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When I was a kid there was a portrait collage on the wall of my grandparent’s home. My grandfather lost most of his brothers to war, and they spent many meals with us in stories from his childhood. These are the uncles I never got to meet, but men I felt connected to through my grandfather’s words. Who he never mentioned was the brother who survived in body but lost his mind, but I knew the story, and it haunted me for a long time.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m on an Honor Flight with a man named Georgie who spends three hours telling me about his life experiences. I’m in awe and humbled that of all the things he could be doing, he’s talking to me. He tells me about the loves of his life, of his kids, his jobs vacations and friends he’s lost. He talks little of war or service until we’re less than an hour out, but when he does his words are powerful. He speaks to me of honor and compassion. He speaks to me of the decades he’s spent watching strong men eventually defeat themselves. In the end he tells me to remember those whose sacrifice has been forgotten, and I think of that forgotten brother on my grandparents’ wall.
In my life I have known so many of those “forgotten brothers”, and I have felt the loss of each and every one of them. Yes, there were friends and family members who never came home, but there were also those who did only to kill themselves shortly afterwards, to never quite find a way to grasp life again, to lose everything to one addiction or another. Then there was love I didn’t know how to handle, a decision I couldn’t make, and my future forever changed by the loss of my own “forgotten brother”.
So, this morning I took a walk through the part of my past I don’t generally see these days. It’s not that I avoid it, but it’s become a part of a life that doesn’t even seem like mine anymore, so I let it quietly lurk in the background of my memories. But today I took a walk, and the images became vivid enough to touch. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in a dark place, or maybe it’s fresh loss. Maybe it’s just life’s way of reminding me where I’ve been in my life and why I keep moving forward, that these moments in time, and yes, these people, are still very much a part of me and each and every one of them is fighting for me.
I don’t tell his story often, and it’s not one I’m prepared to tell today, but today I honor him and all the forgotten brothers and sisters.
Go now, reflect and remember.
It was June, 2001, and it was the first time I had ever felt strong, independent, and capable. Not that my family hadn’t encouraged me to explore my personality. For the better part of seventeen years they had patiently supported my every weird, geeky, alternative, freakish whim, at least the ones I felt comfortable enough to speak about. Here, though, in downtown Nashville, was the first time I was given the reigns of those whims, and I was using it to wander aimlessly. My clothes were way too black and way too hot for June in Tennessee. My self-confidence was an illusion, and my body image issues had no concern for the fact that I might die of heat stroke if I ventured out of my comfort zone of body cloaking drapes. I was, to sum it up, awkward.
I’ve told the story of what came next a few times. I met a boy and his tribe. I made friends with a group of Rainbow Gathering kids and street gypsies, and the experience changed my life and how I would choose to live and love for the rest of it. I would find the courage to follow my heart.
Don’t worry, I’m not telling that story again; I’m honouring the woman who made it possible.
Mrs Judith Flannery. Mrs Flannery throughout my high school career. Judy thereafter.
Mrs Flannery was my college counselor, and her presence lit up Holy Names High School like a Christmas tree. She was always smiling, always encouraging, and always finding new ways to inspire the swarms of girls that filled the halls of the nook of a school perched in the Oakland Hills. To our class in particular, she was the embodiment of Spirit, and even on my darkest days I couldn’t help but smile when she spoke to me.
My senior year a close friend and I convinced Mrs Flannery to agree to be the voice of reason and eyes of supervision on a trip to a week-long country music festival in Nashville. To our astonishment, she agreed. Not only did she agree, but she got excited! It was settled. We got our parental permission and made our plans, and a week after graduation we boarded a plane to Nashville.
I was slightly startled when Mrs Flannery suggested that first day that we each explore for a while in whatever way we wished before meeting for dinner. This was how “adults” took vacation, and I had never been an “adult” on a vacation. Where would I go? What would I do?
Then it dawned on me. Anything I wanted.
The introvert in me smiled to herself. The latent explorer in me leapt with joy. We were free!
