Photo Project: … Reluctant Releases …

Portrait 1Relentless year called
I became a waterfall
I was swirled away

Portrait 2Released old dreams; moved
They commanded me, let go
Heart crushed from goodbyes

Portrait 3New is on its way
Release dross for destiny
All reward is nigh

Portrait 4Trust what angels say
Tears are healing; scars get cleansed
Real love fills all wounds

Life is pushy when it wants the best for you. Sometimes you have to give in & give up, a lot…

When this photo shoot was set up in the spring, I knew I wanted to wear the dress I’d hung in public the previous October 4th as requested by Metis artist, Jaime Black. Her ‘REDress Project’ is an art-based awareness campaign in tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women. Red dresses represent these women. (See tree photo and background notes here)

I’d chosen to hang my dress under my beloved weeping willow tree. That seemed like a poignant statement in itself.  At the time of that participation, I was soul surfing through a course of life-altering loss, trauma, and life and death events.

In a way, even that gorgeous tree experienced the same before it let loose its majestic beauty. I’d saved it years before from being brutally hacked at when my ex would attempt to eradicate the ‘strange weed’ growing in the middle of our yard.  …  I guess my point is, there was a whole lot of understanding under and within that tree.

So, when I met up with Nadya Kwandibens, a very skilled and renowned photographer who honored me with her talent, she suggested we head to a local park and search for more of a nature-based/natural background.  When we arrived, she scanned the landscape and then she pointed and said, “There – head over there, I think we should get you under those trees” –  the weeping willows.

Nope, she had no idea of my story, it was just how this particular circle would finish.  It seemed like a good omen and I suppose it was.  I have come through what I think is the greater part of those trials and I have gained new strengths and continue to build them.

From a time I was certain I couldn’t even breathe for another 5 minutes to standing up tall enough to see – that no matter how hard the testing, no matter how hard life knocks at me, I will keep getting up. I know that now, because even when there shouldn’t have been a way I could have, I somehow did.

Like my tree, I am still standing.

RL

 

Photos by Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Photography
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/discover-challenges/portraits/
You and I, there’s air in between

Margaret’s Baby

During a year of upheaval, reflection and even amazing rewards, a walk back to beginnings can help to return a sense of balance, to find an equilibrium that helps make life make sense again. I’ve been going back to some significant and poignant moments for me for that purpose. One of those periods was returning home after time spent in child foster care. This story was also published a few years ago, but for anyone who hasn’t seen it, maybe something in this will resonate for you too…

Sometimes old memories float up in need of
a little light…
A soul’s whisper to let it go.

curtains-city-skyline4

I was 14 years old.  My mother and I were living in an apartment on the 14th floor of a basic downtown high-rise.  We were there because that’s where she was when I ran away from the last foster home I’d intended to live in.

I threatened to run away and never be found again if they made me go back to that home.  The Department of Social Services, and my unprepared mother, gave in.

My mother had been struggling with escape from an abusive marriage, alcoholism, and no way to fully support her daughters.  That’s how we ended up in foster care just after Christmas that year.

We were six girls, ages two to twelve years.  I was twelve.  They were my sisters, and because I was the oldest, they were also my beloved babies. There was no doubt that having already traversed a very rocky start together, we were a fiercely bonded ‘band of sisters’.

I was quite used to taking care of them, and the house as required, which it seemed was almost always.  So, the demand to relinquish responsibility to the social workers who came to take us away or to the people who were to foster us was incomprehensible.  It was shocking and infuriating and frustrating.

Many nights I’d lie awake planning our escape from that foster home and formulating the many ways I’d find our mom. I usually ended up crying myself to sleep immersed in the despondency of realizing how powerless I really was.

We were all together in that initial home, except the youngest who was instead taken to live with our father – another story for another time.  I was eventually to move to two other homes within a year and a half. Only one sister was allowed to go with me; they gave me one day to choose between the four faces that pleaded to be taken.  Despite everything that we’d already lived through to that point, it was then that I learned that a soul could feel fractured.

