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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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signs and omens

Fear and Self-Loathing in Lost Places

I recently discovered a little demon that had hidden itself away in my cells, quietly waiting for the perfect time to rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on my heart. It birthed itself during a quick, two-hour road trip a couple months back.

I thought that demon was long dead… thought nothing I heard about my past could do much damage anymore. I was wrong. Turns out, the demon wasn’t dead, just dormant. And turns out, it could still do a helluvalot of damage.

Ever since, I’ve been working my way through a very hard memory…

Memories. They’re never photographic and never completely accurate. They’re fuzzy and fragmented and colored by our own personal perceptions and perspectives.

This one, I kept buried for a long time. But it bubbled and bloomed under the surface. Time softened it… but in a furry, moldy, sordid, slimy sort of way. But the time has come for it to be dug up. Time to bring it into the light, dry it out, turn it to dust, and blow it away.

And y’all, I’m not talking metaphorical demons here. I was a sixteen-year-old junior when I was told I was demon-possessed.

Now I was a far-from-perfect child. I had a major crush on the butterscotch boy next door; I was writing mysteries with teenage girls with plunging necklines and music minister murderers; and I was failing my Algebra II class. But I’m pretty sure I wasn’t demon-possessed. At least, not until that night.

I recall standing in a marble entryway with a bathrobe on my lanky frame and a chip on my shoulder. To my right was a still life painting of cream roses in a shadowy vase. To my left were double oak doors, locked. Before me, my accuser, arms crossed, eyes blazing, telling me the devil was in me. Telling me I was going straight to hell.

That night, a pervasive demon of fear and self-loathing tangled itself up with my youthful defiance and climbed through the dilated pores of my freshly showered skin. To avoid my accuser’s red glare, I focused on the still life instead — the gold ochre roses captured in a burnished vase. Crashing waves of Prussian Blue smashed mercilessly into and around them. Petals broken and fallen. Plunged into oily darkness.

My accuser would remember the scene differently, I’m sure. Would remember the wayward daughter with the rebellious streak and the raging desire. The girl consumed by fire. The girl caught up in the ways of the world. The world caught up in the girl. She needed purging in the worst sort of way.

Funny thing about memories… two people remembering the same incident can have two entirely different accounts of what happened. And it doesn’t make either account less true.

With really difficult memories, the differences and disparities reveal the differences and despair in each individual. And each of us felt them… profoundly.

The facts are straightforward; the truth is not.

The fact is my parents were doing what they absolutely thought best. The fact is they did their best to raise me. The fact is they knew the world to be a dangerous place. The fact is they submerged all of us in strict doctrine and stern dogma to save us.

And the fact is I was a far-from perfect child. I was headstrong and fighting for my life. I did my best to escape them and the cult of domesticity they were raising me in. And I did. I escaped with my newly-planted demons of fear and self-loathing, with an ample serving of defiance, and I went to live with my guardian angel grandmother.

They did their best. And so did I. Those are the facts.

But the truth belongs to each individual — and we are all colored by our pasts. By our truths. And our demons. Even my father.

He confessed to me on that two-hour drive how sorry he was that he sent me to live with my grandmother.

… he was sorry for burdening her heart at her advanced age with a rebellious teenage girl.

Shame and guilt overwhelmed me. That demon of tangled up fear and self-loathing, tinged with teenage defiance tore through my gut in a blaze of ungodly glory. And it refuses to leave.

But then today I found some hope. I read a chapter from Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human, called, “Rewrite Your Story: Memory Lost and Found.” It focuses on facing and excising your demons. Denouncing them as liars.

I took it as a sign. Especially after I soon found this little gem: “Don’t die with your music still inside of you.”

So I decided to write out my memory and sing out my sorrow. This demon is no longer allowed to hang out as a devil inside.

So I hope someone out there is listening. I want to be absolved. I need to be absolved. And I want to help absolve others. Because Toni Morrison, the greatest writer of our time, once said something I believe in wholeheartedly: The function of freedom is to free someone else.

I kept her quote taped to my writing desk for years. And now I keep it stapled in my soul.

Today, I share my memory, my song, and my freedom. And I beg you to share yours too.

Share your truth and be saved from the devils breeding somewhere deep in the darkness of your past.

Keeping the Faith and Following the Signs

Remember lucky pencils from elementary school? The ones your teachers would give you so you would ace those standardized tests?

Well, I have a lucky pencil. It’s an old-fashioned #2 pencil. It’s a deep, slate blue #2 pencil. It’s got gold lettering on the side. And a simple, profound message: TELL YOUR STORY.

It arrived n the mail last year when I ordered a children’s story for my boys, a book about building tree houses from Magnolia Market— the world-renowned Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market, the same Magnolia Market to which I had entered (and not won), a writing contest earlier that spring.

I took that pencil as a sign.

A sign that somebody over there in the land of Magnolia milk and honey had remembered me and my writing and decided to send along some manna from Magnolia to encourage and sustain me along my writing journey through the wilderness.

And while odds are that was not the case, and odds are that my inspirational magic pencil was quite simply a gift-with-purchase that every patron receives, I like to think otherwise. I like to think it is special. Because my words — and my story — are special. That’s what I like to think.

Only now,  my magic pencil is gone.

I noticed its absence yesterday morning while applying my eyeliner.

