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My Middle Years


From the prompt on the DailyOM.com

Adolescence should be outlawed. It has the potential to truly ruin your life and carry trauma with you throughout. And so many parents have no concept of this! Did they not experience adolescence? It’s not something you go through then conveniently forget about, much like the unbelievable pain of childbirth, after which one forgets the pain and chooses to go through it again and again. I don’t know anyone who would choose to relive their adolescence and I really don’t think I know anyone who had many positive experiences with that period in their life.
I remember distinctly, as a parent, when my oldest child, a daughter, was beginning the adolescent stage. We’d gotten into a huge fight, butting heads about something she wanted to do or believed to be so and I was not going along with her train of thought or frame of mind. She was literally screaming at me that I had changed and I had become a different person, with no resemblance to the Mom she once knew and loved. I tried not to get drawn into her dramatic stance and I tried very hard to explain to her that it was she who was changing. I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain the life changes that were happening to her and she insisted that she was exactly the same and I had become this horribly changed person, disallowing her to be who she always was. That was the first of many such arguments and we went through some particularly hard times. In juxtaposition of that, it was I who had gone through a truly terrible adolescence with a life filled with chaos, where my daughter’s life was relatively normal. Her parents were still married; mine were not. In fact I had stepparents by this time. She’d lived in the same home her whole life; I’d moved 10 times by the time I was 10 years old. My parents were terribly mentally ill, suicidal, with addiction issues; my husband and I were relatively healthy although I would later succumb to severe mental illness as a result of the trauma of my own childhood. No, it was simply a matter of normal development that my daughter was going through and I thought I was prepared for it but apparently I failed. My husband was and is a passive observer. He was supportive of the idea of the two of us providing a united front as parents and we did, but he most often was standing in the background just nodding his head, not contributing any words of support or wisdom. This is not a criticism of him, it’s just the way he was. He didn’t have a lot of experience with the female psyche and didn’t know how to navigate this young daughter’s attitude towards his own wife.
Some people, like myself, never fully recover from the trauma of adolescence; others eventually come out the other side relatively unscathed even though the experience itself was horrible. I think my daughter falls somewhere in between, but I don’t really know because while we have a very good adult relationship, she’s not interested in discussing uncomfortable events in her life. She represses it and I worry about her. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, adolescence is the worst, yet most necessary period of life to go through. I wouldn’t wish my own experiences on anyone and I wish I’d done a better job with all three of my children but I do know that I did my best to guide them through this time. My parents would probably argue that they did their best as well, but the circumstances of the time far outweighed any chance of me getting through that period with any sense of contentment or growth. I had a therapist tell me some 30+ years ago that I had the EQ (emotional quotient) of a 13 year old and I can still feel the pain of those years. It takes nothing to bring me to tears when I think about those years and for a long time I believed that time would heal those vicious wounds. I’ve now matured enough to accept that sometimes, time never heals and that has brought a level of acceptance to me that is oddly comforting.
At this juncture I can safely say that all of my children matured beyond an EQ of 13, and are in fact fully functioning and happy adults. I’ve observed that when uncomfortable issues come up for then, they seem to navigate through it with aplomb but I know better than to take any credit for it. After all, as parents we get all the blame and none of the credit. And that’s ok with me as long as my kids are ok. And they are. They are remarkable people and I couldn’t be prouder. So kudos to them for making it through it all. I still think the whole season of adolescence should be outlawed. It’s a grossly unfair process to go through and surely there must be a better way to evolve into adulthood than going through all that angst.