In short time, and with little choice, we adapted and carried on as kids are so able. Then two years later, suddenly we were all being taken to visit with our mom at her own new home. The visit went by as quickly as I’d dreaded. When it was time to say goodbye to her, it felt like the beginning of all the bad goodbyes again. I could not return to that pain; the next weekend I bolted for home, for her, for good.

So there I was, on the 14th floor in a small, sparse apartment, a temporary only child, but finally with my own mom.  Life definitely took another turn in my day-to-day. I spent less time with my friends and more with my mother’s.

She had a friend on the 7th floor.  Phyllis was one of those larger than life characters; a hard-drinking party girl, a queen bee who had great pride in being a full-time ‘player’.  She seemed to take my mother under her wing.  She was a louder than life distraction for a young woman bogged down with desperate problems.

Phyllis held court to an allotment of very proud and loud butch lesbians.  They called themselves the girbols (girl boys, hard g).  One of them was Margaret. She was pretty, a large woman, and very quiet. Though she liked to hang out with the crowd and indulged in the same drink and smoke, she alone remained quiet.

I came home from school one day, at the start of spring break, and went down to the gang. There was a brand new baby girl cuddled up in Margaret’s arms.  I hadn’t even realized that she had been pregnant. The baby was so tiny and delicate, and wrapped in a pink blanket.

Spring Break began on a weekend and as on all weekends, it was time to get the girbol party started. I was immediately designated the girl baby’s guardian. I took baby, and all of her required possessions, up to my apartment.

The ‘weekend’ turned into nearly two weeks, during which I had full custody of baby night and day. It’s awesome, as in really awe-inspiring, how easily you fall in love with a child, even as a young girl, and you immediately wish to be everything it takes to nurture them to perfection.

She needed me for everything and I reveled in that.  At night, I would wrap her next to me and listen to her breath and smell the top of her head until I drifted off in true peace. Every minute with her was another moment of reclaimed love. I was once again protector, friend, sister, mother.  For awhile I was me again.

Spring break was over and I’d already missed two days of school, I had to go back.  That morning, I reluctantly took her down to the 7th floor, gave her back to Margaret and left for school.  When I came home, I dropped off my school things and grabbed one of her blankets to collect her. I sniffed her baby smell all the way to Phyllis’s apartment.

When I walked in, I saw Margaret sitting by the window, staring out with the curtains blowing around her. The girbol group was strangely quiet. I asked for the baby and no one said anything.  I went to Margaret and asked. “Where’s the baby”?  She wouldn’t answer, and then I saw her tears.  I was instantly alarmed, even afraid that the baby had gone out the window.

“Where’s the baby Margaret”?  I was ready to cry, but not sure why.

“They took her”, she said softly.

“Who took her”?

“Social Services.  I phoned them today and they came to take her away”.

I know I asked her why, maybe a few times, but I don’t recall an answer.  I doubt she gave one.

I turned from Margaret and I looked at everyone else.  No one would look back at me; they kept their eyes on the floor or each other.  I turned to Margaret again and watched her silently cry for a while.  I walked to the door and quietly closed it behind me.

It was the last day I saw Margaret, or our baby.  I went to sleep that night holding that baby blanket. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.  Somehow, I knew in my heart then, that no matter how much I dreamed, I was never going to get my family, my  ‘band of sisters’, back in the same way again.

And, we didn’t, not ever in the same way again.

RL

Originally posted on, with original comments 

 

Someone to Watch Over Me…

It wasn’t a typical love story then and I suppose it’s not so much now either, at least not the kind we think about in this season of Valentine wishes and dreams.

broken flower 3jpgYou have to be this young to believe that you are this much in charge of life; that destiny has already been completely met.  To know that the only education you need to make your dreams come true is your own thoughts and a chat with your friends –  to be so heartbreakingly unaware of the precariousness  that will haunt even the babies to come.

