A Resilient Heart

heart in repair

I am better than what I was today. This lie.  I have diminished myself into a bed sheet on the floor where there was once a person.  The voice in my head is yelling at me that I am no good. Every morning, every day, and right now, as it turns to night… I am still a vacant soul. The alcohol isn’t working.  My kids are watching the tears stream.  All I can do is answer  “Mommy’s okay, I’m sorry.”

My stunted voice tells me I am a bad mother.  What was I thinking? I should have never become a mom in the first place. Some people just shouldn’t be parents. Why did I marry him?  I knew better.  I swear I did.  I just couldn’t stand up for myself.  Because I didn’t know I had a self.  I still don’t, or I wouldn’t be feeling like this.

I want to be brave. I want to be myself.. Not the self I project, but the me everyone including myself, knows is in there somewhere.  She is dying to show herself. Literally. There is a light inside of me, so I have been told, that shines so bright.  Do you think maybe it is me who puts on the lampshade?  Or perhaps certain ghosts of my past who have dimmed my light?  A little of both I suppose. You believe what you hear after years of conditioning.  I know I am a woman of worth, but why do I feel so ugly and undeserving?

Don’t tell me I need to go to church.

So, I was cruising along just fine in my training for Warehouse, logistics and Transportation.  I am days away from being nationally accredited with a certification.  Today we started the job interview process.  I had to come up with a mission statement about my myself; basically selling myself to a hiring manager. Needless to say, a person with damaged self worth has a hard time with this assignment.  I can pass a test. In fact, I have all A’s in the program, but today, I could hardly find the strength to lift my head from the desk.  Find something good about myself and then convince people of it?  Tears.  Tears ran down my face during the whole class. I recognized a familiar feeling.

Fear of failure.

This program? This is as far as I can go.  I need to get up and run.  I can’t finish this.  I never finish anything.   Some people are self confident and stupid.  I am the opposite.  I am petrified.

Not to mention, all the phone calls from my ex husband informing me that he is now working.  Oh great.  No wait.  He gets paid daily so he can get high.  I never expected any help from him, but don’t rub your ability to numb your feelings in my face.  I could use a big dose of something about now!  But I have to take care of the children you abandoned to get high.

This isn’t my dream.  I went to school to work in a field I dreamed of since I was in high school. Now I am almost 40 years old training to be a warehouse worker.  Fine.  Maybe I sound spoiled right now.  I am just a little resentful.  I know my life’s calling is different from picking orders and driving a forklift.  It will pay the bills, but it will not fulfill my heart.  My heart is big.  It is bruised.  It’s been stretched and broken.  In the midst though, I know it needs to feel what it hasn’t felt ever before.  Some hearts never break so they don’t get the opportunity to feel the mending or the longing to mend.  My brain and mind are amazing tools, but it’s my heart that is aching.  If I don’t use it, I will die… emotionally.

People need me.  I need me.  Hence, the importance of a resilient heart.

resilient heart


Fatherless? Just Tell Me The Truth.


As a young girl, she pondered her purpose.

Questioned the tragic event of her birth.

Where did her dad go?

To be exact, he was at the bar when she fell from her mother’s womb.

One year later, he left and never returned.

She has always been grieved by his absence, but never angry.

Not at him anyway.

Her resentment toward her mother, however,  grew more with each passing day.

The facade of her mother lit a spark inside of her.

How long can a mother tell a lie?

How long can a woman pretend a bad man is a good man?

Her daughter grew up in a warped fairy tale with false expectations.

Good or bad is irrelevant.

For it is honesty that is worth comfort in a child’s eyes.

She knows this from her own experience now.

This little girl is grown and now has two children.

Two children whose father has disappeared.

The circumstances are different of course.

But fatherless is fatherless.

These children shine because their mother never lied.

They will not grow up resenting their mother for painting a pretty picture of smoke screens.

Their father is not a bad man, but he chose bad things.

They know this.

There will be no surprise.

The inevitable disappointments will hurt,  but knock them down with less force.

They will be strong, independent individuals who know reality from a dream.

Their mother grew up riding her bike up and down the alley anticipating every car turning the corner just might be her dad.