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Vacations

From the Prompt from the DailyOM.com

The worst vacation was the one that never was. One year, in the late 2000’s, I scheduled a dream vacation for my family of five: my husband and three children, who’s ages were probably 14, 12 and 9; I’m just guessing here. I don’t remember those details as much as I remember the tremendous disappointment in excruciating detail. You see, I planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square in New York City. It had always been a dream of mine and this seemed to be the perfect year for it. In doing my research, I discovered that if you wanted hotel reservations you had to make them by April. I definitely insisted that we stay in a hotel for this event because I wanted to have the comfort of my own warm space with a freakin bathroom! Plus, depending on the weather, we could literally watch from the comfort of our room. I didn’t necessarily need to be outside among the tens of thousands of people although that was the main plan. When I go to New York City I always stay at least one night at the Marriott Marquis, right smack in the middle of Times Square. It’s a high end, very fancy huge hotel and needless to say, very expensive, but I was pleasantly surprised at the rate I was offered as I made that early phone call in April. So much so that I decided to get two rooms for our family, adjoining of course. I made the plane reservations and that price was also reasonable for five people. The main caveat was that all of this was non-refundable which I totally understood and was fine with me considering the relatively low cost. I’m going to guess here, but I think the total airfare and rooms was in the range of $7,000 which is of course a lot of money but this was a bucket list dream for me and I wanted to have this experience once in my life, with my family. It would be something we would never forget. I think we planned on staying two nights, maybe three, and we would definitely plan to hook up with our friends Joe and Valerie and their two young daughters. They lived right across the Hudson in Hoboken, NJ and I’d visited with them often, every time I went to New York City. They were wonderful hosts during every visit and we would have been welcome to stay with them for free, but as I said I wanted the comfort of my own room and bathroom right in the middle of the whole thing.

The trip was paid for and anticipated for several months. Somewhere around October, I unceremoniously lost my job and therefore half of our income with no hope in sight for replacing the income I was earning prior to my being let go. I’d become obsolete in my position and it really shouldn’t have been a surprise in hindsight but I was gobsmacked. Truly horrified at this complete 180 of my entire career. I no longer had a career! I was probably somewhere in my late 40’s and could in no way retire so I had to find a job and given that I’d been with the same company for 25 years, and I didn’t have a college education, I knew that I would be starting from scratch at a low paying administrative/bookkeeping job. But that nightmare is a story for another time,

I distinctly remember thinking that there was no way we could take this longed-for vacation. No one but me really cared; Alan never wanted to go in the first place and the kids didn’t know what all the excitement of being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve was all about. We’d do something else for the holiday, something more reasonable. I felt like I had to take responsibility for this debacle and figure out a way to cancel this trip. I was beyond devastated. It went against every fiber of my being not to go, because I live by one of my favorite mantras which is that I only regret the things I don’t do. How could I give up this trip? I knew the opportunity would never come again (and it hasn’t and it won’t at this late stage of the game, some 10-15 years later; we’re definitely too old for this type of debauchery) so I had to try to get my non-refundable money back. I tried, to no avail. Both the hotel and the airline were having none of it, no matter how much I cried and begged. So I took it one step further: I called and wrote to, as I like to call them, Mr. Delta and Mr. Marriott directly, I went straight to the top of each organization and pled my case (knowing full well they could sell those airline tickets and those hotel rooms for quadruple or more than what I paid for them by this point). And I waited for the final answer. Was I going to be awarded the refunds and replenish our rapidly depleting coffers or were we going on this vacation with heavy hearts and a mountain of guilt?

I remember sitting in a Subway sandwich shop when I got the first call. “Yes, Mrs. Clapp, we will refund your money with no fees. We hope you can join us another time”. The second call came subsequently with the same answer. So what did I do? Did I raise my fist in victory? Was I proud of my going the extra mile (excuse the pun) to get my money back? No indeed, I did not and was not. I sat there in that Subway shop and cried. Not tears of relief or happiness. No no no. I cried like a baby because I wanted that vacation more than anything. And I knew now that it was never going to happen. Sure, we’ve taken fun vacations since, but this whole experience was such a shitshow that I never recovered enough to try it again. It is the one and only regret that I have in my life. The one thing I didn’t do. I’ve never gotten over it and I suppose in the big picture it’s not that big of a deal but I’ll never forget the huge ache of disappointment and I regret it to this day, even though it was of course the right thing to do,

Woe is me.

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Generosity

From the Prompt “Acts of Service” in theDailyOM.com

I have found that my generosity towards others doesn’t stem from the need for validation or return on my investment but rather from the need to make someone else’s life better. In my formative years, I never experienced generosity towards me; quite the opposite in fact. I was pushed away, never truly loved and I don’t recall anyone ever doing something for me out of the goodness of their heart. I’m sure there are those who disagree, but my perception is my reality and I truly don’t remember a lot of goodwill coming my way. I feel like if I had, I’d remember it.