She was a naive, pretty, eighteen year old small town girl who had no idea that so many of her dreams were going to turn into a lifetime of regrets.  She picked out her dream man, 20 years old, so very handsome and tall, and who held out to her a bouquet of the loveliest promises.

Not long after meeting, she became pregnant and it probably wasn’t much longer after that, that the first flower from that fragile bouquet fell.   The images her thoughts weaved for her future were simple, but meant everything – little home wrapped in the white picket fence of love, and lovely family dinners, family picnics and parties, and Christmas trees loaded with gifts.

She had intended so many occasions of wonderful for herself, and for me.  We were supposed to be that family that she envied in the movies, the love stories that she placed herself into in her favorite books, and in those images in Norman Rockwell paintings that confirmed how life was supposed to be. Sweet dreams sweet intentions.

They were slapped away brutally.  Literally.  He wasn’t ready for that dream.  Not at that time, not completely, maybe never.   He was more drawn to the calls of a wild party.  He had many more bottles to hoist up, and while he ‘owned’ her, he was nowhere near finished with his explorations of women.   Her resistance to ‘his way’ led to her learning that promises were only his dreams in the moment and they were nowhere near as real as those first black eyes.

I don’t know when I first heard or saw him hit her; I can remember that only from about age four.  I know that when it happened, I became very still as my heartbeat filled my ears.  I must have learned by then to make myself invisible.  The only way she could make herself invisible was to run away.   Some might say she didn’t learn how to do that right soon enough.

She did leave, many times, but somehow he would find her.  Us.  Sometimes her friends would tell him where we were; sometimes even her own brothers would sell her out during drunken party conversation or under threat.  Sometimes the loneliness and fear conquered her and she would call him herself.  She finally left for good when I was thirteen.

She didn’t leave her dreams though.  Not all of them anyway.  She still thought she could find that one good man. That’s how life was supposed to be.  Wasn’t that ever reinforced on every song on the radio, TV shows and magazine headlines?  So that’s what she pursued, even while the rest of her life was floating in a jumbled mess around her.

She had her share of boyfriends for some years, but no one could last for long.   They either owned their share of chaos and/or they couldn’t bear to deal with hers.  It would take years for the stars to align for her.  Maybe it was all the prayers she cried through to be delivered from that loneliness and to fill the need for someone to watch over her, because he came for her, finally.

It was not the typical script for a ‘let me rescue you’ love story.  He was just as messed up as she was, but somehow, eventually, this one wanted to get it together, with her, at the same time that she had reached her breaking point.

Somehow, armed only with whatever bit of guidance that was to come their way, they pushed through all the debris of their lives and rebuilt everything.  They did as best as they could, which turned out to be very well.  Their turned-around lives are far richer, and have lasted three times longer, so far, than their early trek over those fiery, alcohol-fueled coals.

Now she prays, hard and often, that her lessons of recovery from hell have been seen by her children, and their children, who learned all too well the modeled example of her youth.

Dreams do come true, but not from behind the wall of recriminations, isolated introspection, and avoidance.  The answers could be easy, but it’s still  work to carve out the road to them.  This can’t be any harder than it is to stay in pretension that all is well, to stay in hell.

I will pray that her prayers are answered for her. Again.

RL

Songs of Small Town Mothers and Daughters

Once in a while, my mother plays for me an old country song called, “Idol of the Band”.  One of the chorus lines speaks to a brief bittersweet period of shining glory for a young woman from humble beginnings.

sheet music with red rose sepiaWe always have a little laugh with it, but within the mirth is a little wistfulness too. I think that song reminds my mother of a funny moment or two from the bad old days. I share those feelings, but I also feel traces of poignancy that can’t quite be defined.  They are flashes of the heartstrings that join us more by fate than by our blood.

I’d heard forever that I am my mother’s daughter.  I look a lot like her, and I put her temperament on display now and then, but that was the absolute limit to the comparisons that I was determined to live out.  I loved her, but I had every reason not to repeat every aspect of her life.

