In The Spaces In Between

I revisit my free-writes today, as a few of you seemed to enjoy my last one, “Leaves.” Today I share a piece on endings, or sometimes the lack of, and on the choices that end up creating our own stories. I decided on this one (versus a much odder, darker one, which I promise to share next week Mish), because in Michelle’s most recent Braveheart Chronicles post, “Who Were You Before You Became You?” I commented to her:

Everything has made us who we are. Pages and chapters in our books … But we can write our future pages anyway we choose.

Additionally, congrats to Michelle who had her first Braveheart piece, “Courageous vs. Brave,” featured on My Empowered World.com. We’re all very proud of you and your courage, Michelle, way to go!

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and condolences on the loss of my little girl, Spot. It’s been a tough few weeks, but thank goodness for good friends and good music. (The “Life in 6 Songs” series has been a wonderful lift-me-up. — quick note, everyone that has indicated interest will be emailed by me, Michelle or Jennie no later than Monday. I’ll share another 6 Songs update on Monday’s post.)

***

In The Spaces In Between

We are not the sum of our final pages. Our stories are not told in our final chapters.

Image by Alegri (via) Used with CC permission.

Image by Alegri (via). Used with CC 3.0 permission.

I saw the movie Ain’t Them Bodies Saints yesterday. (Spoiler alert.) After watching, my husband said, “It was strange. Not a bad strange, just strange.”

I agreed, though I was captivated by the story. An outlaw, free and wild, is forced to change after her partner is locked up. She decides to wait for him and raises their daughter on her own. She becomes tranquil—her hair longer, her arms doting ever on a child. She is a mere shadow of the woman she once was.

In one scene, boys with a BB gun shoot at her house. She runs out, but instead of going ballistic, she says, “Gimme that,” to the boy with the gun.

She raises it. Aims. And shoots at something in the distance.

She smiles. It’s the most genuine smile we see on her face since her partner went away.

For a moment, just for a moment, she is wild and free again.

A gentle man comes to love her—a cop—and says to her, “It doesn’t matter what you did in your past. I look at you with your daughter, and all I see is good.”

Which direction will her life go? Toward the past—to wild, to free, to passion? Or forward—a continuation of her present—to good, to tranquil, to family?

She never gets to make that decision. Circumstance and the gods make it for her when they kill her partner. She can never go back to her past.

But, her future is wide open. Does she choose revenge? Does she kill herself to join her partner? Does she run away from it all to escape her past and her present? Or does she choose “good” and hope for a tranquil life of love and do-gooding, of guitars and horses and cops?

We will never know. Because this story just ended.

Some endings are tidy. They sum up everything and wrap a pretty bow around the words as a gift to those reading or observing. But most endings just are. Endings that is. We often never see them coming. There was so much left to say, to be told, to be explained.

And some endings just plain suck. They’re awful. They’re a let down. They leave you wondering why you invested a portion of your life in them, or mad that you couldn’t invest more. Your favorite character dies—worse, your favorite character is killed off. You don’t get to say good-bye.

We focus so much on that ending. On that horrible ending. On that let-down. On the questions. We forget the simple beauty of the story itself. The sun glistening in the hair, the laughter, the dances, the letters full of yearning, the declarations of undying love. We forget the details—the moments in between—and, yet, that’s where life is lived.

“It didn’t have a beginning or an ending,” my husband later realized. “It just picked-up, and it just dropped-off.”

It was a snapshot. It captured the spaces—the moments—in between.

Perhaps we focus too hard on beginnings, on endings. After all, they’re just pick-ups and drop-offs.

The good stuff—life—is lived in the spaces in between.

 

***

***

Do you like open endings? Do you prefer them tied up neat and tidy for you? If you could call up an author and talk about a book, who would you call? What book would you discuss? 

* Quick edit to add: I have not seen The Walking Dead finale. I’m sure someone dies in it, but I don’t want to know. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t mention it in the comments. If you do, I’ve asked Jennie to move your comment to pending status. ;)

Life in 6 Songs: Vol. 4 (Guap and Michael)

In six songs, tell us about your life. 

You remember that challenge from a few weeks ago, don’t you? If not, stop by and take a look, or I’ll quickly catch you up below:

Life in 6 Songs” is a new Spring (and maybe Summer) series at Running On Sober. Each Monday at RoS, Christy, Jennie and Michelle will feature two readers’ soundtracks and invite you all to join in the discussion. If you’d like to participate in the series just let us know in the comments, or you are welcome to fill out our “Life in 6 Songs” on-line submission form via Google Forms. 

The project is simple, though maybe not easy: Tell us a story–your story–in six songs. And then for fun, wrap up your life in a bonus seventh song.

A page from the “Capirola Lutebook”, 16th century. (Wiki Commons)

A page from the “Capirola Lutebook,” 16th century.
Look, it has monkeys!

Back when “Life in 6 Songs” was just another one of Christy’s crazy ideas starting to take form, I asked Guap and Michael if they would help out and participate, and they both boldly said, “yes!” and had their lists back to us faster than, well, speeding email!

Guap you may know from his blog Guapola, and Michael you may recognize from good2begoneI’m grateful to them each for agreeing to be among our first guinea pigs guests. Thank you guys, your kindness means a lot to us.

