I am stopped in the hallway by a short woman hunched over her walker. She grabs my arm with a strength I hadn't expected.
"Do you know where I can get a coke?"
I explain that there is a vending machine down the hall, next to the little country store. She asks me what it offers, and I rattle off the brand names. She digs around in her purse, empty except for a wallet and a few tissues. She hands me a dollar bill, while stuffing several twenties back into her wallet.
As I'm walking towards the vending machines, she says to my back, "I will wait right here for you because I think you need to hear this."
I have never met her before.
I come back with a Dr. Pepper and her change. She argues with me about keeping the 35 cents, telling me that I need to put it with my own money and go buy myself a soda this afternoon. She doesn't introduce herself, but leans forward to focus on my badge. My name sounds like velvet in her mouth.
I open her soda can for her just as she's asking me if I could do it. I sit down across from her, lying my papers next to me, my list of to-do's delayed and abandoned. She begins to tell me about her life, about her daughter, about her husband's job. She tells me that her husband is gone, lost to a heart attack, falling face-first into a flowerbed while mowing the lawn just a few short years after retirement. She is matter-of-fact about this, and while her voice is steady, her eyes tell another story. She leans forward again, grasps my hand and says, "I only had one child. That is what I need to tell you."
I don't know what to say to this. I thank her for sharing with me. I smile. I look down at my shoes. She squeezes my hand and tells me how she was one of 9 children, how she worked for years selling Merle Norman make-up, how she avoids doing laundry, how her daughter doesn't visit regularly, how she often wonders why she bothers remembering at all.
She asks me if I am dating, if I am married, will I have children? I show her a picture of my girl, and she says there is no way I have an almost 5 year old. I explain that I'm registering her for kindergarten in the near future, and she nods, saying "It goes by too fast, and so much of it is painful."
She tells me her daughter is almost 70, and I know I am visible shocked. She laughs, a sound full of windchimes, and tells me she is 102. I crack up, and she nods, smiling sweetly. I tell her she is lovely and strong, and she gets self-conscious, looking down at her blue slippers and knee-highs crumpled at her ankles. She lifts up her shirt to show me that her jeans are loose, and she flashes me. Non-chalantly, she mentions that she forgot to put on a bra.
Then she tells me of the flowers in her yard, at the home she shared with her husband. She rattles off names of flowers, plants, and trees, and glances into the courtyard, taking notice of a gorgeous blooming camelia bush. She is amazed that I know what it is, patting my knee softly.
As abruptly as this began, it ends. She sticks her Dr. Pepper on her walker, and stands up. She adjusts her sweater and jeans, and grabs my hand with purpose. She tells me that she has told me many family secrets, and she's not sure why, other than the fact that "your smile opened up something inside me". As I stumble over words, she asks me to visit her some time, and tells me which apartment is hers. I don't think to ask her what her name is.
As she shuffles off towards the hall containing her apartment, she turns back to me and says "I can always tell a person's strength by their eyes, and the amount of love in their heart by their smile. You have an amazing smile and great eyes."
I thank her again, and stand in the middle of the hallway, watching her walk away. I think back over the last hour, and realize that I've said very little to her, but feel as though she knows me.
I am stopped in the hallway by a short woman hunched over her walker. She grabs my arm with a strength I hadn't expected.
Since I'm not posting lately, I was happy to have Kelly from Chains of Yesterday ask if she could guest post. (She's about to have a new online home, and I can't wait to see it!) She's a strong-ass woman who has been through a shit storm lately, yet she has come out of it stronger, wiser, and just amazingly calm. Show her some love, will ya?
(Also, if you want to guest post, just send me an email. I promise I won't be gone forever....)
I’ve had the urge to write… kind of mini-urges. Nothing strong enough to actually GET me to write until now. Not sure what it is - my life is chaotic, money is non existent, the relationship (if you can call it that) with my ex is a mess all in itself, my house is a disaster. And yet? I’m smiling.
My teenager is moody, my roommate is depressed, I’m completely overwhelmed by all there is to do. And yet? I’m smiling.
Me, who swore up and down that I was done with kids, now has “custody” (or babysitting, your choice of which word to use) of an amazing little almost 3 year old boy every other weekend that lights up my world.