At dinner I told Judy about my encounter with the cute street kid selling hot dogs in the parking lot, fully expecting a lecture or tighter reins. Instead, her response was, “Well, why don’t you go? You have a room key. Just call me if you’re not going to be there when I wake up.”
Really? I had never been trusted not to get myself killed in my life! In retrospect, I may not have been proving that by following a group of strangers around Nashville at all hours of the night, but I returned unscathed each and every time, so Judy continued to encourage my little tryst in Music City. She even looked the other way when they snuck into one of the concerts we attended. They were charming. Even Judy was enchanted, or at least tolerant enough to act like it.
The day we left Nashville I trekked downtown alone to say my goodbyes. The trip home was quiet and bittersweet, and even I had no idea what I was carrying back with me that day. A sense of purpose. A sense of self. A confidence. An awakened heart and spirit. Judy didn’t need to. She never asked. She simply sat next to me at the airport and hugged me for as long as it took for me not to feel lost. As she had done for the previous 4 years, she made everything seem like something I would not only survive, but really live through.
We kept in sporadic touch over the years. Facebook can be a blessing that way. I was always happy to tell Judy how my life was going, and she always had some words of support or wisdom and a bright, cheery story to tell me. I know things weren’t always sunshine and flower in Judy’s world, but you would never know it. It was inspiring.
I write this today because the friend with whom I took that trip informed me last week that Judy had passed away.
Before I could message back, she added, “the first thing I thought about was our trip to Nashville”.
I was touched with an unexpected sadness, but overwhelmed by the feeling of how blessed I was to have known Judy and how grateful I am that she was a part of my life. Without her, who knows how I would have been introduced to my soul.
Thank you, Judy. From the bottom of my inspired, free, open heart.
Not long after I broke my arm last year I got a text from someone I’d started talking to when I met the Vanishing Act. Between the boredom and the Dilauded, we struck up a pretty good conversation, and eventually agreed to meet. I was still a little hesitant and hurt, so we took it slow, but he was so enthusiastic that I let myself get comfortable.
On our first date he wore a bow tie, not for me, but because he wore one every Friday. He was adorable, he was funny, and he was candid. I felt immediately comfortable, and even after our date ended up just being dinner and a walk around the mall, I enjoyed being with him. He brought me home, waited for Hubby, and the two of them hit it off like old friends. That night I did something I never do. I made a move and kissed him first. It surprised us both, but he talked about it for a week. Our second date was equally as relaxed. We went on a hike, had lunch by a pond, and took a nap in each other’s arms.
Through it all we talked and shared our mutual geekery, but after our third date or so something changed. When he talked he sounded worried that I’d leave. I tried to assure him I would not. All I asked for is the same thing I always ask for, honesty. I promised him the same. Even so, our meetings got farther apart. Then our communication got spotty, so I did what I always do, I tried to talk to him about it.
What I got from the conversation was his refusal to give me any priority in his life. None. I don’t consider myself an extremely needy girl, but once in a while I like to know I rank higher than a TV show. I had known he was a bit self-centered, and I had accepted that, but was I asking too much. Of course I convinced myself that I was. I apologized and asked him to make an effort, sure if I voiced my needs again that he would disappear on me. He even appeared to have taken it to heart. I got one really good date after that where I almost felt like I could tell him I had started to love him. I didn’t. Something inside me said not to. Something inside me knew I was trying to justify behaviour that I wouldn’t have accepted from anyone, that one night didn’t make everything right.
I grappled with this for a month while I was on a trip to Boston. During that trip he called me, we texted, and things seemed to be heading in the right direction. He even said he missed me once, and the part of me that needed to believe it acted like he’d written it in the sky above my head. We made plans to spend a day together when I got home, and I felt like it was going to be the beginning of something new.
When that day came I waited patiently for him to let me know he was on his way, but he never did. When I finally heard from him he told me he’d spent the day with his ex-girlfriend. In the texts that followed I tried to explain to him that I was more upset about not even getting a phone call than about getting blown off. He told me how much he loved her, that an opportunity had come up, and turned my words around to make me look ugly and vindictive after I tried to tell him how I felt about him. He never realized I’d told him I loved him twice, because he turned it around every time to make the conversation about himself.