Speaking of kindness … I hope you’ll show Guap and Michael some by checking out their blogs or by saying hi in the comments.

~~~

Guap (from Guapola)

Song #1 (and tell us why briefly):

Rock The Casbah” by The Clash

Rock The Casbah, by The Clash. It’s the first real song I remember hearing, introduced to me by my sisters. I still love that song (even though I know the lyrics aren’t Shariffy donuts like this).

Song #2:

Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes

It took me a long time to get into music. But when I first heard this, I looked at my sister’s old beat up nylon string guitar in awe that such noises like that could even be made.

Song #3:

If The House Is A Rocking” by Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble

Get a bunch of somewhat deranged budding alcoholics together on a lacrosse team, and this is what you end up with.

Song #4:

Mos’ Scocious” by Dr John

All through high school and college, people would tell me “I thought you were strange when I met you. But you’re pretty cool”. This was also when I was introduced to the music of Dr John, zydeco, and Buster Poindexter.

Song #5:

Tamacun” by Rodrigo y Gabriella

I heard them and wouldn’t pick up a guitar for weeks, because I could never compare.
Then I couldn’t put it down for a month because I was trying to capture that joy.
(Spoiler alert – the joy is in a blues progression.)

Song #6:

Landfall” by Jimmy Buffett

This song could have gone almost anywhere in the list. It’s fun, it’s got a good beat, and I can dance to it.
But there’s a lyric that seems appropriate for me in my early forties. Roll up the gooddays and the bad days, the wins and the losses, the joys and the disappointment and it still fits. “If I had it all to do over again, I’d just get myself drunk and I’d jump right back in”.

Bonus Song #7 (If you could wrap up your life story in ONE SONG, or if you have a personal theme song, or even a song you want played at your funeral, what would that song be and why?):

Bright Side of the Road” by Van Morrison

It’s a fun, happy song, about someone moving from the shadows to the warm sunny- well, just read the title. There are worse ways to spend the journey. And ever since I met my girl, it’s all been the bright side of the road. So leave my funeral with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.
And go do something goofy, just because!

(Now bury me in a Hawaiian shirt. With a guitar.)

Guap’s playlist:

* Guap blogs at Guapola. He is from, New York City. (Woohoo!)

~~~

Michael (from good2begone)

Song #1: 

Hey Jude” by The Beatles

My first memory of music. When I was but a small goner, my mother used to play this song on the piano while my father sang the lyrics. Years later when my father died I heard it played on the radio on the ride to the cemetery for his funeral.

“Anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain.
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.”

This song reminds me of family…..always family.

Song #2:

Elegantly Wasted” by INXS

The theme song of my wild and misspent youth. From the early teens through my mid to late twenties. When the party never stopped.

“We run, We hide ,We wait and we want…The good life. Aw sure You’re right…This ain’t, the good life“. My ode to when I thought being the life of the party was the life for me.

Song #3:

Not an Addict” by K’s Choice

My late twenties made way for extra substances to keep the party going. Booze wasn’t enough, I needed an edge to keep up happy appearances.

I’m not an addict, it’s cool. I feel alive. If you don’t have it you’re on the other side.” Everyone knew what I was….but me. A reminder of when I dismissed the substance of life for substance of need.

Song #4:

Insanity” by Oingo Boingo 

Years of chasing the dragon led to losing my mind. Inner voices taking human form. Imagination and reality changing places.

“Here it comes just like a storm,
Bathe in it and be reborn,
Time to let the world know
Welcome madness, say hello
Like a wave we cannot see
Washing over you and me
Hiding here and hiding there
Madness hiding everywhere”

This song reminds me of the time I lost it. All that was left was my freedom, which hung in the balance.

Song #5:

One Step Ahead” by Split Enz

New town and a chance at a life without the party favors. While moving forward, I glance back at the past and see who I was.

“If I stop I could lose my head
So I’m losing you instead
Either way I’m confused
You slow me down, what can I do?
There’s one particular way I have to choose….
One step ahead of you.”

I still hear the voices of the past, they are always right behind me, telling me it wasn’t ALL bad. This song reminds me to keep moving forward while keeping in mind who I was still follows closely behind.

Song #6:

Come Talk To Me” by Peter Gabriel

A renewed interest in life brought a renewed interest in family, as in starting my own. I found the woman I wanted to continue life with.

“I did not come to steal
This all is so unreal
Can’t you show me how you feel now
Come on, come talk to me”

All I needed was time to talk to her. I was granted that time. During that time, we got to know each other and created a bond that was solidified by a silver band.

Bonus song #7:

Dream On” by Aerosmith

“Every time that I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way
Everybody’s got their dues in life to pay
Dream On
Dream until your dreams come true.”

I chose this song because it has given me chills since I was kid. Through good times and bad.

Michael’s Playlist: 