I’ve just made the hardest decision of my life - to place Christopher into a group home… and no matter how many disagree with me, it wasn’t them living my life on a day to day basis. And I’m at peace with that decision. It’s hard to see him there - while I’m not now nor have I ever been in denial about his diagnosis/prognosis, to me, he was just my son. Seeing him grouped with the “special needs/mentally retarded” children is hard, because I never really saw him that way. He was just my really big baby. But yet? I’m smiling. Because I know, in my heart, that it’s where he belongs. He seems almost happy there… and that’s a part of his personality that I’ve missed… it seems to be returning.
My teenager and I have reached a sort of understanding - believe me, he’s still a moody pain in the ass, but after an honest conversation about his treatment of me, he’s making changes. And knowing that he respects me enough to make those changes shows me a lot about what I’ve done as a mother, and how important I am to him.
It’s reached me through the grapevine (gotta love the internet/face book age) that my ex has a new girlfriend. I expected it to hurt - and in a way, it does. It hurts that he seems capable of giving her what he couldn’t give me. But more than anything, I’m happy for him. I’ll wait to tell him that until he decides to tell me about her himself. But I’m realizing that what it comes down to is simple. We fell into a teenage marriage when I got pregnant at 15. We did the “right thing”. But it wasn’t right for us. We weren’t right for each other. I can’t be what he needs, he can’t be what I need. And I think it’s great that we’re both moving on.
As for me? I don’t know what comes next in my life. I don’t know where I’m going, or how or when I’ll get there. But I want to enjoy the trip to wherever it is. I don’t know who, if anyone, I’ll wind up with. But regardless, I’ll be there. And it’s me that I have to learn how to get along with, that I have to learn to love.
I have lost the majority of my family in the past year, my home, my marriage, my dogs, what I thought was my LIFE. But that part was wrong. I have NOT lost my life. My life is what I’m going to make of it. Don’t know what that will be yet. But it will be mine… my life.
But I’ve also found out who my true friends are - those that stood by me and worried when I had my little stretch of rebellion. Those that have put up with my insane mood swings. Those that have held me when I cried, who have told me it WILL be okay, and that they will be there through it all.
I have someone in my life - someone who I’m not sure will last as that “special” someone, but will always have a special place in my heart, for telling me, for showing me, for teaching me that I’m special. That I deserve to be treated well, that I’m worth it. That he needs me in his life, that he wants me in his life. His smile makes me smile, his laugh is contagious, he appreciates all I do for him - yet he’s just as quick to push me down and make me relax while he does for ME. Someone who has helped me through one of the toughest times in my life, and allowed me to help him through his own hell… no matter that he puts up this macho man image to the world. He’s let me in to see the real him, he trusts me - with all that is his, with his life, his world, his love.
Through him, I’ve met and reconnected with people that I now consider my very own family - to replace the family that for some reason is incapable of showing love or loyalty to their own. This new family will always have a part in my life - because they’ve shown me what family really is. I owe them a debt that can never be repaid for that.
I have my friends (both in real life and online) that have stood beside me through my own personal hell. I had no idea that people were capable of loyalty like that - I’d never been shown that before. I’d never experienced it, never seen it firsthand.
And now, even through the infrequent tears, I’m smiling. I get to have the little monster this weekend, we have big plans - and I’m looking forward to it all. I’m taking him to see his daddy in FL in 2 weeks, a vacation I desperately need. People I need to see so badly. I need to surround myself with these new friends, new family, that have helped hold me up when I’ve been ready to collapse. In that, I also learned who I can't trust - and have removed those people from my life. They have no place there, I have no room for them.
I’m finally ready to move on with my life - truly ready. Wherever it takes me… I’ll be okay with that. I feel ready for whatever it is that comes next, I may falter, I may stumble, but I’ll continue to stand. It’s what I do.
Now, with all that being said, I hope to have a new site up and running by the end of the week. Chains of Yesterday is no longer my space. I’m no longer bound by my past, but instead looking to the future, full of hope and optimism. To those that have followed, emailed, commented, and just generally supported me - I’ll let you know where that is as soon as it’s up and running.
They must get in my head when I'm sleeping. They can put my emotion into words, and it feels great to know I'm not the only one to feel these things.
They said it perfect this time around.