It was at that moment that I realized that he was right, I would never warrant a place of any priority in his life. I had given him the power to step on me. I had held on to something that looked good on paper to the detriment of my own needs and desires. I had let him make me feel fat every time he called himself a “chubby chaser” to my face. I had let him make me feel stupid every time he reminded me of his IQ. I had let him make me feel inferior by accepting a relationship where he was unwilling to give me a place in his life by allowing him to change plans when something better came up and accepting the excuse that too many other girls had taken him for granted.
The lesson I learned from James was to have some cojones. I know what I want. I know what I need. What I didn’t know is how important it is for me to be able to stand up and either make those things happen or find somewhere where they can. No, it wasn’t his obligation to make me a space in his life if it’s not what felt right, but it also wasn’t mine to stand around and accept that he was the best I would get. After that text conversation where I couldn’t even convince him that the decent thing would have been to call me to let me know he wasn’t coming over, we never spoke again. I left that with no closure, feeling unsure about myself or how I handled new relationships. It would be four months before I’d even let myself think about a date with someone new, even longer before I could accept a compliment without steeling myself inside for the backhanded insult.
I know now that this was a test to see how far I had come from the debilitating lack of self-esteem I had developed as a child. I thought I had accepted my body and my personality as beautiful parts of my self, but I had only gotten really good at tolerating it. This was the step I needed to really let it all go, and once I realized how much I had let this kid inside my head, how I had let him crush my spirit, and how little he deserved that power I was able to begin rebuilding the damage that had begun with the Vanishing Act.
No, I haven’t changed. I’ve just stopped letting anyone else decide who I get to be.
Go now, be yourself. You’re all you’ve got.
I’ve written about the Vanishing Act a few times, and even a little about the lessons that experience taught me, but a year and a half later I still find him teaching me things about myself. His name was Tim, and at first I didn’t want to let him in. There was enough travelling distance in the wrong direction to make seeing each other an issue, and I could tell right off the bat that he had more walls up than I had the energy to scale. I was on a temp assignment in New York when we met. At first he was a way to pass the time, but one day he called me, and I answered. I’m not a phone talker for many reasons, so the fact that I felt as comfortable as I did on the phone with him surprised me.
Over the course of a few months we took it slow, but we were both extremely open with one another. We had a couple conversations where he voiced concerns about being hurt, but he was on board with the poly thing, and he and Hubby got along. He told me once that I was a little intense sometimes and that it caused the flight risk in him to perk up, so I altered my behaviour and agreed to let him set our pace. Things seemed to be going extremely well. When we finally spent time together the connection was stronger than both of us had imagined, but we still seemed to be on the right track. I wanted him to kiss me, but he was sick. Definitely next time, he said. There wasn’t a next time. There wasn’t even a goodbye. He just stopped answering texts in the middle of a conversation about macaroni and cheese.
I drove myself crazy for weeks, then months. My worst fear was that something had happened to him. There had been no indication that he was about to rabbit, but I prayed every day that he’d at least send me an email or a text, even if it just read, “I hate you. Never call me again”. I just needed to know he was alive, but a year and a half later I have nothing to go on. I still have no idea what happened or why he suddenly fell out of existence in my life.
Even before he vanished, Tim taught be to stop pretending, to stop accepting relationships that only looked like love on the surface. Before him I had let myself go through the surface romance of a relationship, but the meat was never there. It was safer that way. I got to have my warm fuzzy feeling and not risk too much disappointment when it ended. My sudden powerful love for Tim and the way I opened up to him without even noticing it showed me what I could have if I let myself, and it caught me off guard. Tim taught me what I was capable of, what I wanted from a relationship, and how to open up to someone new. While the end result was debilitating for a while, what I got from my short experience with Tim was invaluable.