As I grew into my adult years, my generous nature was a result of my losses as a child. I tried to buy love by giving, giving, giving, all the time. I gave my money, I gave my time, I gave my love, all freely and filled with hope. Hope that I was making someone happy and hope that I could fill the void of feeling unnecessary. So maybe a part of it was the need for validation but not in the way of “I give to you, you give to me”. I never needed kudos or acknowledgement for the kindness I shared, I just needed to be needed.

Later, I learned the gift of generosity from my friends who gave of themselves like no others I’d ever experienced. I marveled in this gift of receiving and it made me even more generous. It truly gives me no end of pleasure to make someone else happy and I’m so grateful that I’m able to do that with my time, talents and finances.

There is no question that I am an empath. I feel things so deeply and intensely and when I’m feeling happy and upbeat I want the same for the people that I love. If I can do that, it heightens my mood and my purpose.

My first and possibly biggest act of true generosity was when I volunteered to be a Big Sister with the National Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. I was matched with an 8 year old black orphaned girl named Darlene, who was in the process of being adopted. She was the single most delightful and sweet child in spite of all she’d already suffered: no father, and a mother who died of AIDS. But she attached herself to me right away, and I to her. We became very close despite our 20 year age difference and now, almost 33 years later, we remain as close as ever. I would argue that I benefited more from this relationship than she did, but we disagree on that all the time. I know that I enhanced her life and broadened her horizons but she absolutely did the same for me. I wouldn’t be the Mom I am today to my children if not for the early experiences with her. I love her as much as I do my own children and am as proud of her as I could possibly be. It was never a chore, rather a privilege, to spend time with her when she was young and now that we are adult contemporaries, we are the closest of friends. I consider her my family, and have known her longer than I’ve known my own husband and children.

In further reflecting on this prompt of Generosity, I think my greatest gift is empathy. I’ve been through so much in my own life and there are not many shoes I haven’t walked in. I am able to understand and empathize with so many situations and people, and the irony is that I do not take on their pain, (I have enough of my own, thank you) but rather I learn from these experiences which only serves to further enhance my gift of giving. Maybe I sometimes come across as a know-it-all, and I know that I can be off putting and even unhelpful. But my heart is filled with love to give away, and the more I give, the more I generate, both internally and for others. It is with great sadness that I find myself unable to help someone or improve their situation but that certainly does happen and I’m still learning how to process that feeling of loss when I feel I’ve let someone down. I know, deep down in my heart, that my gifts are directed honestly and with no expectations and I will never stop giving. For me, it is a part of my self-care lifestyle. I hope everyone in my life is aware that I am always available to them. And I look forward to the many new shoes I will walk in throughout the remainder of my life.

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An Unconventional Event

From a writing prompt in TheDailyOM.com

In 1976, in Columbus, Ohio, when I was 14 years old, I was not a great teenager. I caused my parents no end of trouble with my mouthiness, my rebellion, my general unhappiness of my home life. In retrospect, I was a normal teenager, wouldn’t you say? But I did a very abnormal, unconventional thing that was unplanned and impulsive. I ran away from home. Far away. For a long time, relatively speaking, that is, two whole weeks.

It all started with one of my best friends, Patty, who was 13 and in the 9th grade and I was in the 10th. I wanted to skip school again, which we did rather frequently (even though I’d always continue to have good grades, lucky me), and Patty said if she got caught skipping again she’d catch hell to pay from her parents so our only choice was to just run away. It was really that remarkably simple. We thought it would be a fun adventure and we set about making our plans.

Patty had what seemed like a huge savings account at the bank for the times and for our age, $700! It was a fortune and it would carry us so far! I contributed my paltry babysitting savings of $30. We walked to the bank and Patty withdrew all of her money, no questions asked. These were different times, the 1970’s.