"Say it" by Blue October
Blue October - Should Be Loved
Music Video Codes at http://www.roxwel.com/
These songs are getting a ton of play time on my ipod lately. I am bouncing in my seat right now as I type this, listening to both of these again. DOWNLOAD NOW, if you haven't already.
Are you gonna be my girl? by Jet
(PS. He has a gravel-y sexy voice, no?)
If you're wondering (if I want you to) by Weezer
As a sidenote, I couldn't post the actual offical video (not cool enough, I guess?), but please click here and watch it. It is so damn silly.
Tell me you aren't bouncing in your seat listening to these songs??
I press the green button and wait for the soft buzz. I push open the security door, and enter the floor. The door clicks purposefully. Soft music spills out of the stereo in the far corner:a bluesy type of music from the 40's. The room has an air of order to it.
The main room is full of bodies:
Two are sitting side by side on the loveseat-she has slumped over, with her head resting on the edge of his shoulder. Her hands are shoved under her armpits, arms crossed. His head is cocked at a painful-looking angle, hands folded evenly in his lap. A smile plays on his full lips, across his unshaven face. He is not her husband. Her husband will come visit, from another floor, later this afternoon.
There are easily a dozen wheelchairs sprinkled throughout one area, each containing 80+ years of life. The silence strangles the room.
Most are sleeping.
Many are snoring or moaning.
A few are wide-eyed and intent, although I'm unsure what has their attention.
A couple of bodies are barely contained in their wheelchairs-they are baby-stepping themselves through the dining area, singing, crying, or smiling.
One is currently trying to pull herself up to a standing position by grasping the table with one hand, and another person's leg with the other.
There are those that can still walk as well:
A woman who spends all of her waking hours walking the entire floor-down hallways, into other people's rooms. She can no longer communicate, but she's got holes on the soles of her slippers.
A man who is sneaky-he climbs over the gate at the nurse's station, and shows up in my office. He is a bit nosey, it seems, but he has no idea what he is nosing into. He speaks, but it's all jumbled and jagged. You never know where you will find him next.
A woman who is much younger than the rest, and a firecracker. She is sassy, mouthy, and oh-so-sweet. Her eyes are full of life. And frustration.
It's pretty quiet, overall, although there are a few people who still have electrical connections strong enough to talk, sing, joke, or yell. The firecracker introduces herself to me as I walk deep into the dining room; I've now met her at least 30 times this week. But each time, she thinks she knows me, and asks about my mother. She squeezes my hand, crushing my knuckles together.
At times I just sit in the dining room, striking up silly conversations with any or all of them. It's usually pretty comical, although I find great joy in seeing their smiles. Other times, like now, when lunch has filled their bellies, and most (if not all) of them are snoring softly, I find an empty chair, and I sit among them. I watch their faces, searching for some sign of dreams behind those eyelids. I watch them sleep, like I do my girl. Most of the time, my throat tightens, and my eyes fill.
The stories inside these bodies, these minds. The memories, the experiences, the joys. I wonder if they are dreaming of their past, when their brains worked well, their words came out how they wanted, their limbs did as they were told, and they were respected. I wonder if their lives are playing on the insides of their eyelids, like an old black-and-white movie. I briefly question whether there isn't more we could be doing for them, to keep them comfortable, feeling secure. If I sit long enough, my mind wanders to the possibility of one or both of my parents being like this one day. Or worse, my own soul being trapped within a body that has a dying brain controlling it.
It isn't long before the new resident pulls her wheelchair up to me and with a set jaw, says, "I don't think I can help you."
And she scowls.
And I apologize, grasping her warm hand, all skin and bones.
In the same sentence, she replies with a cuss word or two, and a compliment about my "beauty".
Before I can respond, she pats my knee, and turns away from me, seemingly lost in thought.
If I sit too long, I will be overcome by grief not my own.
For now, I am pulled out of it. I stand and walk to my office space, side-stepping several wheelchairs on the way. I see the wandering man holding a notebook, flipping carefully through the pages. He looks up at me when I say his name, and says, "It's all right here, for everyone to read. Don't you see it?"
I met a woman the other day, at my internship, who is in her late 80's. She picked cotton in Arkansas with her mother, starting at the teeny tiny age of 6. SIX. She remembers picking cotton and putting it in her mother's apron.