What did I learn from all of this after the fact? I learned how to be heartbroken like an adult. I learned how to process my sadness and pain while contributing to a functioning relationship, how to not take my frustration out on Hubby, and how to not close myself off to everyone. I also learned how to not feed the mudslinging demons. Everyone I spoke to told me what a jerk he was, to let him go as no good, and how the whole thing was probably a lie. While I had to accept that those possibilities existed, what good would it have done to hate him behind his back? I choose to remember Tim as a good memory instead of as someone malicious. I choose to believe that he’s a good person no matter what the circumstances were. I’m not blind or naive, but holding grudges hurts no one but myself, so why even go down that road? I feel free knowing that I never spoke poorly about Tim. For all I know he deserves it, but for all I know he doesn’t, and that makes all the difference.
Let me tell you about the day my ethics and intuition were tested.
Let me start off by telling you that I have nothing against sex workers, I believe there’s no crime in a woman doing what she wants with her body, but at 19 years old I was ill-equipped for any of this. After my rape I went through a lot of different theories about sex. In many cases I either ignored it or I hunted it down with little to no grey area, and little to no standards for who or what I let have access to my body. I went through more bad decisions in the span of a few months than I can remember, and I can only imagine what a miracle it is that I’m still alive and healthy. What brought it all to a screeching halt was John.
I met John on the internet. I know, you’re all shocked. I was broke and fairly desperate. My bills were due, and what passed for a kitchen in my small shoebox apartment was empty. So, I answered an ad. I had been giving it away free to anyone who seemed remotely interested, so my next logical step was to try to sell it. My self-esteem had reached such a low that I considered it a boost that anyone would pay for parking to be with me, let alone pay for my time. John offered me $100.
An hour later I calmly opened my door. He looked decent enough. He seemed nice. I chastised myself for being terrified. I had been known to let more than one stranger through that door a night. What made John more of a danger? Just suck it up, I told myself. It’ll be over in an hour, and you can go grocery shopping.
John tried to make small talk. I tried to answer coherently. He undressed me like a little girl undresses a new doll, making sure he sat the clothes somewhere neatly, taking his time to look over all the new details, scrutinizing as he memorized all my parts. I watched him like a scientist, trying to divine his next move and what he expected of me. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as he slowly removed the thigh highs he’d asked me to wear. I knew damned well what came next. There was nothing left to remove.
Then John kissed me. For some reason I hadn’t expected it. In some ways kissing has always seemed slightly more intimate than sex, and there had been several men in my bed whose lips I had never touched. The closer we got to what he was there for the more my panic response kicked in, and the more I tried to hide it. He asked if I was alright, and I nodded, afraid of losing my meal ticket.
The second he pulled my body close to his I lost it. Huge, childlike tears flooded my eyes, falling all over my face, soaking my nakedness. I prayed for them to stop, but they wouldn’t. John looked as if I’d smacked him. He sat up and pulled me close, trying to compose himself and soothe me at the same time. He stroked my hair and told me I didn’t have to do anything. I told him everything. He took me grocery shopping. John spent over $200 on me that day. In the weeks that followed he took me to dinner and bought me things I’d needed for my apartment. He took care of me. We never had sex.
That Valentine’s day I took a trip to NYC to visit a friend. On my way home John called me, but I missed the call. As I stepped from the escalator at the train station he was there. He held a teddy bear and a dozen roses. I wasn’t sure how he had known I was there, but it scared me. I thanked him cautiously and told him we’d talk. I was tired. I was cold. We’d talk. He was upset, but he acquiesced. The next day I told him I didn’t think I could see him anymore, and all Hell broke loose. He told me he loved me. He told me he would kill himself, or me, or both of us. I tried to ignore it. He’d disappear for a day or two, then he’d come back with a story about attempting suicide. I had people come stay with me at night to make sure I was safe, and I watched my surroundings like a Secret Service agent any time I left the house. John’s final contact with me talked about how he could have given me anything I had ever wanted. He was right, and had I been able to just accept that I’m sure I would have been very comfortable. Either that or I’d be dead.
What John taught me was to trust my instinct. If something seems like a bad idea, it probably is. My intuition has a far better decision-making track record than my brain does.