My mother was that young small town girl that did not dream of escape to the bright lights of the big city.  Maybe she’d become a nurse, maybe even a nun, but in the end she longed only for a simple life of family, and hearth and home in the same little town. As it always is, it was about a boy.

Her dreams were devastatingly reshaped when step one of her plan led her into the arms of that handsome young man who soon became an abuser who drank too much.  Step two in the unintended reality was giving life to me, and then pulling me along on the path to their hell.

By the time she left him, I’d already learned a lifetime of what not to be. There was no doubt that meant being everything my parents weren’t.  What I had no way of knowing then was how deeply the sins of the father and mother had already been woven into the fabric of my future.

Like my mother, I was mostly raised in small towns or a very insular sensibility within a city. Maybe partly because of that I grew up craving the promise of anything but simplicity.  I was going to be one of those bright lights in the city. I intended to be the people I saw on TV or read about in books about success.  I used the same success examples my mother did, but unlike novels of romance, I was not going to depend on a man, or have babies anytime soon.

I was desperately eager to be in that new life.  Desperation was probably mistaken for boldness and so, at almost sixteen I went off in search of those bright lights. I hugged my mother goodbye.  She armed me with a little money, those lessons well learned, and a crock pot.

The years to follow were harder than I could ever have imagined. I began them by piling on loads of makeup and lying about my age to be able to work long days analogous to slave labor. When the realization grew that I could be stuck there forever, I added night school to the schedule.  It took years, but eventually I got my business titles.

I succeeded at school, I succeeded in work, and I succeeded in social status.  I was nothing like my mother’s life.

Not until I was.  Not until I realized that there was just one thing missing for me, and I would wholly embrace the answer to that, and it would gut everything I’d worked for, including part of the spirit that had carried me away from small town nightmares.

I fell madly in love.  He said that I was the smartest, most beautiful woman he’d ever known.  He asked, “What can I do to make your life happier”?  He said, “I promise, I will take care of you”.

He eased the deep thread of emptiness so common in the fabrics of my kind of past. It was really an unraveling, but I’d grown used to pretending that strand of vulnerability didn’t exist anyway. That was a necessary evil to confirm how much more ahead of my mother I was.  So, I ignored the red flags that waved and I said, yes.  Just like my mother did.

He swept me off my feet and back into hell.

It was a little over three years before I was able climb out.  By then, almost all of my relationships with friends and family had deteriorated, along with all the other areas of my life.  The only miracle within the madness was that I didn’t have children with him.  Not that we didn’t try.

I moved from the immediate brutality of that time, but it turned out I wasn’t completely out of those woods yet. I was always a bit of a slow learner for anything that required my heart to assess what was not in my best interests, especially where love was concerned.

I hadn’t learned yet that honest trust for anyone else can only come from honest esteem for self.  I still had to learn what that looked like. I still had to learn that betrayal hides in plain sight for the unwitting, and sometimes it’s disguised as your best friends and your closest confidants.

It would take another turn on that shaky dance floor before I could really see under the masks. This second teacher was far more subtle, but just as oppressive with his demand to control.   That three year dance was a constant and chaotic struggle to change him/them, but it was clear that this one was about accepting that all the changes needed were mine.  I accepted finally that it wasn’t my job to love someone enough to become a better person or to make them be better people.

Time moves every story along, and it became more of my friend this round.  My bright future lay tarnished on the ground, but I was finished with the idea of gleam anyway. The only choice I could face was to go back to the beginning.  A revisit to that place that gives you the so called strengths you depend on to survive, but really are old scars that need to be opened in order to be properly closed.  I was taught that healing me was part of healing the whole of humanity, but it was the only part that I was, or could be, responsible for.

I reworked how I defined success and my revised ideals created the roads to more meaningful ways. I learned to accept that healing is never really over, but the lessons begin to bloom more in joy than the scrapes of sorrow.  I worked my way to a life that is different, quieter, but true; to one that matters.  Just like my mother did.

And every now and then, we sing together the words of an old country song that plays to our fated heartstrings and we smile at the notes that we more than survived.