* Visit Michael at good2begone. Michael lives in Texas.

~~~

Thanks again for being among our first guests, Guap and Michael!

Who were You before You became You? (Braveheart Chronicles Vol. 2)

Every memory of looking out the back door
I had the photo album spread out on my bedroom floor
It’s hard to say it, time to say it
Goodbye, goodbye.

****

I miss that town
I miss the faces
You can’t erase
You can’t replace it
I miss it now
I can’t believe it
So hard to stay
Too hard to leave it

~Photograph by Nickelback

****

Last June, after 46 years of being a smiling face in someone else’s photo album, I had a mini-breakdown. That meltdown manifested as internal irritability, weight loss, sleep deprivation and an overwhelming desire to curl up into fetal position in order to keep my ugly insides from spilling and stinking up the place. To that, I added a lethal dose of self-loathing and fear that my unwarranted, toxic attitude would wreck my kids’ lives.

Those blues came on like thick molasses, crept into my brain like poison ivy and I did everything I could think of to ignore the blackness.  It had probably been there for years and laid dormant until it wasn’t. I attributed the depression to hormones, empty nesting, dwindling relationships and a stubborn refusal to grow old.

Instead of panicking, I did the things I do to self-heal, incite resilience and not be the victim. Running, gardening, boxing, praying and working harder so that I could feel worthy of the love and acceptance I was blessed to receive from everyone close to me. Love that I pushed away when offered.

Love I didn’t think I deserved.

After a couple of months, those efforts proved futile as I became more withdrawn, moody and mute as my insides shot darts through my thick skin and the Michelle Smile became more canned. Any chance at sanity became a choice of “giving in” and getting help or losing my soul in a really deep, dark place.

My husband was mortified when I told him (after my first appointment) that I was going to therapy. He didn’t even know that anything was wrong. His happy homemaker, the super working mom of his children who never needed sleep, had lost her tattooed smile and collapsed into a worthless slump on the floor. I don’t know if he was more upset at the puddle of mud or the fact that he couldn’t be to the one to “fix” me.

In traditional style, the counselor spent a lot of time asking about my childhood and I was  surprised by the audible gasps she would let slip from time to time. Experiences my therapist friend called trauma were the same things I chalked up to “lessons,” “life experiences” and “strengthening exercises” and I wasn’t convinced that anything “bad” had ever happened to me. Among other things, she diagnosed me with a perfection complex which I took as a compliment and then hated myself for being so prideful. It took some convincing  that I needed and “deserved” her help.

Happy and blessed people don’t need therapy. I’m just wasting her time.

Then she led me to the research of Brene’ Brown and that’s when the real healing began. I reference Ms. Brown a lot in my own blog and it’s her work that has inspired me to talk about our courageous subject today.

As part of my journey, I signed up for one of *Brene’s online art classes. I’m not even a “draws a clever stick person” type of artist but this class sounded like fun–therapy awash in watercolors! It was written and facilitated by Brene’ on the Oprah network and based on her research around Wholehearted Living.

The first week was a piece of cake. We were instructed to paint “permission slips” for things like: I give myself permission to be imperfect or I give myself permission to “be lazy” in bright, shiny paint.  Then I had to take a selfie (ugh!) with some inspiring words written on my hand and paste it in my art journal next to the permission slips.

IMG_6364

(See the pile of laundry behind my hand?!?)

 

The second assignment was titled, “Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People think.”

We (me and 1000 or so of my closest friends) had to pick two or three photos that captured our authentic self. A picture that revealed the person we were before we learned to please and exposed to environments that programmed us to be someone we weren’t.

It had a very Throw Back Thursday feel to it.

When was I not a person struggling to be perfect, hustling for worthiness and earning the love and respect of others? When was the last time I was me? When was the last time you were YOU?

Looking through the pictures put me right back into that mud puddle. The photo below hopped into my mind immediately, but the perfect-seeker kept hiding it at the bottom of the pile.

I was three, ticked off, fighting mad and not afraid to let anyone see it.

IMG_6256

I couldn’t get the blasted wagon around the corner no matter how hard I pulled and pushed and maneuvered. Mom and Dad watched as I got madder and madder. I yanked that blasted rust bucket until tears streamed down my face and fatigue dropped me to my bottom. Daddy tried to help and I firmly refused–physically pushing him away from me in a fit of anger and tears.

WHY CAN’T I GET THIS!?!

Finally, exhaustion trumped effort and I let Daddy finish the task. As young as I was, I still remember the physical release of the banging and pulling as well as the relief once my little tantrum was over and I gave in. However, that relief was soon replaced with shame as my conscientious mom lectured me on being a lady, watching my temper and learning to control myself.

It was the beginning of many times that my very young parents told me to pipe down, be quiet and act like a grown-up. I hid that quick, German-Irish temper and stashed it into shadowy places that were only revealed when too much was put into the storage closet and the doors burst open at the weight from the load. I learned to hate this little girl in the picture so I locked her in a much-deserved basement just to shut her up.

After I hid that picture under the pile (again), I reached for others and tricked Christy and Jennie into sending me theirs! I knew what I was looking for and searched for a snapshot that showed a spirit of simple joy, unawareness and unfiltered honesty. A mug shot that revealed my life force before life happened to it.

See the Narnia lamppost?

See the Narnia lamppost?

Wouldn’t it be great if our favorite pictures were unedited versions of ourselves reflective of true joy and an authentic self shining through? If we had the courage to show/post those instead of our million times hipsta-edited selfies?