She is the first person I have met that picked cotton throughout her childhood and into adulthood.
I met a man last month, at my internship, who has lost his ears and several fingers due to diabetes. He will soon lose at least one of his legs, up to the knee. He rides an electric scooter wheelchair thingy. He honks at people as he speeds through the halls. We raced one another-I was on foot. He won. He has a wonderful sense of humor, and such a fascinating memory.
He is the first man I have met that has outlived his wife.
I am meeting such amazing people at my internship, their histories rich with love, loss, joy, and sadness. I am humbled daily, by their ability to ask for help, graciously. I am so appreciative of the things they share with me, tidbits about their children, their childhoods, their marriages, their losses. I am in awe of them.
The stories they share (and those they hold onto) are so important to all of us. They provide us with the missing pages ripped out of our history books. They can guide us in our own screwed up lives, if we just stop and listen, really listen. They can teach us things about grief, strength, motivation, love, and forgiveness-things we all could use some lessons on.
As I walk the hallways of the facility, I speak to everyone I pass. I shake with anticipation when I enter the building every morning: Who will I meet today? What will I learn? Who will share a piece of themselves with me? How will I make someone's day?
For the lady who told me about the cotton farms in Arkansas, all it took was someone taking an interest in what she had to say. She spoke more to me, in that 35 minutes, than she has in the past month. And it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with my ability to just LISTEN and take interest.
When I leave at the end of the day, I am reminded that I have so much to learn-about life, love, patience.....
Driving home the other day, I was struck by how similar these two communities are: the aging population and the blogging community. With a blog, we have so much to offer one another, just in sharing about our own lives, our own hurts, experiences, mistakes, joys. A blog post can be a gift to someone else. It can offer relief, a sense of not feeling so alone in something.
I have said many times that I blog for ME. That I pour myself out for my own sanity, my own relief, my own self-analyzation. And that's true. This space is my soul on paper, in print, carved into the tabletop of the real world. As my followers come and go, I continue writing....when it's easy, when it's hard. When the story is silly, and when it is heartwrenching and frightening. This is MY story.
At the same time, I try to keep in mind that I have readers-REAL people with REAL problems and REAL hearts and minds. I have readers who might get something out of what I put here-a sense of peace, an inspiration, an answer, a starting point for a change....or even just a laugh. And that just amazes me. Truly amazes me.
I am equally amazed when my readers inspire me, lift me up, and calm me down. You guys are a blessing. I am so thankful for this blogging community, so thankful for you, and you, and YOU.
After a quiet yet patience-taxing weekend, I am at a loss. I sit here with so much I want to write, so much I want to say, yet...
I am silent.
I'm busy and tired and short-tempered and need a break and love my internship and love my part-time job and am sick of cleaning and doing laundry and am exhausted and....
I know I have the strength to keep going. This schedule won't last forever. There will be small breaks that will re-fuel me (Like today, after I go to the drycleaners, pay bills, do schoolwork, do admin stuff for my hubby, go to the grocery store....you get the point).
What weakens me is the realization that I can't do it all; I am not a ninja, I am not made of magic. I can't play with my girl every second of every day. I can't entertain her, or keep her happy. I can't do everything when my hubby needs it, or when I want it. I can't teach my girl valuable lessons (like how to be kind to the girl who is always mean in her class). I am out of patience. I am tired and there's a dull ache behind my eyes, even now. My bed beckons me. I want to surrender to sleep, and let someone else do the hard stuff. But there is no one else.
So I ask you:
How can you teach your child to be kind and patient, when you yourself struggle with it daily?
How can you teach your child to do the right thing, to think before she acts, to keep others' feelings in mind, when you yourself are insanely frustrated that things.aren't.going.the.way.you.want?
I realize that every day doesn't need to be a lesson in living for my girl. I realize that every day won't be perfect. I realize I over-analyze things.
I am trying to learn to STOP. and BREATHE. and just BE.
But how do you just BE when you are constantly scrambling, fretting about your possible mistakes in the art of being a parent, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a student?
I woke with a start early this morning, at 3:11am, with this verse bouncing between my ears:
"Be still, and know that I am God".
I'm trying. I really am.