We packed up a few items, clothing, mementos, things that seemed critically important to take with us, and while Patty had a nifty suitcase, I crammed all my stuff into a paper grocery bag. Patty left a note for her parents; I did no such thing. We then took a city bus to Northland Mall, where there was a Greyhound Bus hub and to fulfill Patty’s wishes, we bought tickets to the first stop in Florida which was a town called Jacksonville Beach. Not to be confused with Jacksonville, FL proper, but Jacksonville Beach which was primarily a navy town, and not considered a safe place to be for young runaways. But we didn’t know and we didn’t care. Again, no questions asked at the ticket counter of two teenaged girls buying bus tickets bound for Florida in the middle of a school day.

Oh, it was so exciting, so novel, when we boarded that bus! The whole process had been so simple and we were giddy! This was so freaking cool, no? Definitely yes, indeed, it was.

We were on that bus for 24 very long hours my friends. I’d been to Florida before, but I’d never taken a Greyhound bus anywhere. We just sort of winged it as far as eating at the various stops, being very careful with our financial windfall stash, and no one bothered us, made us feel uncomfortable or really engaged with us. We were just doing our thing.

We arrived in sunny hot Jacksonville Beach and debarked from the bus for the final time of the long trip. We went into the ladies room to freshen up and I remember there was a man in the ladies room, looking for trouble. That was our first sign that maybe Jacksonville Beach wasn’t the best Florida town to come to but again, we didn’t care. This was way too exciting! We were here and Patty’s lifelong dream had come true. Florida was somewhere she’d always wanted to go. By this time in my life, I’d lived many places, Missouri, New York (twice), Florida and several homes in Columbus, Ohio so I considered myself seasoned.

Of course our main goal before any other was to see the beach. I don’t remember how we found ourself there but we did get to the beach before doing anything else. Then we decided we needed a place to live. At this point, in our minds, this was a permanent situation and we needed to make well thought out, good choices.

We rented a studio apartment (once again, no questions asked) that had roaches and no air conditioning but as with everything else, we didn’t care. We were moving forward with our plans and making accomplishments. We were still so giddy and proud of ourselves, but not in a gloating way, rather a more of a validation way, where we were proving that this was all a great idea and everything was going so well.

The next day, we met some of our neighbors, all navy men and their wives or girlfriends and we fell right in with them. They were in their late teens and early twenties and we all formed a quick and warm friendship, Patty’s and my ages notwithstanding-we didn’t hide it. I met an 18 year old guy named Chuck and immediately developed a crush on him-these were my boy-crazy years after all.

The naval guys had a band that played covers from the popular group called Bad Company and they took us down to the local USO to see them play. Nary a thought to us about getting into a car with these relative strangers. They were, and continued to be, very kind people. I still have a photograph of the band playing that night; Chuck must have given it to me at some point.

Within a couple of days, Patty was starting to feel homesick for her boyfriend, Corky, a ne’er-do-well from our friend group-we were all basically anti-establishment and did everything our parents disallowed or disagreed with. We were, after all, I must point out again, teenagers. And most of us were from dysfunctional homes; I know I was. We decided to write letters to all our friends and let them know what we were up to, just newsy letters like you would write to a friend or relative who lived out of town, assuming that our running away was a big deal to them because they weren’t with us and we wanted them to know we missed them but were doing great! We even put our return address on the letters! Never occurred to us that might not be a great idea. We were already gone for good in our minds and nothing could stop us now. This was our life now. And our friends wrote us back.

On the way to looking for a job, I remember Patty buying a record player because music was our thing, like any teenager, and we’d brought our favorite 45’s with us as essentials. So the record player was not considered an extravagance, but rather a necessity. We applied for jobs at McDonald’s and were hired on the spot pending a work permit proving we were 16 years old. This would prove to be a problem since we had no way to get such a permit but we knew we’d figure it out somehow.

So we had our apartment, our record player, our jobs and our friends, all within a few days. I never experienced a moment of homesickness and this life was definitely my new normal. Patty, on the other hand, wasn’t faring so well. Mainly, she just really missed her boyfriend and the novelty was wearing off for her, I could tell. We continued to hang out with our friends, go to the beach, go to the USO, listen to records and ponder the whole work permit issue, but we had plenty of money. I was having a blast. This was heaven for me considering what I’d left behind. I saw my whole future here, especially with Chuck; as by this time we were definitely an item.

