Ascendant

Full MoonWomanRisingFromTheOcean

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
~Lao Tzu

After months of grueling mourning, after months of anger and pain and sadness, after months of struggle and heartbreak and endless loneliness…I cobbled myself together, went back to school, picked up a paintbrush.

After weeks of sleep deprivation and juggling of school and work and assignments and artwork, of nary a moment to myself to just breathe, I slid sideways into Spring Break and inhaled deeply.

And in the midst of all of this, all this fuss and bother and rushing here and there, when I finally came to a moment to breathe, I found a new woman waiting there for me. A bolder, stronger version; broken but whole, the cracks welded together with gold and silver. Still hurting, but my star is rising; I have become ascendant. I am finally rising above Dustin’s loss.

I still miss him, his warmth in the dark. I miss his insights and his sense of humor, his kindness.

I don’t miss his love, because I never lost it. And the strength and courage born of the love we shared has given me everything I needed to not only survive, but relearn how to thrive.

I have opened two online stores recently to sell my artwork, I am doing well in both my classes, I am eating better and losing weight. I found myself taken by surprise when someone asked me for a coffee date. A just-getting-to-know-you, pressure-free thing. And when I didn’t immediately shoot the idea down, I realized that somewhere in all my busyness, I had come a very long way indeed. So I accepted, all bewildered at myself.

I am not to the point where I can deal with things like expectations or hope for more. I am going and I will be open-minded, and those two things are so monumental that they’re more than enough.

This life is enough.

 

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The Sins of the Father

Dustin stood in the middle of my bedroom, shaking. Sure, there had been an unpleasant incident with my father a minute ago, but that had been directed at me, not him, and I was confused as to why he was upset. I was not only used to it by now, but I gave as good as I got.
“You told me once your dad was kind of a prick, but I didn’t really get it until now. No one should speak to you that way.”
He was angry – angry that someone would be disrespectful to me, and he resolved then and there that he was going to get me out of that situation, no matter what the cost.

It cost us everything, as it turned out.

I should have written this post last night, when the anger and the disappointment were still fresh, but I didn’t, and had nightmares all night instead. Okay, lesson learned.

I was laid off from my job in 2009, while I was still involved with Neal. As I struggled to find work, Neal continually ran me down until I could hardly function. My savings dwindled, then ran out as Congress played chicken with my unemployment benefits. Eventually, the twin realities of being unemployed and trying to unload an abusive boyfriend who would not leave me alone drove me to give up my apartment and leave the city I loved so much. I went back to my parents’, to try to rebuild my life.

I finally got a job a few months later, and although I have a great employer, my job doesn’t pay a living wage. Subtract the money I give my parents to help them make ends meet and the money I spend on the bills left over from being unemployed for nearly two full years, I don’t have much left over, and it tends to go into my gas tank. Then my car blew up, and life is life, and I’m still here. Unhappily.

Of course I’m not happy with it. I’m too old for this, but I am working to make a better life for myself, to make a living wage. And that’s partly where the rub comes in. My mom works full-time, but my dad is essentially unemployed. He does odd jobs and restoration projects, but it isn’t steady or reliable. Between work and school, I am out of the house more than both my parents combined.

My life is difficult. I am perpetually sleep-deprived and studying constantly, trying to find a moment here and there to create the art that helps keep me going in the first place. I don’t have the time or the money to even hang out with friends back in the city I left. I am a good student and I am doing well so far, but I’m still stressed, and all of this is encompassed by the loss of the one person who would have understood.

Dustin was always loving and supportive. A champion cheerleader, he would always tell me how proud he was of me. So when I come home tired and cold and wrung out, I look for the arms that would have made everything better, reminded me that this is all worth it. I look for the chest to rest my aching head upon, I listen for the words of encouragement, the offers of help and support. I look, I listen, but there’s nothing to see, nothing to hear.

I have cheerleaders among my friends and Inspire Art who are beautifully and enthusiastically supportive. I get notes and messages of encouragement, and they help keep me going. But here…there is very little of that.

My mom is supportive as she can be, considering. She is not emotionally expressive and never was, but she asks how my classes are going, how my grades look. She doesn’t ask me how I’m holding up, however. And Dad…well. Dad just does not care. It doesn’t benefit him in any way, so he got off the Give-A-Shit Bus.

I missed my first class Monday morning due to an alarm clock mishap. I was still going to be able to make my second class and my lab, but that first class wasn’t going to happen. My dad’s response? He called me a ‘fuck-up.’ Pot and kettle, Dad, pot and kettle.

These last few days have been constant grousing about the things around the house I haven’t been able to keep up with thanks to my crazy schedule. I don’t feel bad or guilty about it-I don’t waste time feeling guilty for things I don’t deserve to feel guilty for. What I do feel is angry that he’s being so selfish and insensitive.