Normally, my magic pencil hangs out in my bathroom in a ceramic container along with my toenail clippers and eyebrow scissors. (I don’t actually WRITE with it. It’s a symbol. A sign. A powerful promise, if you will.) And so it sits prominently in my line of vision (or it did until yesterday), reminding me every day to do what it commands me to do.

And some days, I notice the message has twisted round to where I can’t see it, so I rotate my promise, feeling its hexagonal planes shift beneath my thumb and forefinger, until I can see it again. Because I need to see it daily. I need reminding. Daily.

Especially lately, when my words seem to get lost in the frantic shuffle of my busy teaching and twin-mom world. Lately my words have been getting harder and harder to find, and once found, to put in some semblance of order.

And even when I do manage to round them up — recently in rather ramshackle fashion — I don’t know that they really make much of an impact at all…

So I need my sign, my writing-on-the-writing-utensil sign, shipped from some random, nameless, faceless true believer of both me and my story out in Waco-turned-Canaan, Texas (intentional or otherwise.)

Because me… sometimes I don’t believe. Sometimes I lose my faith.

And now, tragedy has struck. My magic pencil has gone missing. And I’ve looked everywhere. And my husband has looked everywhere. (And he’s much better at finding things than I am. He found me in the eleventh hour after all, and saved me from drought and famine, and I am forever in his debt.)

So my magic pencil has gone missing and I see this as an ominous sign. And I’m a firm believer in signs. But then, you already know that.  So I guess that means…

Okay. Wait.

This is going to be hard to believe, but I swear to you it is the God’s honest truth…

Just as I closed my computer, thinking I was pretty much done with my blog (as well as my entire storytelling career), my youngest son bent down at a spot we had all gone over with a fine-tooth comb and exclaimed…

“Mama, is this your pencil?”

Why, yes. Yes it is.

And since I’m a firm believer in signs… I guess I know what I have to do now. I have to obey.

So I’m sending this story — and many, many more — out into the universe.

My Grandmother: 22 years after her death, she’s still guiding me

The sore bloomed like a rose, slightly left of center and fiery red, the day after my grandmother died — twenty-two years ago, this week. It arrived in direct contrast with the single, flawless white rose that bloomed outside her window the morning of her death.

grandma6

Its origins were mysterious. I had not injured myself. A bug did not bite me. It wasn’t a rash. No doctors were ever able diagnose its cause – or the effects it produced — a general malaise, low-grade fever, extreme thirst, and the haunting feeling that something simply wasn’t right that lasted for months.

It wept in itchy, angry scales of grief, a physical manifestation of an internal pain. And when it finally shed all its sugared petals, it left behind the palest primrose scar.

For a while, I could easily see it, shimmering just beneath the surface, pulsing with the pain of her loss, but also telling me she was there, she was with me.

Somewhere in the last two decades, as I learned to cope with my life without her, it slipped under the surface. Went dormant and invisible. I would search for it sometimes, run my fingertips over its resting place. Especially on those days when I most wished she were there to hold my hand. My wedding day. The morning of our first IVF appointment. The day we brought our boys home from the NICU.

I miss the light, mothy touch of her fingers. I miss her reassurance and her love. I miss the holidays at her house. Seeing her settled into her plush, padded lazy boy nest, blowsy with blankets and pillows, eyes and mouth animated with story after hyperbolic story. Tall tales of horses and hogs and uncles and cousins. Histories I should’ve recorded. Should’ve written down.

I should’ve done something.

Especially when she got sick. When she gave up her nest for a hospital bed in the back bedroom. When her face turned sallow as parchment. When her hair came out in fuzzy tufts on her pillow. When the mothy touch of those fingers took to frantically pinching pleats in the bedsheets. When my cousin and I spoon fed her cream of wheat three times a day because it was all she would eat.

Until she wouldn’t. Until she told us she’d had enough of that infernal cream of shit.

Why didn’t I record them then? I’ve forgotten the major details of most of her stories. I’ve failed her.

The scar surfaced again this weekend. It swam back to me on the anniversary of its original appearance.  It has to be a sign. And I believe in signs.

She’s made plenty of other appearances along the way, but it was always her scent that appeared. I would catch a whiff of her Tennessee scotch snuff and know she was there: in the elevator the day of our IVF transfer; in the centerpieces at our wedding (ok, I put her scent there on purpose, but she was there when she held back the rain – a halo of sun in the midst of a radar of storms); when Mike pushed my wheelchair through the halls of the hospital on our way to hold our boys for the first time. A sniff of snuff told me this is my path, this is my destiny. And it is beautiful.

Twenty-two years ago, this week, my grandmother made her way to heaven on the buoyant chords of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. My cousin Jenny and I knew it was time. We brought in the recorded piano music our cousin Teresa had given her years before and we pushed play. When the Canon came on, grandma quietly slid into the current and swam to the stars.

The doctors couldn’t diagnose the rose that bloomed on my chest over two decades ago this week. But e.e. cummings could. He diagnosed it in a prophetic poem in 1952:

Here is the deeper secret nobody knows

(the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry [her] heart (I carry it in my heart)

 And her heart has swum to the surface once more. She’s trying to tell me something. So I’m listening. I hope it’s her stories. I won’t fail her this time.

 

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