RL

This story was partially published as a guest post for JT Weaver.net in September 2013. Revised May 15, 2014

 

 

Beware of Bloggers, and Other Success Warnings

Recently I witnessed two prominent blogs, each followed by several thousand readers, cause disturbing ripples across the blogging community.

Although I’m fairly new to this arena, I did have contact with both of these bloggers, but it was minimal, and so I watched the dramas unfold from the safety of the periphery.  Nonetheless, it left me unsettled and a little disconcerted.

Writing gifOne of the blog-sites fully imploded due to revelations of wide-spread improprieties toward other bloggers that included bullying, coercion and sexual harassment. That site’s owner/writer ended up closing down that blog and all its associated webpages, but it had run for quite a long time prior because the harassed had been intimidated into silence.  The other had to deal with a very strong backlash regarding a post in which he called out another blogger as less than worthy of public acclaim.  This one also closed, but only temporarily, presumably to lick wounds and regroup.

In both cases, regardless of how much damning proof there was, there remained for both of these bloggers a strong base of supporters who were willing to excuse and even completely overlook the accusations toward these, their heroes, and for many, their  ‘on-line friends’.

In retaliation of the revelations, these supporters were also more than willing to demonstrate their solidarity by writing the victims and/or injured parties and their followers to demean and belittle them and the charges, some even issuing threats. This is a pretty strong example of when people don’t like to admit they’ve made a mistake – especially about someone they look up to. Especially one that questions, “Was I a sucker”?

Each case reminded me of the often repeated cautionary tales that we speak to our kids about when it comes to internet usage – whom to associate with and what we choose to post online.  It also reminded me that we have to re-think how we make heroes out of appearances of success.

In the blogging world, a successful following and  wider readership is attained through, in large part, making mutual blogging contacts and following each other’s work,  but like our warnings to our children, we also need to be more discerning about with whom we choose to support and associate.

In the pursuit of success, we too often, and easily, make heroes out of those we see as triumphant.  We hope to be able to tag onto their success and open opportunities for ourselves.  At least, that’s how it supposed to work and really, that’s how the world has gone around forever.  However, applauding success doesn’t require falling down in worship.

The last few weeks have served as a tough reminder to many of us to remember to be responsible for what we say publicly, or be willing to take full responsibility for the results, and it is also a reminder to behave; act with decent propriety and respect.

In the interest of general face-saving and self-preservation, we should also pay attention to that old adage of listening to our gut.  Follow our heart in what we want to say, but definitely pay attention when our Spidey senses start tingling while we’re writing, reading, or in a discussion.  Let’s face it, in this realm, we really don’t know who we are be-friending. If we back-off from something that feels wrong, that’s a win.  Maybe we will miss out on a chance to step up a notch, but it’s far more likely that there will still be plenty of opportunities to grow.

The last thought I took away from all these events, is yes,yes, yes it is OK to stand up for yourself, respectfully, when you’ve been wronged.  Even in the blogosphere, no one is too big to have to own up to bad behavior.

RL

Margaret’s Baby

Sometimes old memories float up in need of
a little light…
A soul’s whisper to let it go.

curtains city skylineI was 14 years old.  My mother and I were living in an apartment on the 14th floor of a basic downtown high-rise.  We were there because that’s where she was when I ran away from the last foster home I’d intended to live in.

I threatened to run away and never be found again if they made me go back to that home.  The Department of Social Services, and my unprepared mother, gave in.

My mother had been struggling with escape from an abusive marriage, alcoholism, and no way to fully support her daughters.  That’s how we ended up in foster care just after Christmas that year.

We were six girls, ages two to twelve years.  I was twelve.  They were my sisters, and because I was the oldest, they were also my beloved babies. There was no doubt that we were a fiercely bonded ‘band of sisters’ having already traversed a very rocky start together.