She was disappointed.  Her disappointment turned into a life of pain and depression.

And a relationship with her mother she would rather forget.

She learned from her mother what not to do.

She loves her kids so much that she will not lie, no matter how bad the truth.

There is no shame in the truth.

There is no shame in authentc love.

Tell Me I Can Stay


Who says I can’t.

Who says I have to write “can not” instead of “can’t” to be a good writer.

I do.  I say.

I say I can write it that way and I say I can live that way.

I don’t say it as much as I think it.

I can’t do this anymore.

I just CAN’T.


Why did you say I don’t need to come here anymore?

What do I have to do to convince you that I really am crazy, I just hide it well.

Perhaps hiding it makes me more crazy.

If you let me go, I may just let go too.



I resent that you said that.

Am I wasting your time?

Am I wasting mine?

I hate myself today just as much as I did the first day I walked in here and sat down in this chair.

If I am so much better now, why do I still self destruct?


Why do I eat and drink so much,

Wake up the next morning, curse myself in the mirror and do it all over again?

It’s almost 1 pm.

There’s a bottle of wine in the cupboard.

I want it.

I have to leave here in 3 ½ hours to come and see you.

I never drink first.

Not because I care about myself,

But because I care about you.

I suppose it would be disrespectful.

And I would be mortified if you smelled alcohol on me and confronted me.

Not to mention drinking and driving.

But shit like that never stops me.

It’s high risk behavior.

Isn’t that why I am here?


I didn’t quite make it the bathroom in time this morning.


I stopped taking them for a while.

But it’s a small price to pay to feel just a little thinner.

I need to get rid of everything I ate and drank last night.

An eating disorder?


But I don’t look like I have one.

Just like I don’t look crazy.


She said she loved me this morning.

I said “Thank You.”

I am not sure I am in love anymore.

I am not quite certain how to love.


The other one called and told me she fell last night and had to 911 for help to get back in her chair.

I felt empty.



I gave my feelings away a long time ago.

I have nothing left to give.

I have half of my life left.

Yet all of my feelings have been used.


Do I sympathize?


I can’t even remember the difference.


Sometimes I watch her from the chair.

My blood boils as she breathes.

She breathes heavily because she is in pain.

It irritates me.

Why so dramatic?

She’s supposed to taking care of me, god dammit.

My drama.

My pain.

This is about me.


I have nothing left to give.

I am numb.

She’s watching a comedian on TV.

I had to come to the bedroom to write this.

I can’t listen to a man rant about fat women, crack cocaine and blow jobs.

There is nothing funny about that.

Not to me.

Doesn’t she know that?

Most of my trauma comes from crack pipes and forced sex.

I can feel the anger well up in my throat, the tears behind my eyes.

I want to scream.

But I can’t.

I feel crazy.

But I can’t let it out.

I hate myself.


Who are these women I speak of?

They’ll never know.

I’ll never tell.


People don’t change.

So why am I sitting here?

Why am I on my bed instead of at the table?

Healthy people can laugh when they hear jokes about blow jobs and crack.


So then why I am I here with you?

If I am so healthy why the hell am I here?

Tell me you didn’t mean it.

Tell me I can stay.

Even though I can’t change.

I want to stay.

No one else gets me.

I have no where else to go.





September 19th.

I remember this day every year as it approaches as much as I would like to forget.  Bittersweet remnants of my journey from an innocent child to a bruised adult pass through my already rattled brain.  It is the birthday of my closest childhood friend, Chelsey.   Although she was not the cause of my life tragedies, she was present in some form… whether in person, in spirit, or the nagging voice between my ears.  Sometimes her absence spoke louder than her presence.  It continues to do so.

I remember the first day of elementary school vividly. Chelsey and I were like two magnets drawn together despite the annoying clatter of silver spoons running wild in the classroom.  This is surprising to me in hind sight since she was just as privileged as the rest of the school.  Her father was a big wig at Boeing and her mother was a registered nurse at a highly respected hospital.

We attended a small Christian school.  In the 1980’s, not many kids like me were in a private school.  When I say “like me,” I am referring to only having one parent.  Of course I have a dad because I am breathing and writing. However, he disappeared during my infancy never to be seen again.  At least not by me.