I know that there’s joy and sadness in looking at old pictures of yourself. The pure joy we find in an unprompted smile framed within the absence of self-consciousness. Then the sadness when we remember times we felt less than ourselves but had to put on a mask so that no one could see the vulnerable person cowering  beneath.

Guess who??

Guess who??

How often do we forget who we are because we get so tangled up into what others think we should be? What is wrong with expressing emotion, crying in public, laughing or saying something inappropriate?

Isn’t it courageous and so much less work to let other people see us the way we know we really are? Flaws and all?

Therapy taught me to nurture my fighting, resilient spirit and I thrived in an environment of newly found authenticity and ever-present gratitude. I embraced imperfection and got better at expressing my emotions instead of letting them fester like a gross, pus-filled pimples. Once I stopped putting on the happy face, I simply started being happy–the irritability and associated shame dissipated and light trickled into crevices where there used to be sludge.

For the first time, I owned up to my hidden introversion and gave myself permission to ask for “alone time” in order to recharge. Doing so allowed me to engage with my family from a place of Joy and grace rather than from a space of displaced resentment and fatigue brought on by keeping two or three versions of the truth going at once.

Does this mean we need to spill our life story and wear hearts on our sleeves?

Not necessarily.

Privacy plays a role in authenticity, too. First of all, it’s important to recognize that not everyone has earned the right to hear and know our stories. There are certain individuals who will take your story, use it against you and set you in a darker place than where you started.  In fact, Brene’ talks about the six types of “friends” NOT to confide in here.

i've always loved puppies

Cute Chica Christy and her pooch!

I’ve learned to “be real” with everyone, but not everyone understands or believes that I am. If someone doesn’t trust my genuine kindness or accepts my unconditional compassion at face value, then they don’t really know me and I’m not going to waste my efforts in making sure that they do.

To me, authenticity comes when you set boundaries and adhere to them because they reflect your own personal beliefs, values and goals. Values and goals that are yours.

And what boundaries are we talking about here?

It could be as simple as not volunteering for every little community event because people expect you to. Joining groups, sitting in the front pew at church or heading up every committee and being everywhere until you end up being nowhere at all.

Some boundaries are more difficult. It might involve kindly, but firmly easing people out of your life who continue to be toxic and counterintuitive to the person you are. Maybe it’s a group of moms who bash you (in the sweetest voice imaginable) for what you feed your kids or how you parent. Maybe it’s a lover who wants you around when it’s convenient for him/her but makes you feel bad when you want more–deserve more. Perhaps it’s an old high school friend or even family member you’ve kept in touch with who continues to bring you down…every.damn.day.

And it’s not always a person. A job that pays the bills but drains your spirit and sucks out your insides. Maybe it’s drugs, alcohol, exercise, social media, shopping…anything that numbs you to the world and prevents people from seeing you.

It takes courage and strength to walk away from these people and situations. However, in doing so, you ultimately liberate, free and eliminate the dead weight on your soul.

I’ve often said that I’m not a trained counselor and anything I share is simply from a place of experience with the intention to help others avoid mistakes I’ve already made. But, I did stay at a Holiday Inn once, so I want to do more.

I want you to do more.

Go to your photo albums, look at a snapshot that represents an “authentic you” and answer these questions:

What do you feel when you look at her/him?

What do you like about that person?

What makes that person different than the person you are now?

What needs to happen in order to love the person you are now in order to be the authentic self you were then?

Now, feel free to paste those pictures in the comments below. Tell your story there or get in touch with me at mt_rd@hotmail.com and use this RoS/Braveheart platform to share your courageous words. I’m looking for guest writers!

I have read your talented words and you have blessed me with glimpses into your whole hearts. It’s your prose and the life stories you’ve shared that have given me a voice, too. For that, I’m forever grateful!

xo

Michelle (MamaMick)

An unedited picture of joyful me taken by my son 3 months into "being fixed."

An unedited picture of joyful me taken by my son 3 months into “being fixed.”

Special thanks to Christy and Jennie for sharing their #TBT photos (aren’t they soooo cute!!!).

*For information on Brene’ Brown’s online art class, look here.  Her second session starts in April. My markers and watercolors are poised for more!

Life in 6 Songs: Vol. 3 (Aussa and Nicole Marie)

In six songs, tell us about your life. 

You remember that challenge from last week, don’t you? If not, stop by and take a look, or I’ll quickly catch you up below:

Life in 6 Songs” is a new Spring (and maybe Summer) series at Running On Sober. Each Monday at RoS, Christy, Jennie and Michelle will feature two readers’ soundtracks and invite you all to join in the discussion. If you’d like to participate in the series just let us know in the comments, or you are welcome to fill out our “Life in 6 Songs” on-line submission form via Google Forms. 

The project is simple, though maybe not easy: Tell us a story–your story–in six songs. And then for fun, wrap up your life in a bonus seventh song.

Michelle Terry image

Back when “Life in 6 Songs” was just another one of my crazy ideas, we asked Aussa and Nicole if they would help us out and participate, and they both boldly said, “yes!”

Aussa you may know from her blog Hacker.Ninja.Hooker.Spy, and Nicole Marie you may recognize from Words and Other Things. Thank you ladies, your kindness means a lot to us and we appreciate you sharing your stories.

Speaking of kindness … I hope you’ll show Aussa and Nicole some by checking out their blogs or by saying hi in the comments.