One day, two weeks into our adventure, two police officers came to our humble door and that, of course, was the beginning of the end. I was devastated! Who would rat us out? Surely, none of our likeminded friends at home? Our new friends in the apartment complex? To this day, I’ve never known.

We were unceremoniously escorted to the police department, paltry belongings in hand, and immediately separated. I wouldn’t see Patty again until we reunited in school back in Columbus. We never saw our local friends to say goodbye. It was just over. I particularly remember the policeman remarking that I was lucky to be alive considering how long we’d lasted in this dangerous situation and unsafe environment. Who knew? I just cried and cried. This was my first and fortunately only time spending the night in a group home associated with social services. I just remember being so incredibly sad, disappointed and scared to death to go back to my unhappy home in Columbus. I knew I’d be in a world of trouble.

I was flown home the next day and my parents immediately took me to a therapist which was of no use at all because I was so embittered and wasn’t having any of it. Within a week, a violent fight broke out between my dad and me and I was sent to Patty’s to stay until I could procure yet another person to take me in. My mother refused, as she had done several times previously when I requested her to take me back in, my dad and his wife wouldn’t allow me to come back so the plan was to send me to a juvenile detention center. Yes, this was the plan. No one in my family was willing to take care of me. In retrospect, this was extremely traumatic and has affected me my entire life-this life of constant abandonment and giving up on me. I was a relatively normal, smart, friendly, outgoing teenager with atypical problems at home through no real fault of my own. My actions were a result of the constantly dysfunctional circumstances I was exposed to going back to when my biological father left me at 18 months old and subsequently signed adoption papers when my mother remarried. Then she divorced, and made me go live with my adopted father and his 19 year old wife when I was 11. My mom kept my three siblings and I never lived with them again and that was truly traumatizing. So by this time, there had indeed been a lot of disruption in my life and clearly I was acting out as anyone my age would. But I was a good person and it took me years to finally realize that it wasn’t my fault.

Meanwhile, in a Hail Mary attempt to find someone to take me in, I called my maternal grandmother who had recently moved from Ohio to North Carolina with her youngest child, my 18 year old uncle. She agreed to take me! It was bittersweet because I was once again saying goodbye to all my friends, going to a strange place into a strange situation. I remember crying on the plane the entire way down to NC to my seatmate and I wonder today what that poor woman must have thought.

My grandmother saved my life; I have no doubt of that. It was with pure love that she allowed me to come and live with her. We shared a room in a two bedroom apartment until my uncle moved out on his own. We had a lot of fun together, I must say, and I felt safe and loved by at least one person on this earth. She saw to it that I paid Patty back every penny that we’d used to run away and she taught me so many things about unconditional love which I’d never experienced. I also stayed in touch with Chuck and he even came to visit me in NC which was very cool. Sadly, I dumped him for a loser boyfriend and I regretted how I handled it for the rest of my life. I was actually able to track him down fairly recently and I apologized and he was fine, no regrets, no worries, so that was satisfying,

I lived with my grandmother for over a year, until I finished high school. I got a full time job at age 15 working in a diner, and mainly couch-surfed for awhile with my co-workers. I stayed in touch with my Columbus friends, and actually saw Patty many years later when I was visiting Columbus with my future husband. Patty has since died, of an alcoholic overdose. Her life never really recovered after our adventure. I, however, look back on this time with joy and astonishment as I know now that it was a truly unconventional, ballsy and dangerous thing to do, but I will always remember it as a grand adventure.