What John, my phase of no standards, and a subsequent foray into swinging with Hubby taught me was that “Just sex” isn’t for me. Sure, it’s fun. If there’s a new experience to be had, I’ll probably enjoy it, and if it’s with someone exceptional I won’t turn it down, but for the most part I must have some kind of connection with the other people involved. I’m not claiming I need to have love to have sex with someone, but we have to at least have some kind of chemistry. Without it, sex gets empty and unfulfilling for me. It was after my experience with John that I stopped seeking any set of arms that would have me and started seeking some that cherished me and valued me even with my clothes on. Could John have done that? Maybe, but there was not a mutual connection. Something about him set off a lot of alarms, and I have since learned that my alarms do not go off easily.
Yes, John could have given me anything I desired, but he could not give me everything my heart desired. Love. Trust. Passion. In the end, that’s all we get to take with us to the next life.
From all outward appearances, Tom and I were nothing alike. He was reserved, quiet, and conservative. He was extremely laid back, a bit of a country boy, and spoke only when he felt he had something important to say. It took me a while to get over the feeling that he didn’t even like me, but eventually the things we did have in common connected in a surprisingly strong bond. Our first dates were late at night when he could drive to my apartment, until one night he convinced me to brave the Regional Rail system to his house in the suburbs. I got off the train too early and wound up sitting around in the cold for an hour. After that night he told me he had thought about “the L word”, but it worried him. Unfortunately, I was not yet equipped or experienced enough to alleviate those fears. I wanted to express how I felt, but I just didn’t know how.
The night before he left for what was at the time a very young war he wanted to see me. I agreed, but I had company, so it was a brief and slightly awkward goodbye. I was concerned, I was a little scared, and I already missed him, but I didn’t want to either stress him out or say something and speak where I had no place. This was not my experience, it was his, so I kept my mouth shut, hugged him goodbye, and let him leave. It hurt. A lot.
I worried about him for months, searching the internet anytime they mentioned local troops or casualties, until I realized that I had to let it go. His family most likely never knew of my existence. If anything would have happened to him, I’d have never known. It was a hard pill to swallow, but it had dawned on my too late to be able to ask him what I was supposed to do. Did he want me to wait? Was I investing too much in such a young relationship? Was I being silly? I couldn’t even imagine he was thinking of me, so I let it go. I dated a little, but he stayed in the back of my mind.
When his name popped up in my instant messenger window one day, I sang. He seemed happy to hear from me, but he seemed cautious. He asked if I was seeing anyone. I told him I wasn’t, but that I had been dating someone for a little while. I still remember his response. “It’s not like we were dating or anything.” The response stung, and at the time I shrugged it off and tried to act like it didn’t bother me, because I didn’t realize that’s what he was doing. I just figured I hadn’t mattered as much to him as he had to me. I probably still had a chance to speak up at that point and make things right, but I didn’t, and we were never close again.
This story is probably one of the hardest ones for me to write, because I’ve never done it before, and it’s something I avoided for a long time. Unlike the immature infatuation I had held for Ian, Tom was my first real love, the first person to challenge me. The first to be worth looking past my own ideas to accept someone else’s. He taught me how to interact with someone who had opinions that didn’t always match mine and ways that I didn’t always understand. He taught me to be patient, but he also taught me to follow my heart instead of talking myself out of love. The person I am today would have told my company to go home and taken a chance in lieu of uncertainty. The person I am today simply would have asked what he wanted me to do.
The biggest lesson here was accountability for my own heart, for my own love. As a lover, it’s a lesson I needed to learn early to prevent myself from becoming jaded or bitter. Not only was this the first real love I held in my heart, but it was the first heartbreak that was entirely my fault. I could have prevented it. I could have fixed it. I didn’t, and I believe it drastically changed my course. Years later I would email him an apology for how I handled the situation. He seemed to appreciate it and told me to learn from it. Little did he know how much I had almost immediately. I just didn’t yet know how to fix it.
Go no, and think. Where was your first change in course? Have you been able to make amends with your heart?