My mom forced her way into the Naval Industry to get us off state assistance. After school, the stay at home moms arrived in their expensive cars, wearing nice dresses, garnished with styled hair and flawless makeup. In contrast, and to my embarrassment,  my mom was leaning on the door of our grey Datsun 800 wagon in her orange overalls reeking of Diesel fuel. I approached the car hoping to God she wasn’t smoking a cigarette.  However, 30 years later, I am proud of that juxtapose.  My mother stood tall and proud, and damn she was beautiful!  The moms with the caked make up didn’t hold a candle to her bare beauty.  If I could only have seen the significance of that as a child, but my awkwardness was what reeked, drawing attention to the the veil I wore which gave away my pain of being different.

Standing apart from the crowd was not on my compass as a child.  It is still not a strength I claim, although I wish I could harness that power I so often envy in others. I have always been this way. A quiet observer. An introvert. Awkward and anxious.

Chelsey, however, stood out whether she intended to or not.  I laugh to myself as I remember our personality differences.  She had a laugh that echoed throughout our apartment complex in college.  She was goofy and didn’t care who noticed.  She made me laugh. I made her laugh because I was somehow allowed to be free when it was just the two of us.  I could only dream of laughing as freely as she.  Chelsey rarely thought before she spoke.  I seldom talked, and when I did my face turned bright red.  The color of her hair, in fact. Like Little Orphan Annie, Chelsey had a head full of short, think, curly red hair. Quite the contrast from my dull brown, straight as a board, paper fine hair. She also towered a good 6 inches over me.  I have no idea what force bonded us, but there we were.  Best friends.  A friendship that withstood almost 30 years.

Just her and me?  We could argue for hours.  We could laugh for hours.  In the 6th grade, we had library duty together.  We argued over music lyrics quite frequently.  One day in particular, it turned into a hard-back book throwing brawl.  One book after the other, rather than being re-shelved, flew across our tiny library as we ducked and dodged to avoid the fierce catapults of rage. I do not remember if I was given the opportunity to, as usual, prove I was right. But, I imagine after doing so, she realized music was my strong suit, not hers. I remember a song popular at the time… “Nobody gonna break my stride, no body gonna slow me down”… Chelsey insisted it went, “No body gonna break my stripes, no body gonna slow me down…”  Honestly?  I just couldn’t let that one go.

When we were young, Chelsey spent most of the weekends at my house. Although her house and home life appeared perfect from the outside, she was the happiest at my house… an old, run-down small home I grew to be ashamed of in my teenage years.  My house was the exact opposite of what my classmates lived in… It wasn’t pristine and it was missing a farther, but it was Chelsey’s second home.  Her mother kept a spotless house. In fact, she was not allowed to have sleepovers, even me.  If Chelsey sat on her Duvet or messed up the pillows on her perfectly made bed, she would be yelled at and shamed.  I was visiting her after school one day until my mom could pick me up, I went to sit down on her bed while she opened her closet to lay out the next day’s school clothes as instructed by her mother, and I nearly hit sit the ceiling as Chelsey told me I could not sit on her bed.  The look on her face clutched a fear no child should have to wear.  She panicked as she smoothed her Duvet with herb hands just as mom had made it.  I walked over to the bay window, perched by her boom box, and watched as she carefully constructed the next days outfit.  Much to my visual dismay, the ensemble included a red and white striped long sleeve shirt, a navy blue corduroy jumpsuit, thick white tights, and brown penny loafers (with shiny pennies of course).  I was content in my over sized tee shirts, jeans, black converse, and a flannel.  Not only had I never heard the word “Duvet,” I was mortified when my mother suggested taking me to The Brass Plum at Nordstrom for nicer clothes like Chelsey wore and those god awful penny loafers. I refused.  It suited Chelsey fine.  But not me.  Just another one of our monumental differences that meant nothing to us. We didn’t match, yet we did.