My Younger Years

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From a prompt in a series of journaling I am doing presented by TheDailyOM.com

I am the oldest of five, 3 of which are half siblings. My first 10 years were the precipice for the greatest decline of a halfway decent life. The first 10 years were just OK. My biological father left me when I was 18 months old, my mother remarried a minister who adopted me and my brother when I was about four years old. They had two children in rapid succession and we moved seven times over the 6 year period they were married. Both of my parents were profoundly depressed and were hospitalized just prior to the divorce. Those first 10 years sadly qualify as the best, most stable part of my childhood.
At age 11, my mother sent me to live with my (adopted) dad and his new 19 year old wife. It was horrible because my mother was abandoning me and I was afraid of my dad-he was mean when he was unhappy and that was the standard. I never lived with my siblings again after that except for a brief stint with my brother living with us, but he was invited back to Mom’s. I never was, even though I begged on more than one occasion. Luckily, I didn’t have to change schools (yet) as the years of age 11-13 were extremely formative in terms of adolescence, physical and emotional growth, etc. I was shorted a mother’s guidance and I floundered. But I always had my friends. Until we moved.
I attended two different schools in the 8th grade alone, as we kept moving and moving back. It was excruciating every time I had to leave my friends. I never got over it. If there was any resilience-building time period in my life, this was it. I was able to make friends easily and did well in school. But I learned to not be able to trust any relationship or situation in any given moment which was off putting to the people I cared about and it was just chaos the entire time. I graduated high school early after a move to NC to live with yet another person, my maternal grandmother, and worked full time at a diner then a retail store until I turned 17 and then I quietly slipped out of town, basically unnoticed, to move to another city with a man I would marry at 18 and divorce at 19.
My childhood sucked on so many levels and I didn’t even realize the extent of the damage until I was a mother raising my own children in a happy home. It is truly astounding how important those early years are and how critically they shape your entire life. Add to that a group of adult caretakers who seemed not to have ever gone through childhood at all as they had no handle on what was happening to their own children. I have trouble trusting any of my parents, I suffered physically and emotionally from untreated anxiety and depression, and I didn’t know true happiness until I got help with a great therapist and medication.
I resent everything that happened to me in my childhood. A parent has one singular job when they decide to have a child: Keep that child safe. I never felt safe. I never felt loved, I never felt wanted, and I didn’t even know any different. The older I get the more resentful I become because I’m constantly realizing something new, every day it seems, about how shitty my childhood was when compared to others, including my husband and my own children. I lost out on so much. And I blamed myself for so long. I was unlovable, therefore I was doing something -everything- wrong. I’ve spent my whole life trying to buy love and I’ve failed miserably. I give too much away because I’m striving for that acceptance and validation but still not getting it. The past can’t be undone and there are no do-overs.

Right now, at age 60, I’m on a very difficult journey of trying to learn forgiveness, not to benefit those whom I’m unable to forgive, but to release myself of this burden and find peace. I fear I will not be successful in this journey, and I’m fighting it completely alone, abandonedment issues rearing their ugly head as I delve deep into myself and try to heal. I’m not even close and time may run out before I am blessed by the grace of God by that peace I so desperately covet. But I’ve learned a few things, mostly about boundaries, mindfulness, and who I am as a mother. This, along with a patient, supportive and loving husband, who understands that he can’t fix me, has been helpful in this continued journey. I just don’t know if I have the time left or emotional energy to see it to its fruition.

The Dishrag

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Swirling your hand around in the murky kitchen sink

You pulled out the dishrag

You wrung it out, as if you were strangling it

And used the toxic cloth to wipe up your mess

Once you tired of cleaning

You threw the dishrag on the counter

Where it dried into a stiff misshapen grotesquery

And you just left it there, abandoned

You never finished cleaning the mess you made

You just forgot all about the dishrag

But the dishrag still exists, grotesque and toxic

Wondering what happens next?

I Wish For You a Better Me

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My flaws are many

My good ideas are few

But one thing I am not

Is accountable to you

 

I make a lot of mistakes

I sometimes act inappropriately

But that doesn’t give you the right

To treat me disdainfully

 

You seem to hate me

I never say or do the right thing

But I hate myself even more

And to you I would never cling

 

How will we get through this?

How much longer will we try?