~~~

Aussa (from Hacker.Ninja.Hooker.Spy)

Song #1 (and tell us why briefly):

What’s Up” 4 Non Blondes

10 years old: My world was boundless.  I had four older brothers and our Venezuelan nanny let us run wild through the neighborhood.  I climbed every tree, devised conspiracy theories about the neighbors, and rode my bike with the Mormon sisters from a few blocks over.

And so I wake in the morning And I step outside And I take a deep breath and I get real high And I scream at the top of my lungs What’s going on?”

Song #2  

Crush” Dave Matthews Band 

14 years old:  I was in love with a drummer in my Algebra class.  This was the point in my life where I came to understand the meaning of the word “yearn”—for people, for experiences, for life.  It was just before everything took a turn for the darker side and I was still hopelessly overestimating myself.  I believed I could do anything and be anything I wanted.

It’s crazy I’m thinking Just knowing that the world is round Here I’m dancing on the ground Am I right side up or upside down Is this real or am I dreaming”

Song #3 

Werewolf” Cocorosie

18 to 23 years old: The darkest years of my life.  College was a wilderness of disappointment and depression in which I abandoned friendships and found myself incapable of conceiving a life in which I could be happy.  I felt numb to such a degree that I sought out the worst possible ways to feel alive.

I don’t mean to close the door But for the record my heart is sore You blew through me like bullet holes Left stains on my sheets and stains on my soul”

Song #4

Breathe Me” by Sia

24 years old: I ran away.  China was about as far away as I could get, so I booked a one-way flight and embarked on a year of such intense isolation that I was destined to either lose my mind or figure everything out.  I did both.

Yeah I think that I might break I’ve lost myself again and I feel unsafe”

Song #5

“Elastic Heart” by Sia

25 years old: Oops, I guess I’ve learned nothing.  After an “escape” from life I came back and made an even bigger mess than before.  A year in another abusive relationship left me convinced there was something inherently wrong with me, that I somehow deserved what had happened and that I was the only one who could be blamed.  A guy friend kept telling me this was a lie and a teensy tiny part of me decided to believe him.

“I know that I can survive

I walked through fire to save my life

And I want it, I want my life so bad.”

 

Song #6

Shake it Out” by Florence + The Machine

26 to 27 years old/Now:  I forgave myself.  Some deep pit inside of me is now filled in with gratitude and an overwhelming desire to live with intention.  My life is my own and no one gets to dictate, mistreat, or define it.  I have recaptured that elusive feeling of hope.

I am done with my graceless heart So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart ‘Cause I like to keep my issues drawn It’s always darkest before the dawn”

If you only listen to one song or watch one video, it should be this one.  It basically says everything.

In true Spy/Ninja fashion, Aussa prefers to keep her region of residence anonymous. MuaHaHaHa (that’s the best devious laugh I could muster!)

Here is  Aussa’s playlist:

~~~

Nicole Marie (from Words and Other Things)

Song #1 

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree ” Brenda Lee

While it may only represent that one magical time of year, for me this song encompasses the whole of my childhood somewhere from age 6 to about age 9. As soon as the Christmas tree would go up, I’d throw this baby in the cassette player and gallop around the tree in circles until I had to stop for air, or another Hershey Kiss, or to pass out from all the spinning. It was a time when I was completely memorized by the holiday – the food, the Christmas specials, the lights. Attempting to sleep even an hour on Christmas Eve. All before my parents uttered those three horrid words: “Santa isn’t real.” Times were so much simpler then!

Song #2

Pieces of You ” Jewel

Around 9 or 10 I began to worship by Aunt Nancy, who often babysat me on weekends. This was during the epic grunge phases of the ‘90s (I was lucky enough to be listening to Nirvana, Hole and the like when they were actually current). I’m not sure if it was my aunt or someone else who exposed me to Jewel, but somehow I got my hands on her album Pieces of You and would play it on my CD player loud enough for the neighbors to hear as I cleaned my room. I used to sing along to “Pieces of You” hearing the words but not fully understanding or appreciating them like I do now.

“Ugly girl, ugly girl, do you hate her ‘cause she’s pieces of you?”

Just, wow. A serious, strong tune about hate and how bullying is just an ugly reflection of the bully – something I didn’t understand while I lazily folded pink sheets and arranged stuffed animals.

Song #3

Love Gun”  KISS

Somewhere around fourteen I discovered my dad’s old KISS albums and with it delved into the rock and roll scene. I was made fun of by some eighth grade peers who thought my taste in music sucked, but I didn’t mind. I rocked my dad’s hand-painted Motley Crue jean jacket every day during my freshman and sophomore years of high school, and spent most of my time listening to hair bands. “Love Gun” represents an individuality I was proud to wear as a young, awkward teenager. Even if I’ve never felt confident in my appearance, I’ve always been confident in my tastes in music.

Song #4

The Reason” Hoobastank

While there are dozens of songs I could use to describe my teenage angst (cue Britney Spears, some emo band, that other emo band), “The Reason” by Hoobastank stands out for me. I began dating my first serious boyfriend while we were tiny sophomores, and after some petty (I’m sure) argument via the internet, he sent me a link to that song and I just swooned. How romantic, eh? But really, as lame as I may think this song is now, I can still crack a little smile for my past when it comes through my radio. Then switch to another station.

Song #5

Nutshell ” Alice In Chains

When I was nineteen I developed a love for long-haired men who listened to good music, still lived with mom and smoked lots of weed. Serious catches, am I right? Aside from just being a great song, somehow “Nutshell” is the perfect depressing, grungy background music to remembering all the times I sat in someone’s basement under a black light, drinking a can of Miller Lite.

Song #6

Carry”  Tori Amos

I love me some Tori. (Isn’t she just gorgeous?) About two years ago I fell face first into a horrid depression. I’m talking can’t-get-out-of-bed, won’t eat, asleep for insane amounts of hours depression. It just walked in one day, smacked me across the face and made me its slave, until I finally managed to undo a bind or two a few months later. I’ve gone in and out of small bouts of the disease throughout my life, but this one was a doozy. Around the same time, Night of Hunters was released, and I picked it up during a sluggish afternoon when I’d forced myself out of bed to rejoin the real world for a few hours. I fell in love instantly, and listened to every beautiful tune for hours on end – I even got tickets and went to see her, and it all sounded just as amazing live. There’s something about that entire album that helped me through my darkness, and “Carry” was one of the particularly beautiful tunes.

  

Bonus Song #7

Gotye”  Save me

In choosing one song that perfectly defines me overall, it’s Gotye’s “Save Me”; it is me then, now, it is the perfect backdrop for the beautiful way in which my husband has held me when I’ve cried for a million reasons, and for no reason at all; it is my melody of depression. When I’m at my worst, that gorgeous man “helps me help myself”.

These lines get me choked up when I try to sing along:

And you gave me love
When I could not love myself
And you made me turn
From the way I saw myself
And you’re patient, love
And you help me help myself
And you save me
And you save me
Yeah you save me

I can put it on repeat for hours.

Nicole lives in “good ol’ Southern New Jersey. Key word: SOUTHERN.”

Here is Nicole Marie’s Playlist:

~~~

Thanks again for being our guests, Aussa and Nicole Marie!

Reflections on Grief: Observed (for my dog Spot)

Dear friends,

It’s been a sad and difficult week. Spot died at home on Monday, March 17; the vet came to our home and Spot went so peacefully, on the sofa, surrounded by love. It was time. Her work here was done. Today, March 21 is the third anniversary of my mom passing. She too died on a March Monday, at home, peacefully.

What follows is a lengthy anthology of grief and love. It’s long — even for me. It may be difficult to read, especially if you have lost a loved one. I understand if you’d rather not read, it’s okay, truly. But I believe so strongly in the healing power of words. I believe we find peace and healing in sharing them; I believe we find peace and understanding, even healing, in reading them.

“Suppose you are depressed and you read a poem about sadness. If your feelings overflow, if you find yourself crying, then your own sadness is reduced. You realize that others have suffered, and the communion of feeling is helpful. It is like being able to share your grief with someone else, someone who understands.” –Smiley Blanton, The Healing Power of Poetry (1960).

I did not, however, want to publish piece after piece on grief and loss. Even I know that gets old after a while. It takes what it takes though. So my week is captured here, in one post. If my words can help you, I hope they do. I know I was helped in the writing of them.

Thank you. I love you. -Christy

***

1.

Tonight I want to howl at the moon
I want to wail like a banshee
once and for all.
For all the good stolen from my life and
replaced with pain and
graveyards and
bone fragments and
tails that wag no more.

I want to scream and shout and
rage, rage, rage
against this swallowing night.
I want to bellow
why, why, why!
into the vast darkness.

Tonight I want to howl at the moon.
Tonight I want to wail.
Tonight I want.
Tonight I want.
Tonight I want.
Tonight I . . .

3/8/14

***

2.

The hurt continues.
It will never go away.
I am a wild animal in the woods
My leg caught in a vicious snare of
agony.
I howl and I wail.
My soul slams against walls
banging its head over and over again
wrought with pain.

My life is defined by loss.

My dog is dying.
I see it in her eyes.
Her days are numbered.
Aren’t ours all?

I choose this pain.
I choose this pain.
My pain is a choice.
The alternative is to drink, to numb.
I choose this pain.

I’ll take this pain over his.
I’ll be a fucking martyr in my head.
I choose this pain.

3/9/14

***

3.

Death rolled up in a white Explorer
followed closely by a black Avalanche.
She was a full hour early.

Death knocked at the door
not accepting the quiet of our response
for a “nobody’s home” or a
“not today, Death, not today.”

No, Death was persistent today.
She walked around the side of the house to the backyard
“There they are.”
As my baby wagged.

The white dog woofed in surprise
but my spotted girl wagged in glee
and ran up to Death,
wiggling and happily saying,
“There You are, I’ve been waiting for you.”

We all walk inside
Death, her aide, us
white dog
spotted girl
All through the same door

“Where?” Death asked.
Spotted girl jumped onto the sofa in response.

Death sat on the coffee table–
as I have done so many times before
and stroked my girl gently.
“Oh yeah, she’s ready.
She’s so ready,” said Death,
Not cruelly or darkly or maliciously
but lovingly.

One shot in the front leg.
“She should be hearing Jimi Hendrix soon,”
(excuse me, while I kiss the sky)
Death said, about the narcotic shot.

Between Death and her aide
I kneeled on the floor
as my girl and I looked in each other’s eyes
and sent each other prayers of gratitude and love
(there are a million ways to pray and kiss the ground)

Thank you, thank you, thank you
I love you, I love you, I love you
Thank you, thank you, thank you
I love you, I love you, I love you

the second shot

Thank you
I love you

A life departed,
gently, quietly
following the spark already gone.

No rage
she left that to me.
She fought so long
without anger or violence
She raged with gratitude
and love
and grace.

I wonder what Jimi was singing to her
or if he was just strumming on a weeping guitar.
Jimi Hendrix, an angel for death,
playing his Pied Piper guitar.

“Fly on my sweet angel,
Fly on through the sky…”

The sun is shining
And the wind blows gently
the final whispers of winter

“Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past?”

And the wind whispers and cries and screams.

We stand at the door and watch
Death roll on down the driveway
with our baby girl.

The white Explorer follows the black Avalanche
A mini funeral procession
as the cows and donkeys graze
bending their heads in prayer.
As the white dog watches stoically from the window.
As I feel myself sinking slowly
to my knees again
in angst and gratitude

Thank you. I love you.

For life’s stolen moments
For death, cheated again and again.
For mercy and peace and the ultimate persistence of
Explorers and Avalanches.