I’ve posted the story before.
It’s the story of my virginity and not only to whom but how it was lost. It’s the story of a girl with a lot of dreams and ideas about how the world worked, how love worked. It’s the story of a young, stupid kid who changed all of that.
In 2001 the words “date rape” were trending, but none of the definitions seemed to apply to my experience. It took me a long time to be able to say the word out loud, even longer to tell the story from beginning to end. I just didn’t know. He was sometimes a friend, because he spoke to me. He sometimes more than a friend, because he was the only one who paid any attention to the fact that I was a female. We were both seriously misguided and inexperienced in life.
“Technically what I did was rape,” he typed to me after I’d ejected him from my dorm room. Technically? I thought to myself. No, ACTUALLY, but I was not fully convinced. Some friends told me I was overreacting. Some told me I was underreacting. I didn’t deal with it for days. I couldn’t even begin to fathom how to do so. The first time I spoke to anyone about it in person it took me 20 minutes to stop beating around the bush, and even then I spoke about it like it wasn’t a big deal. I was afraid of sounding silly. I was afraid of people being concerned for me. I was afraid of being labelled or being accused of “crying rape”.
This is not the story of my rape. We all know how that story goes. I cave to the need for the only human contact I’ve ever known, and I go back to him. I become what I am most afraid of, I am consumed by my PTSD, I make a decision that changes my life forever, and I hide for a long time. I hide from sex. I hide behind sex. I cocoon, but I do not chrysalis for a long time. This is the story of that chrysalis.
When I started writing this blog, I knew I would have to write about my experience. There was no way around it, and it if helped one person get through his or her own rebirth, because that’s what we all go through once we’ve processed and decided to live after a rape, then I would write the story as many times as I had to. The first time I did I had mixed feelings, but it got easier. A few months ago I wrote a poem about reclaiming my sexuality after the experience. To read the piece I had to give a backstory. Aside from friends and lovers, I had never told my story out loud. I was terrified of my own reaction to hearing it out loud.
I stood in front of a group of people, most of whom I only knew peripherally from our monthly readings. I told my story, and my voice cracked as I began my piece, but then something amazing happened. A trace of victory could be heard, then another, until I was triumphant! I was powerful! I was flying! By the time I was done I was yelling, my chest heaving as I tried to catch my breath, a smile of absolution spreading across my face. I was free.
On my way back to the table people stopped me and hugged me. Two people thanked me. I was floored. Not only had I talked openly about rape, but I was accepted. I wasn’t judged, nor did I have to prove myself. I was accepted, I was uplifted, and I was allowed to experience what happened to me completely and heal in any way that worked for me without any of it being questioned.
This experience taught me that I am often stronger than I let myself believe and that I never have to defend my emotions or validate my experiences. Over the years I had let myself believe that I needed Hubby to take care of me, that I needed my friends and lovers to help me through the hard times, and while it helps, it doesn’t do all the work. I needed to stand up there alone and finish my healing process. I needed to be in front of all those people, knowing none of them were there because they felt bad for me or because I asked them to be. None of those hugs were friend hugs, they were survivor hugs, and I had finally survived.
Go now, stand up and reclaim your self.
For the first, we will start with the one before the first. It’s a story you’ve read before if you’ve been following long enough or been brave enough to go back far enough to find it.
He was a road warrior, early 20’s, with a street name I refused to call him and a real name I had to sneak out of him like a pickpocket. I was 17, even less socially inept and more self-conscious than I am today, and either brazen or stupid depending on which side of a body bag this particular adventure landed me on. After graduation a friend and I took a trip to Nashville for the biggest Country Music Festival around at the time, and by the end of day one he had already upstaged Kenny Chesney in my mind.