I was quite used to taking care of them, and the house as required, which it seemed was almost always.  So, the demand to relinquish responsibility to the social workers who came to take us away or to the people who were to foster us was incomprehensible.  It was shocking and infuriating and frustrating.

Many nights I’d lie awake planning our escape from that foster home and formulating the many ways I’d find our mom. I usually ended up crying myself to sleep immersed in the despondency of realizing how powerless I really was.

We were all together in that initial home, except the youngest who was instead taken to live with our father – another story for another time.  I was eventually to move to two other homes within a year and a half. Only one sister was allowed to go with me; they gave me one day to choose between the four faces that pleaded to be taken.  Despite everything that we’d already lived through to that point, it was then that I learned that a soul could feel fractured.

In short time, and with little choice, we adapted and carried on as kids are so able. Then two years later, suddenly we were all being taken to visit with our mom at her own new home. The visit went by as quickly as I’d dreaded. When it was time to say goodbye to her, it felt like the beginning of all the bad goodbyes again. I could not return to that pain; the next weekend I bolted for home, for her, for good.

So there I was, on the 14th floor in a small, sparse apartment, a temporary only child, but finally with my own mom.  Life definitely took another turn in my day-to-day. I spent less time with my friends and more with my mother’s.

She had a friend on the 7th floor.  Phyllis was one of those larger than life characters; a hard-drinking party girl, a queen bee who had great pride in being a full-time ‘player’.  She seemed to take my mother under her wing.  She was a louder than life distraction for a young woman bogged down with desperate problems.

Phyllis held court to an allotment of very proud and loud butch lesbians.  They called themselves the girbols (girl boys, hard g).  One of them was Margaret. She was pretty, a large woman, and very quiet. Though she liked to hang out with the crowd and indulged in the same drink and smoke, she alone remained quiet.

I came home from school one day, at the start of spring break, and went down to the gang. There was a brand new baby girl cuddled up in Margaret’s arms.  I hadn’t even realized that she had been pregnant. The baby was so tiny and delicate, and wrapped in a pink blanket.

Spring Break began on a weekend and as on all weekends, it was time to get the girbol party started. I was immediately designated the girl baby’s guardian. I took baby, and all of her required possessions, up to my apartment.

The ‘weekend’ turned into nearly two weeks, during which I had full custody of baby night and day. It’s awesome, as in really awe-inspiring, how easily you fall in love with a child, even as a young girl, and you immediately wish to be everything it takes to nurture them to perfection.

She needed me for everything and I reveled in that.  At night, I would wrap her next to me and listen to her breath and smell the top of her head until I drifted off in true peace. Every minute with her was another moment of reclaimed love. I was once again protector, friend, sister, mother.  For awhile I was me again.

Spring break was over and I’d already missed two days of school, I had to go back.  That morning, I reluctantly took her down to the 7th floor, gave her back to Margaret and left for school.  When I came home, I dropped off my school things and grabbed one of her blankets to collect her. I sniffed her baby smell all the way to Phyllis’s apartment.

When I walked in, I saw Margaret sitting by the window, staring out with the curtains blowing around her. The girbol group was strangely quiet. I asked for the baby and no one said anything.  I went to Margaret and asked. “Where’s the baby”?  She wouldn’t answer, and then I saw her tears.  I was instantly alarmed.

“Where’s the baby Margaret”?  I was ready to cry, but not sure why.

“They took her”, she said softly.

“Who took her”?

“Social Services.  I phoned them today and they came to take her away”.

I know I asked her why, maybe a few times, but I don’t recall an answer.  I doubt she gave one.

I turned from Margaret and I looked at everyone else.  No one would look back at me; they kept their eyes on the floor or each other.  I turned to Margaret again and watched her silently cry for a while.  I walked to the door and quietly closed it behind me.

It was the last day I saw Margaret, or our baby.  I went to sleep that night holding that baby blanket. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.  Somehow, I knew in my heart then, that no matter how much I dreamed, I was never going to get my family, my  ‘band of sisters’, back in the same way again.

And, we didn’t, not ever in the same way again.

RL