The quality of mercy.

Thank you. I love you.

Death knows this.
I saw no joy, no elation, in Death’s eyes.
Only tears.
“It’s time, it’s time.”

Death is a god, ’tis true, but maybe not the only god.
She holds the answers
in her plastic Ziploc
With Jimi Hendrix beckoning drugs
and white cotton balls and alcohol.

The gravel crunches.
The gate swings open.
The gate swings shut.
The caravan makes its way.

“And the caravan is on it’s way
I can hear the merry gypsies play
La, la, la, la…”

This is the natural progression of things.
This is the timeless order of the universe.

Death arrives in white.
Life leaves in black.
Or in a blue mini-van.
Or a big yellow taxi.

This is the way of the world.
The wind cries.
This is the way of the world.

***

4.

Grief is like playing Statues.
You move throughout your day
Until grief yells, “Freeze!”
And you find yourself staring blankly at the carpet
the dirty window
the half-filled coffee pot.
At chunks of time –
lost now –
never coming back.
Lost.
Like your love.

You think beforehand that there’s no way you will get through something like this.
No way you will survive.
But then it happens.
And you do.
And you feel queasy. Nauseous even, that part of you is glad it happened
how and when it did.
You survive.
But your love does not.

***

5.

“Not today.
Not today, Death,” you say to me
over and over again.
I indulge you,
for, contrary to what you may have heard about me,
I am kind.
I am merciful.
Unlike Some.

“Not today,” you say
and I oblige.
I know what will happen.
I know one day, you will call me.
And you will say,
“Today.
Please.
Come today.”

And because I am kind
and merciful,

I will oblige

today.

And you will thank me.

***

6.

And what now?

(as I scold the cat to stop eating the mail
to get off the kitchen counter)

And what now?

(as my husband asks where I put the new phone book.
Under the counter, in the laundry room.
On the right.)

And what now?

(as the heater kicks on
and the clock ticks tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock
and I see my now cold cup of chai tea
sitting forgotten at the coffee machine.)

And what now, life?
What now?

(“The vet came here,” says his voice to someone else.
“Oh, she could walk, but she couldn’t breathe.
Eight.
Yeah, it is pretty young.
Yeah. Yeah.

It’s what we had to do.

She’ll eventually get better.”)

Yeah.
Yeah.
And what now?

***

7.

She loved to sneak into the cat’s room and eat cat food.
She knew it was wrong, but couldn’t help herself.
I knew that feeling, that compulsion,
I never got mad.
She thought she was a cat.

She was only half cat,
so she only got half the lives.
What? Four? Maybe five?
No matter.
Enough to make a difference.
Enough to matter.

***

8.

Thursday, she was knocking on Death’s door.
Monday, Death knocked on ours.

Friday was a good day though.
Swelling down. Energy up.
She even chased a squirrel
running fast and furious
as only dogs chasing squirrels can run.

Saturday was good.
Even less swelling.
We walked to the mail box – twice even –
and fed the cows,
the crunchy corn of cattle cubes – her favorite treat.
Less energy, but hungry, for chicken and snacks and love.

Sunday I could tell the light was going. I had hoped she was fatigued from the chemo working so hard.
No mail box walk – too cold and windy – but she sat on the back porch, in a sun spot, while I walked on the treadmill.
After I walked, I came to her side and laid down on the floor beside her.
I looked to the yard to see from her view.

Birds and branches and puffy white clouds against an expansive blue sky.

We laid side by side like that
savoring the view
savoring the company.

((my heart hurts))

A friend did Reiki on her Sunday afternoon.
Said she was not in pain.
Said she was just tired, so tired.
Said many hands were holding her.
Said to keep water nearby.

((I moved a water bowl to the living room, and she drank sips out of my open hands.
Taking water, giving kisses, at the same time.
Her soft little tongue felt warm against my opened hands.))

She fed cows and ate cubes and
Sunday night she ate chicken off a fork and from my fingers

Monday she greeted me with labored breathing.
Gurgly like fluid had built up in her lungs or had caught in her throat.
Her tail wagged to see me, her person!, and she went to the sofa
and I sat on the floor and petted her
her eyes looking at me, but mostly not.

Her throat swollen to a softball
overnight. So fast! So furious!
Like only relapsed lymphoma can.
Like only relapses can –
speeding down a dead-end road.

And I knew, as did she, that we had come to the end of the line.
The end of this line, anyway.
There will be other lines for her now,
of this I am sure.

I asked her to send me a sign. To come back and see me when she could.
What could her sign be?
Chickens? Birds? Bacon?
I said she would think of something, and I would know it.
I would know it was her.

Less than an hour after she had gone
a cattle cube
a piece, not full, a piece, like she would eat
found on the back of the feeding cart, beside the buckets
Where no fragment had been the night before.

She thought of something
and I knew it was her.

So sad. But so grateful for her short purposeful loving life. She was the most determined spirit I’ve ever met.
She never quit.
She would put her head down – eyes up – like a soldier
and carry on.
Like a solider of love.

And she was so smart. Soulful. Her head would tilt when you talked to her, and she would listen.
Truly listen.
And every morning she would sit beside me and help me eat breakfast — Belvita cookies – even when I was not hungry.
Even during chemo when she would eat nothing else, she would eat Belvita – blueberry – with me.
A bite for me, a bite for her.
She loved me so much, and I loved her.