It seems no matter what,

We always have an ugly goodbye

 

The bridge was built long and solid

But it’s burning every day

And I’m too old and tired

To be able to swim away

 

I know, because you tell me

That it’s all my fault

I ruin everything

And I need to bring it to a halt

 

But even that’s not good enough for long

For soon I will err again

And your forgiveness is over

Even before it began

 

I would ask you to give me a chance

To redeem myself in your eyes

But like I said, I’m old and tired

And I’ve been through too many tries

 

Maybe it’s all just karma

You disliking me so

Because I, too,

Deeply dislike my foe

 

So we’ll continue our days

Walking on eggshells

Knowing that at any moment

It can all go to hell.

 

Yes I ruin everything

And probably always will

But that’s not what I set out to do

I am justly defined as ruinous because I am ill

 

You deserved better

You and I both know it

But this is all I’ve got for you

And my heart is breaking bit by bit

 

I wish there was a better me out there for you

I wish I could be flawless and perfect enough

But alas, this is what you’re stuck with

And for you I know it’s unfair and tough

 

I feel the eggshells beginning to crack

So I better end this missive

Although I suspect you’ll never read it

Because of me you’re so dismissive.

 

I wish I could end this on a hopeful note

And if I could, I would

Perhaps someday, from that burning bridge

Maybe you’ll send me a boat

But the fact that I’m even writing this

Makes me think there is no hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on Our Patriarch

 

Charles Marvin Clapp.

Born, lived and died on Clapp Farms Rd.

Eighty-eight years old.

Lived an exemplary life as a successful farmer.

Married to the love of his life, Sylvia Fryar, for nigh on 40 years

Until her untimely death 20 years ago.

Raised two very fine sons, Alan and Andy, both of whom were close to him especially in these later years as they spent more time together.

 

Marvin never remarried, although all the widow ladies of the church were lined up and down the road bearing casseroles and maybe an offer he couldn’t refuse.

But refuse he did and he spent those remaining 20 years working the farm with his brother, nephew, son and grandsons.

 

Marvin lived to see all five of his grandchildren through college and they were his pride and joy. He adored each of them equally, including the girls even though they couldn’t farm.

 

In addition to his family, Marvin loved his Ford trucks, his John Deere equipment, Old Timer pocket knives and chewing tobacco. His favorite sports teams were any team that his children and grandchildren participated in and of course, the Atlanta Braves.

 

He loved cats and dogs equally; but he was particularly partial to his last dog, Trixie.

 

Marvin was an incredibly smart but very uncomplicated man. He was a man of very few words but when he did speak, it was always profound.

Words such as “Hey”.

Or “Thank You”.

Or “Fine, you?”

Or “Bring me a Pepsi and a pack of Nabs.”

And my personal favorite, “I love you too.”

 

After Sylvia’s passing, no one was sure how Marvin would eat. Once the casseroles dried up, he was fortunate enough to get a home-cooked meal for dinner every night from daughter-in-law Lisa, and a yummy breakfast every morning of pineapple coconut cake, lovingly made weekly by daughter-in-law Amy. And if he was running low, he would absolutely let Amy know.

 

Marvin was fair and generous to all his loved ones and he suffered a number of losses in his later years including his wife, two sisters, a brother-in-law, several cousins and a host of longtime true friends.

 

It’s very difficult to think of Clapp Farms Rd. without Marvin residing and working there. This is a tremendous loss to the family but all are grateful that his aching body has been renewed and that he is reunited with his beloved Sylvia.

 

We all come into this world in the same way, and clutching a round trip ticket. We don’t get to know when God will see fit to redeem that ticket but Marvin loved his God, our Father, and he was ready to go. That does bring some degree of comfort to the family and we are eternally  grateful for having known and loved him.

 

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Unmoored, Untethered, Undone

I awaken, finding myself splayed out

In the bottom of a small, rickety dinghy.

Unmoored, untethered, without anchor.

I am in the middle of the ocean

In the middle of nowhere.

I see nothing but swells

All around me

Rocking me to and fro.

I feel the pain; it’s palpable,

But intangible.

No broken bones, no bleeding cuts.

Just the very essence of my broken heart

Oozing its way throughout my body.

Palpable yet intangible.

Words not yet invented to describe the pain.

I sit up, take inventory of my predicament.

Doesn’t matter how I got here.

Does it?

I can’t think about that; it’s more than I can comprehend.

Why must I feel so intensely?