Life at my house was a lot more relaxed.  My mom didn’t yell if we broke a dish or spilled milk on the floor.  We could sit on any surface.  I am uncertain if we owned a Duvet, but if we did, my mom certainly would let us wrinkle it. Sometimes we slept in my bed, giggling and talking about New Kids on The Block. Chelsey was not allowed to mark her walls with posters, however my walls were filled.  Sometimes we slept in the living room.  My mom would make us a big comfy bed consisting of every blanket and pillow she could find.  We would watch movies and eat Oreo cookies until we passed out.  Upon rising, we would sneak into the kitchen to make breakfast.  It was an intended surprise for my mom, but our fighting usual woke her up before the smell of the bacon.  We would bicker over who would make what to the point of hitting each other with our towels, chasing one another out of the kitchen. At least my mom’s cook books were out of reach.  And still, my mother never got mad. She would walk into the kitchen, assess the mess, and somehow laughed because she knew we were fighting with the intent to bring her breakfast in bed.  She knew what Chelsey’s mother was like and wanted her be free at my house. She just smiled and enjoyed her hand crafted breakfast of over cooked bacon and under cooked pancakes.  Maybe the Valium had something to do with her ease, but at least from our eyes, everything was okay. We were still pissed at each other, but knew we were still best friends.

I was often jealous when Chelsey came over.  She would curl up in my mother’s lap.  My mom would hold her.  It was just an unspoken awareness that Chelsey needed a mom.  Coincidentally, I needed a dad.  And Chelsey’s dad was the coolest.  He took us everywhere.  I remember being in his always- new BMW, enjoying the smell of clean leather and our favorite radio station. Chelsey would be talking, and her dad would catch a glimpse of me in his rear view mirror.  He told Chelsey to quiet down.  He sensed I was experiencing something wonderfully foreign.  New leather seats and a dad.  He took us to the movies.  He took us to Shakey’s Pizza.  The restaurant where each table top had a glass covering holding in place the old black and white newspaper. I’ll never forget those unique tables, the smell our town’s best pizza, or the taste of drinking Root Beer from a pitcher.  But most importantly, I will never forget being in the presence of the world’s greatest dad.  The dad who knew I needed him. The same dad who knew his daughter needed my mom.  I often drive by the Taco Time that took the place of Shakey’s Pizza many years ago and am instantly transported back in time.

After high school, we attended different Universities.  I ended up working a regular job upon the completion of my Freshman year.  I needed to decide what I wanted. I missed Chelsey.  I couldn’t focus on anything.  I called her in Eastern Washington shrieking with joy that I was making the trip over the mountains to attend school with her.  We were so excited. We arranged to share an apartment off campus.  She had already made so many new friends. But that was okay.  We were still us.

During my years at WSU, my mom called me every night.   A gesture parents should avoid when their adult child moves away to college.  Chelsey’s dad came to visit on Dad’s weekend.  He went to pub crawls with us and he bought me a new tennis racket so we could all play.  It was comforting when he came to visit.  My mom made the drive over on Mom’s weekend.  She partied with us as well, but she was not as comforting to me as she used to be.  I hope she was for Chelsey though.

Life took Chelsey and I down completely different paths.  I think she may have ended up a little too much like her mother.  When her marriage failed, I tried to reach out to her.  She ignored my messages and never returned my calls.  My gut tells me that was her pride.  I married before her and had 2 children. Although my marriage proved to be a disaster, I don’t think she could handle the fact that hers ended before mine. She had a great husband.  I think her mom’s personality reared it’s head in her like a bomb that just could not be stopped.  It changed her.  She resented and despised my husband.  I do not blame her.  He was ugly to me and slowly isolated me from my friends.  I went years without seeing Chelsey.  And when I tried, he would control when and for how long, making me feel guilty and anxiety ridden to the point where I just stopped trying.

After my failed attempts to reach Chelsey, it became clear to me that life’s circumstances were more important to her than our friendship.  We had a bond so strong as children, I believed nothing could break it.  No man, no parent, no tragedy.  I was wrong.  During the last 5 years, I have tried to forget her.  I went through all of the feelings and processes of grief.  Overall, I feel anger and betrayal the most.  It is what it is.  If I could have seen the future, would I have been her friend for nearly 3 decades?  Yes.  I wouldn’t change our time together.  I wouldn’t take back the fights or the late nights. I especially wouldn’t take back the time we had to pull her car over so she could take a shit in the wheat fields. I’ll never forget her red head poking up through the wheat that went on for miles. I nearly peed from laughing so hard.

