages are a truth, a touchstone, so I know that my memories are real. Painful, but real.

For years after that, I bought my own blank books and filled their pages. I always dreamed of being a writer, but in some dark times of my life, when I lost sight of so many things, I would give up, let go of writing for awhile, and the words stopped flowing. Without fail, I would be cleaning or packing and come across the purple bookits edges faded and worn from years pastand start reading my own words, then Ms. Garwood’s words, and I would find my way back to pen and paper. 

Blank books later morphed into blogging, which really became the place I felt I was finally honing my skills and getting somewhere. It took a long time, but I got published-- an essay in a magazine I loved and admired-- and I felt things shift. Since then, in the middle of life and work, and everything else, I am working harder than ever to make this dream of finishing my book happen. I got the courage last year to finally attend a writing workshop and get that final push of feedback from a successful author that I was indeed ready to do thisready to write, ready to finish my book. 

It has taken a long time, but the words I am writing now had to grow from all the things I have lived, seen, and known. I am a better writer for the time it has taken to get here.  I finally can see a glimmer of hope of achieving a dream I have had since I first picked up a pencil in my tiny hand as a child. I am getting closer.

I can say without hesitation that I was first given the confidence to do this by an amazing teacher, Ms. Garwood. She walked up my driveway in her purple dress thirty-four years ago, and handed me her belief in me, and her love for me, that I have carried with me every day since.

A note: Ms. Garwood (now Mrs. Sidden) and I recently reconnected on Facebook. Her first post on my wall mentioned this book, this gift. I let her know I still had it, and I had planned on sharing photos with her. I saw that her birthday was approaching, and I decided to write this blog post-- as I couldn't think of a better gift than for her than to see how much she has meant to me all these years.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Five Years with Bear

During some really hard times for me and my husband over the last few years, I have questioned a lot of my choices. The more I looked back over recent decisions, I started going back further and realizing there might have been a lot of things I could have done differently that would have impacted my future in a positive way. I always try not to have regrets and believe I am where I am for a reason, but in truth, I know there are times I could have made better choices—stayed at one job a little longer, or chosen to move one place instead of another, and boy, could I have made better romantic choices in the past when I was younger.

Many of the choices I questioned were those that were quickly made, under pressure, or without planning--usually during times of great emotion. I know a lot of my romantic choices were made during times like that, and even career choices, unfortunately, sometimes involved a combination of pressure and emotion that probably could have used some time and reflection.

But one decision that I made at one of the lowest moments in my life, and in an instant, without planning, and totally based on emotion, was adopting this sweet boy.
And never, not for one second, have I ever thought it was anything than one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

The year I adopted him, after a few months of healing, I wrote about how I had rescued him, but in turn how he had also rescued me. That was just the beginning. I knew then that he was opening my heart. In truth, he taught me to love again. That may sound far-reaching or dramatic, but anyone close to me knows that I was in a very dark place in my life and I had a long way to go before I could find my way back to the land of the living, and learning to love was a far off place I didn’t dream of ever really visiting again. 

What I didn’t know then, was that Bear would continue to teach me things, all the time, day after day.

One of the things I am always in awe of is how he constantly communicates with me, without speaking, now for five years. He has taught me that there are non-verbal ways to let people know you care that are so meaningful, powerful, and real. Bear’s eyes are very expressive. So many people have said he has very “human” eyes. When I am sick or upset, he never fails to check on me, or stay near me when I need him. But it is the way he looks at me, in a different way than his usual playful way, with concern in his deep brown-doggy-sweet eyes that darn near brings me to tears.

I have always known the power of laughter, and it was one of the things that made me fall in love with my husband. He can make me laugh, a truly desperate, grab-onto-something laugh like no one else. I love that. Bear has taught me about the joy in laughing every day. There have been times over the last three years when, honestly, my husband and I were struggling with so many things that for months, there seemed like there was nothing to talk about but bills and stress. Out of the blue, seeming to sense tension, Bear would do something silly or pose in a funny way and cock his head and have us laughing. It would shake us out of where we were for a moment and remind us that even in the middle of what seemed like everything caving in, we could still laugh. We held onto that for awhile. I remember that once we turned a curve financially, we were able to say, “You know what? We still laughed every single day.” And we knew we owed a lot of that to Bear.

I knew once we were on our feet that I wanted to try and add another dog to our family, a sibling for Bear. But, I only wanted to do it if it was right, and if Bear was still happy and felt loved. I also wanted to do it so that Bear would stay active and have a playmate. This year we added a puppy, Boone, to our household. Once again, Bear taught me a lesson. I watched in awe as he shared his food and toys and loved his new little brother in a way that made me love Bear so much that I thought my heart would burst. This sweet dog had so much love to give that it seemed endless.

The most important lesson brings me to tears. Bear is teaching me the deep importance of small moments. Taking pictures of all the things that matter. Kissing his head 500 times a week, because I know I will always want to know I kissed it as many times as I possibly could. Rubbing his ears to get him to fall asleep next to me, because it magically makes his eyelids heavy as it has since he was 12 weeks old and first lying next to me in his new home. Going to bed each night knowing that we are giving a rescue dog that we love immeasurably the most beautiful life that a family could give a dog, because if all was right in the world, all rescue dogs would be this happy and celebrating their fifth adoption birthdays like this:

The lesson he teaches me is that life is so precious, and the years go by so fast. We are so lucky to have Bear. So lucky. If our luck continues, we will have him for many, many more years. He is healthy and strong, and handsome and happy. All we can do is appreciate the small moments and treasure our time with him. 

He is teaching us well.

Happy five years Bear.


You can read my previous posts about Bear here:



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