Why does heartache feel so unmanageable?

Why can’t I be dense, unthinking, unfeeling?

Why can’t this pain roll off of me like the very ocean of water I find myself in?

No, my body absorbs the pain.

It takes unexplainable, circuitous routes

Throughout my being, inside and out

Like a pinball game.

Bouncing around all my organs

Including my skin

With nowhere to go

So it hits nerves, everywhere

And I shudder with the pain, not knowing where it’s going to hit next.

 

I awaken again, this time in a fetal position,

Ocean waves still all around me

A bit more aggressive this time

Should I be worried?

I can’t decide whether I care.

I’m pretty sure I don’t.

I just want the pain to stop.

 

I lean over the side of the dinghy

In order to let my tears fall into the ocean

So as not to flood my little boat.

It would have surely sunk by now.

 

As I look up, I see something

Something far away but moving closer.

It’s a ship!

And ever closer, I see people lined up on the deck

People I know

People I love

People who love me.

There seem to be so many!

And they are calling out to me,

Begging me to grab the float they’ve tossed.

Asking me to come back

To myself

And them.

They can save me.

But can they?

 

I look again

And see nothing.

It was all a mirage.

There’s no one who loves me

There’s no one I love.

There’s no life saving float.

 

I remain unmoored, untethered.

Then I completely come undone.

An Astonishing Number of Deaths

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My dear friend and neighbor died the day after Thanksgiving and while it was not unexpected, I’m still deeply saddened by the loss. Her death started me thinking about the astonishing and random number of deaths that have occurred this year, directly, or peripherally, but all acknowledged nonetheless.

None of these deaths were Covid related. Several were of natural causes which, in each case, I’m reminded that we all come into this world in the exact same way, and we are all clutching a round trip ticket. But we don’t get to know when that ticket will be redeemed do we? We just know that it is final, and a new chapter of our own life begins without this person in it, again rather it be a person who was firmly a part of our life, or someone else, who was close to someone we care about, thereby affecting us by virtue of the fact that we feel sadness for those left behind.

A short summary, in chronological order:

A longtime friend’s husband, by terminal illness;

A former boss and longtime friend whom I admired and shared many memories with, of cancer and a stroke;

A twenty year old young man, the son of friends from church, of cancer;

A man with Downs Syndrome who lived double his life expectancy and died at age 65;

A friend’s husband who died of chronic illness but still unexpectedly;

Two elderly cousins who lived full lives and took all of their as yet not shared knowledge of life experiences with them;

My Sunday school teacher, who died from complications of surgery;

A friend’s grandfather who lives in another country of natural causes, but my friend was not able to travel to his service and pay her final respects;

And finally, my beloved friend and neighbor, of natural causes, and perhaps even a bit of a broken heart since it was her son with Downs Syndrome who died earlier in the year.

Ten relatively random deaths within a span of a little over one year. Here, then gone. How do we process this? Does it make any difference as to whether it was natural causes? I would think not for the family and close friends. Death is a huge and permanent loss. It is guaranteed, that is not in question. It is a completely natural event that happens every minute of every day. For me personally, I don’t fear death for myself (although I hope I don’t die a painful death), but I do fear for my loved ones left in my wake. I feel worthy enough in life to believe that I will be missed when my time comes.

All ten of these deaths I’ve observed this year have left behind loved ones who mourn. So not only do we know that death is imminent and permanent, so must we accept that we have to grieve along the way. Do we appreciate life more? Do we make promises to be a better person? Do we reach out to those who are particularly hurting? I don’t know the answers. I suspect it’s a different experience for everyone. But I do believe we that are left behind are blindsided by our reaction to a death. I do believe there’s no way to express the feelings unless and until you’ve experienced it.

I’ve got many more yesterdays than tomorrows left in my life and I know I will experience the loss through death many more times. I hope that I can deal with this gracefully and always remain thankful for having known that person. I miss my friend and neighbor an awful lot right now, it being a recent occurrence, and I’m profoundly sad.

Ten deaths. Ten random but guaranteed deaths. This is the life we are born into. And we can only do the best we can until the end. At that point, we are set free.