But if I could go back, I would want to know the exact moment she changed her mind.  I would do what ever I could to stop it, and we would still be friends. We would be us.

painful goodbye



Where’s The Wart Remover?

ImageFamily. What comes to mind? Comfort? Craziness? There are a million words and feelings associated with that word. It’s a complicated dynamic that encompasses a lot of baggage.  It’s like one of those 1000 piece puzzles. I am consistently “almost there” in understanding my family, then Aunt Catastrophe bumps into me and a few pieces fall off the table. Uncle Scapegoat throws a fit along with his coat, while cousin cautious tries to pick up the pieces and put them back in place before anyone gets hurt.

In life, we experience ups and downs with our family. Major events such as marriage, childbirth, sickness, divorce and death, in addition to those come holiday drama, infertility, affairs, parenting issues, etc… Not placing more or less importance on any of these, but you follow what I am saying, right? Most of these occur over the course of a life time. What is the absolute here? Family. Some people do not know their biological parents. Myself, for example, only met my father once. I never knew his side of the family. We all come from the same thing, an anxious egg and a lucky sperm. After that, we all have a different experience. Regardless of how big or how small, happy or miserable, blood related, adopted or married, we all have a family.

I mentioned not knowing my father or his side of the family. I spent most of my life feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t have a father. At 38 years old, I am beginning to see his absence as more of a blessing than a curse. An entire extra family I don’t have to deal with. The less dramatic bullshit I am in the middle of, the better. My mom’s side, the side in which I grew up, holds enough craziness to fill up 2 families. Getting caught in the middle of family drama is like accidentally standing in front of a dart board at the bar. It is neither planned nor intentional, but there you are.  Front and center. Dodging the darts and beer. But there is too much to evade and you only have two hands.

We can assume that all families are dysfunctional on some level. Nobody is perfect at communication, therefore a perfect family is impossible. Happy families are, however, a possibility. For example, I imagine families gather all over America for holiday dinners without screaming accusations or tossing chairs across the living room. I know these ridiculous actions take place in some families over a he said /she said argument, or jealousy and entitlement over which crystal vase grandma left to whom. Back when my family functioned as a healthy family, I’ll say 25 years ago, all 16 of us crammed into Gramma’s one bedroom apartment for a Turkey dinner. I am the youngest in the family, so I don’t remember the fighting, but something huge happened. After a couple years, we no longer gathered together. There were 4 siblings and 8 grand kids. Gramma and Grandpa, who were already divorced, ended up turning half the family against the other half. Most likely over money. Which in hindsight, is always trivial when you consider people’s lives and feelings. I imagine on my death bed, I won’t be thinking about money. It’s a shame we spend so much of our lives stewing over it.

To this day, the 4 siblings: my mom, two aunts and one uncle, will not speak to each other unless it is an absolute necessity. Grandpa and Gramma are both deceased. The cousins are scattered. And our children don’t even know they have second cousins. It is very sad what happened to our family, especially for the kid’s sake. I am sure they wonder why no one is together. One day when they are adults, they will realize that acting like a child only makes things worse. And of course they will need to explain to their future family why our family is dysfunctional. Hopefully the cycle can be broken. I am doing my part to ensure my kids and their kids don’t end up arguing like they are on the Maury Povich show.

I envision my family in three branches. My mom’s side or the blood side. My girlfriend’s family which is my newly adopted family. And lastly, my ex husband’s family or my kids’ dad’s family. My ex’s family is what brings me to write this. They are the source of my eternal frustration. How can so much hypocrisy exist among a few people with the same last name? I am overwhelmed by their shallowness and continually surprised at their ignorance.