Outside in the Monday morning sun, standing with my girl
before the white Explorer arrived
early
I said this is a beautiful beautiful day.
And it was.
The sun shined on her back – her hair glossy and smooth and warmed from the sunlight
and I sang to her …

“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful Girl
Darling, darling, darling, darling Spot.”

Full of mischief and determination
and spunk and sass
and tail wags and frenzied kisses
and the sweetest Buddha belly ever.

Her name was Spot.
And she was my beautiful beautiful beautiful baby girl.
And I miss her terribly.

“Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old — or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.” –Mary Oliver, Dog Songs

***

9.

I often wonder what C.S. Lewis meant by “a grief observed.” He wrote all about it, I guess I could re-read it.
It’s been a while.
But I know my grief-addled brain would simply look at words, without comprehension.

I look in the mirror, today, at 10:40 pm.
12 hours since my Spot died.

And I understand.

Grief is a puffy face.
Red cheeks that sting when touched
A nose that perpetually drips.
Dried tears and salt stains on my cheeks.
Eyes, red and weary
Dark circles that look like black eyes
to match the red, slapped cheeks.
The corners of my mouth try, but fail to rise.
My eyes, so tired, yet won’t close.

I move – no, I shuffle – room to room.
Either staring blankly at walls or mirrors
or putting up dishes, microwaving food I won’t eat, or some other programmable, robotic, rote action.

The house still and quiet as I listen
for a snore that doesn’t come.

3/17/14

***

10.

Dear Mom,

What are they doing in heaven today?

Please pet my little girl for me.
She likes bacon, but she likes chicken more–
chicken baked all day in the crockpot, so tender you can cut it with a fork,
and chicken jerky too
(but not the kind from China)
and blueberry Belvita — broken into little tiny bites.
And she likes when you sing to her
and will sometimes join in.

Please kiss my girl for me.
Thank you.
I love you.

-Christy

3/18/14

***

11.

It’s a process.
A new beginning
Each morning waking,
rising into this new world
this dystopian barren landscape.

A world where I am a daughter
without her mother.
A mother
without her little girl.

I hunger for what I can never have.
I will never be quenched.
I will never be satiated.

3/19/14

***

12.

The white dog and I shuffle step down the long gravel driveway to the mailbox.
The south winds and the Spring sunshine doing their best to snap me from my sleepwalk.
It almost works except as we turn to head back I absent-mindedly say,
“Okay, Spot, let’s head back.”
The white dog looks at me with a look that is part surprise, part hurt feelings.
“I’m sorry, I said the wrong name.”
She decides to forgive me and stops to smell a patch of grass where she and her sister had often peed.
I think, well maybe she is here. Just act like she is.

“C’mon Spot girl,” I whisper to the empty space beside me.
“You’re doing good little girl.”

The words echo in my mind
as if it were not I who spoke, but
as if whispered to me from beyond.
And I think of my mom,
leaning down and petting my hair,
“You’re doing good, little girl.
You’re almost there.”

I tuck my head down,
ignore the ache in my chest,
and trudge forward.

3/20/14

***

13.

And still.
This “new” normal feels alien,
like a foreign parasite.
A virus trying to invade,
my host body rejecting and refusing.
This new skin suit of leather,
hard, crisp, unyielding.
Chafing, blistering, uncomfortable.
Like new shoes.
“They’ll break in,” they promise. “They’ll fit.
Wet them.
Let them mold to you.”

I am running out of tears.

3/21/14

***

14.

“I haven’t told Jan yet.
I don’t know if I should text her or just wait for her to get here.”

How would you want to be told if you were Jan, he asks.

“I don’t know.”

A text seems so short.
“Just wntd to let u know. We put Spot down. K, thx. CU.”

No, if I had my preference, I would want to read …
I would want a poem …

something long, something I could digest and process
something I could cry with or maybe even smile.
something I could turn back to time and time again.
something I could hold on to and know I was not alone in my grief.
something I could pull up to my chin, like a crushed red velvet blanket, and look out the window, to the heavens and the trees, and feel

“Death is just so full, and man, so small.”

That’s how I would want to be told.

In a poem.

“You know, this feels devastating to us, but, you know, others …”
his words hang in the air,
“They won’t feel the same,” he says.

I want to say that yes, they will. They loved her too.

I just have to open.
I just have to unfold.
I just have to write them a poem.

Instead I say, “We’re closer to it.”
And he says, “yes.”
And I don’t hear him
because I am already writing the poem in my head.

I am writing something I can turn back to, time and time again.
I am writing something I can hold on to.
I am writing something so I can remember.
I am writing you …
no, I am writing myself …
a poem
for her.

3/21/14 – World Poetry Day.

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” –Emily Dickinson, The Letters of Emily Dickinson.

***

15.

And this is what grief looks like.
As I look at my reflection in the mirror.
This is what grief looks like.
As I look at framed photos on the wall —
gone, and gone, and gone, and gone, and gone, and gone, and gone.
This is what grief looks like.
As I write words that flow from pits of despair and dark corners and sleepless nights.
This is what grief looks like.
As I look at photos of my girl.
This is what grief looks like.

As I look at the last photo of us together.
This.
This is what love looks like.

Spot 2/11/06 - 3/17/14

Spot
2/11/06 – 3/17/14

***

16.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

***

17.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

***

Full playlist of referenced songs HERE.

***

For a special tribute to our lost dogs, don’t miss Words for the Weekend tomorrow, March 22. This is the post link; though it won’t go live until 8:00 am central on Saturday.

~~~