I couldn’t tell you now if he was as cute as my memories have made him since then or if my attraction was based on the fact that he looked at me like he adored me and spoke to me like no one ever had. You see, at 17 years old I had not had a guy as much as ask me for my number or a dance as I awkwardly tried to act as if it were no big deal to be ignored. But here I was, on my own in a strange city, and not just one, but a handful of guys were there bending over backwards to make me feel like the Gypsy queen of Nashville. We danced in the streets in the rain. We spent a night in the back of someone’s pickup singing American Pie. He introduced me to one of my favourite drinks, SoCo and Diet Coke, and I saw my first insulin pump. We snuck him in to a concert or two, and he helped me gather the nerve to go in to a store that sold souvenirs, fudge, and bullwhips. I smuggled him into my hotel room where he was my first kiss, then I chickened out when he tried to do anything more than kiss me.
The experience in Nashville taught me a few things besides how to be thankful in retrospect that my body was never found floating in the river.
First, it taught me to come out of my shell and believe that I am a fun, interesting, attractive woman. I mean, if I could keep anyone’s attention as a gothy, inexperienced, SAT obsessed teenager afraid to show the world anything about herself in fears of being rejected, imagine what I’m capable of now when I let down those same self-defense shields. Had I never had a chance to learn to disarm them before the decimating traumas I experienced in college, I may never have done so. Who would I have become?
Second, it taught me to live in the moment and not in the fear, to take chances and live life instead of just surviving it. I left Nashville knowing I’d never see him again, and it didn’t make the experience any less valid or wonderful. It simply was what it was meant to be, and it shook me from that societal training that tells a girl that every man she feels anything for has to be there forever. My only regret from the trip was that I let fear hold me back from experiencing him in all the ways I’d wanted to.
I waited a long time to open up to the world and all it had to offer me. While I occasionally wonder what became of the first man to ever give me a chance and the others who each made me feel worthy in his own way, my experience in Nashville was just what I needed. I have no negative parting to soil the memory of my first kiss. Instead, I have a fantastic story and a bullwhip that came with a pound of fudge.
I hear the voice of my grandmothers calling me
I hear the voice of my grandmothers calling me
They say wake up wake up, they say wake up wake up
-Voices of the Grandmothers chant
* please note: I didn’t write this, but there are conflicting sources online as to its original writer, and it has been shaped and changed by the many communities who have used it. My apologies for not properly sourcing it. *
My mom used to love to feed the giraffes at the zoo. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were there, and she loved the experience. Looking back, my mother had that spirit in all areas of her life.
I can not remember a single challenge or occasion in life my mother didn’t rise to. When she lost her site she learned braille and newborn care in the dark. She got a Guide Dog and eventually a job teaching computers to the blind. I have days when I can barely remember how to tie my shoes, but this woman thrived no matter what was thrown at her. This is what I remember when I feel like I just can’t fight anymore. That my mother did not just survive her life. She lived it.
When faced with significant things like motherhood and love she dedicated all that she had to give, and she never turned down a friend in need. At times it let people take advantage of her kindness, but it never stopped her. If she could help, she did. If she couldn’t help directly, she found a way. I grew up knowing my mother loved me and would give anything for me to have a good life and a happy heart. I never knew anything other than acceptance and support, never doubted she believed in me, and that unconditional love has carried me through many points in my life where I’ve veered from the beaten path to find myself.
What else has my mother’s spirit lived on to each me? That no matter how hard things get it’s always alright to laugh, to play, and to dream. As a kid I watched my mom bowl, play Frisbee, and beat the pants off of everybody at Monopoly. She decorated a giant tree every year for Christmas, dusted around ridiculous decorations at Halloween, and dared to wear pointy little heels to work. She rode roller coasters and went to concerts, Disneyland, and, yes, the zoo. Nothing was ever off-limits or too much trouble. If it sounded like fun, my mom was there before anyone.
Which brings me back to the giraffes. My mom never had to see them to know they were there and to experience their beauty. We spend so much of our lives looking for something, and quite often it’s already here waiting to be experienced, waiting to be loved, or waiting to be nurtured. Sometimes I close my eyes and the world becomes a very different place, one with more potential than I can see with my eyes. It’s all so very simple, but it’s something many of us spend our entire lives trying to learn. My mother knew. If you hold the food out, the giraffes will come.
Go now, feed your giraffes.