Briefly, let me explain why my current situation allows me to see clearly how screwed up my past situations were. Hind sight is a beautiful thing, realizing what was missing is a gift. Problems or major issues do not plague my current family. There is nothing that hovers over all of our heads with gloom. In the end, love always prevails. In the morning, the light blinds us, in a good way, to what the previous night entailed, if by chance there was a disagreement. It is a beautiful process I am blessed to be a part of, and only hope to remain inside it’s warm walls. My children are finally seeing what a happy relationship looks like, what a healthy disagreement sounds like, and what unconditional love feels like. And most importantly, that family is not defined by or confined to blood relation.

Okay, those are the tolerable ones. Now, the ex. I always knew my ex’s parents were flaky and oblivious. My father in law is from a small town in Montana, and I mean really small. The kind of place with one Post Office and five taverns. Nothing to do in an old mining town but be a drunk. I think when he moved here he never checked out, never bothered to absorb any new intelligence. He just opted to stay in the dark. My mother in law is from here in the city, but something must have happened, like too much tanning bed exposure, or possibly the disappearance of too many brain cells from Grey Goose Vodka. Maybe it’s Jesus. She claims to love Him, but that, in my experience, tends to leave people a little dumb. She’s one those “Christians” who looks at you with the deepest concern and says she is going to pray for you. And you just know she doesn’t, it’s just something she rattles off in every birthday card  and before you know it, you’re rolling your eyes every time she says the word “pray.” This religious facade has become the biggest turn off for me. The only hypocrites I know are unfortunately individuals who claim Jesus as their co-pilot. I am patiently awaiting the inevitable crash.

My ex’s family can be compared to a wart I cut off and it just keeps growing back. They continually push their way to the front of the list of things that give me a headache. And warts are ugly. I associate my ex husband with ugly things and ugly times. Lately, it seems, circumstances are accumulating and I need to cut off this wart for good. It’s not healthy. Oh, and did I mention it’s ugly?

Actually, the more I reflect on this, the more it feels like they have cut me off. While trying to figure out what my feelings are in this scattered puzzle, I realize that I am angry at them for judging me from a distance. If you want to make an observation and then a statement about my life, come and live with me. At least know me and see me on a regular basis before you throw accusations. Both of my ex’s parents have written me off, along with his cousins, among other family members who won’t talk to me. This hurts. Mainly because it is directly hurting my kids. I would assume that these people would want some contact with the two amazing children they once adored and saw on a regular basis. No. It’s like all of a sudden, their brains have been possessed by preschoolers fighting over crayons, and they are stomping their feet while saying, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore!”

They obviously have never heard of taking the higher road. I have never witnessed or been the direct lashing of such childish behavior. It actually shocks me. I should be used to it, and at the very least, expect it. It doesn’t matter to them what my ex did to me or our kids. In their opinion, I am the bad person. Maybe it’s because of my new relationship and family. I guess it’s okay to beat your wife and use her as a sex slave, but god forbid being a lesbian. If they are so disgusted by my relationship, maybe they should get on the next train back to Shallowville. I have no tolerance for ignorant people anymore. They just don’t realize how clueless they are. That says it all right there. You can’t realize you’re clueless if you don’t know anything. If you chose to walk the narrow and closed minded path, you’re going to end up in Mindlessville. 

 In closing,

Let me just say that I love my children. I know their father loves them as well.  But there are circumstances which follow all choices, in his case, thoughtless choices driven by drug abuse.  I may one day allow him a little grace if he ever proves himself, because I know the kids miss him terribly.    His family however, are a group of ignorant robots being blindly led by the blood of the lamb.  Go ahead and judge me.  I laugh at you and your stupidity.  I am going to hell because I sleep next to another woman?  I’ll shout that from the roof tops before I ever claim being a Christian.  It took a long time, but I can finally declare that I am where I am supposed to be. I am with who I am supposed to be with.  My kids are loved and secure. I am proud of how far I have come the last 3 years.  And for all the brave individuals whose families do not support them because of their own ignorance?  You can take that shit down the street in a package addressed to 123, Idiot Lane, Unschooled City, Cluelessville County, Misinformed, USA.

He Erased My Very Existence.