I don’t know why it still comes as a surprise. He’s always been this way. Always. He isn’t suddenly going to wake up one day and realize he’s been a jackass for well over 30 years and change his ways. He isn’t going to suddenly understand why it takes me so long to find a Father’s Day card that doesn’t praise him for being the good father he never was. In fact, his selfishness and anger drove me to move to Michigan in 2000, which frankly was not the wisest choice I’d ever made. He had come home drunk, and came over to where I was doing the dishes and poked me rudely in the arm.

“Everyone in this house hates me, and it’s all your fault,” he said.

I moved two months later.

I don’t seek his approval anymore; I really don’t value his opinion. It’s probably much too late for him to become a good father or to ever really repair this relationship. What I really want from him now is to at least get out of the way, because I don’t need any more obstacles. What I really want is Dustin back, to hold me and tell me it’s going to be okay.

As for Dad, he can wash his own damn dishes.

Words Support Like Bone

There in the midst of it, so alive and alone,
Words support like bone.
“Mercy Street” Peter Gabriel

I work in a medical lab in St Louis. As one of the larger labs in the area, we have dozens of employees, mostly women for some reason, all ages and races, sexual orientation and relationship types. And we’ve taken a beating this year.

The first was a young mother of two who was part of my peer interview when I was going through the hiring process here. She’s a beautiful woman in physical appearance alone, but what really made her shine is a vivacious happiness that glowed from her. Her eyes danced over everything she looked at, and I never heard her utter a harsh word, or get snappy or short with anyone. This was a woman who had everything she ever wanted: a happy home life, a career she enjoyed, and if that wasn’t the case, we didn’t know it because she was apparently determined to make the best of it.

Then, two weeks before Dustin died, we got word her husband had been killed in a car accident one morning.

When she came back to work a week and a half later, she was a different person. Everything about her now felt blank and flat; even her hair didn’t have the bounce and liveliness it had once had. Gone was that vital spark, gone was her ready smile and infectious laugh. What replaced it was a hollowness to her eyes, a distance in her gaze, that drove home the point Nietchze had been trying to make about staring into the abyss. Every time I looked at her, I could see hell staring back at me. This was a woman still upright and moving by the sheer force of her will and the dependence of two young souls at home who needed her, but a part of her wasn’t going to come back.

Within days, I saw the same hollowness in my own face, the same distance in my own eyes, my own hell staring back at me in my mirror. I was reflecting that abyss, now, for everyone to see, and I noticed how many people suddenly stopped meeting my eyes, even the ones who didn’t know exactly what had happened to me. My own appearance changed; I still wore makeup, but only the bare minimum. I stopped wearing eyeshadow. I stopped styling my hair. Even now, I still don’t bother.

And the losses kept piling up. A month later, another woman lost her sister. Another lost her mother. Then last weekend, someone I’m close to here lost her young cousin in an accident, and another lost her son to suicide.

Even the halls feel haunted now. Voices are quieter, steps are slower. So many people here have been staring into hell we may as well set up a viewing balcony and a snack bar. I don’t even know how to comprehend the scope of the losses that keep piling up here and I don’t know if I should even try. My own emotions are still raw, and once you’ve been marked my grief, it is devastatingly easy to see someone else’s mark. While it would be logical to assume we’re somehow banding together to support each other through our respective losses, we aren’t, and I, for one, don’t want to.

It’s not callousness or selfishness that makes me say that, but introversion. Sitting down in a support group-type session would not be cathartic or helpful to me, but nerve-wracking and exhausting. I can’t contemplate sitting down with strangers and acquaintances-or even friends-and opening up that way.

That may sound hypocritical in the context of a very public blog, but in reality this is the perfect outlet for someone like me. I can be as brutally honest and open as my situation demands, but the distance of the internet provides a buffer. I have time and space to chase the words I write, their rhythm and grace.

Some days, some nights, the words flow like water, using my hands and eyes as a mere conduit. Sometimes I don’t know the person who writes these words, who feels this emotion. Sometimes I read and reread a post a dozen times, knowing I felt it, knowing I’m still living it, but the words feel unfamiliar. This happened to me. This is my story. And on this scaffolding of word and rhythm and nuance, written by someone moving so deeply within me that I have only the vaguest grasp of her, I am trying to rebuild myself, my heart, my life. And every time I sit down at a keyboard, I do my best to get out of her way and let her speak. I hear her driving home in the dark, I hear her echoing in my mind when I wake, I feel her tides in the quiet spaces. Somewhere in that half-lit dreamtime, that part of me is waiting for the rest of me to reunite, to become whole again, instead subsisting on fleeting glimpses and the fading feeling of warmth.

So this space and these words are my meditation, this is my road within. This is Home.

Jerry U Untitled Hands Holding Water 2003 @ Jerry Uelsmann