20131123_180450My father left my mom when I was a year old.  He was a career criminal on the run.  He was invariably caught and spent a lengthy five years in Prison.  Indeed easy time compared to what the hardened criminal was accustomed.  He begged my mother to bring me to visit him in prison.  She refused.  She wouldn’t subject me to that environment.  Whether or not the real reason, I believe she was punishing him for abandoning us.  I remember him sending drawings and letters. A nice gesture, but I always felt it was superficial. He sent a five dollar bill in a birthday card for my fifth birthday filled with his impeccable handwriting and intelligent discourse.  I kept it for years in a special box. I no longer have that box. I regret that day I threw all of those memories away, but most of its contents were of sorrow and heaviness. Here I sit, still melancholy in nature. The box of emotions would offer some assistance in understanding how I became such a complex spirit. Apparently I thought purging the gloomy items would somehow uplift me.  I was mistaken.

I remember my mother being very beautiful. The stress of the previous years hadn’t revealed itself.  Her usual fair skin was always the perfect shade of tan in the summer due to endless hours of yard work and sun bathing. I would play on the swing set she sacrificed so hard to buy, and she would smoke cigarettes, sip on gin and tonics, and pretend to watch me. I remember the sound the ice cubes made when she would take a drink. I incessantly hollered “Look mom, look at me”! Even when she wasn’t looking she would muster up a sound to acknowledge my brave new skill. Her hair was a chestnut brown; naturally curly. The curls were perfect. Not too tight and not too loose, and always to my envy as my hair was stubbornly straight. She never lacked for attention from men. I went to my grandmother’s almost every Friday night as my mother would be escorted to dinner by a new gentleman caller. I was always her excuse, the card she would play, in case she wanted to end the night early, which was the case more often than not. They would pick me up from grama’s apartment and when we got home her date would unfailingly leave due to a curious little girl in the way. Some of the men would leave at the door as soon as they knew their fantasies would be confined to their imaginations; others would at least come inside and sit down for a drink, but I usually crept out of my room disregarding instruction to go to bed and wedged myself between them. This would often seal the deal and so it was so long to “mister get away from my mother.”

My mom was the ultimate conquest for men in her field.  She was virtually the only woman there, and she performed the same if not better. They were either intimidated or captivated. Either way, they wanted to say they had boarded that train. We were on welfare for the first two years of my life. Back then, it was acceptable and allowed to sit back and receive assistance without showing much effort. Not for my mother. She pulled herself up, dusted herself off, walked right into the Shipyards lacking the first clue of what the job entailed and demanded a chance. She was turned away more than once. Her perseverance paid off. She talked her way onto those vessels.  She watched, asked questions, most likely to the annoyance of the skilled men she accompanied. She didn’t care. My mother was now making more money than most men in business suits. She would come to pick me up from school wearing overalls and smelling of diesel fuel, while all the other moms looked, well, like moms. I was embarrassed. But despite the oily clothes, she was the prettiest.

My mother was determined to give me the best life possible. She would go to any lengths to make sure I had the same opportunities as any child had from a two parent household. I attended a Christian school. She bought and fixed up a house, made sure I had nice clothes, and that I was well fed. We ate steak for dinner at least once a week. She spared nothing when it came to me. Although I was an only child, I was mortified when anyone coined me as spoiled. When I heard that word, I felt a huge knot in my stomach immediately. My defenses rose faster than I could contain them.  My cousins often said this (probably hearing it from their parents) because out of 4 siblings, my mother had one child, the others had 2 or 3.  I never wanted people to think I received whatever I asked for, because that simply was not true.  I didn’t ask for much to begin with.  I despise the stigma that only children are spoiled. She was merely taking care of me, although overcompensating for the lack of my father. I see that in hind sight. I often wonder if she does. She absolutely coddled me with protection, not wanting to let me out of her sight. She smothered me with mere intentions of love. I appreciate the gesture, but resent the overall result.

Life looked great from the outside as my lonely mother tried to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Divorcing my father while telling me what a wonderful and prodigious man he was only prompted me inward. I didn’t bother to disassemble the contradiction, rather I stayed quiet. I was shy and painfully introverted. I learned to second guess my feelings as a child. On many occasions my mother would unravel in front of me. Her open displays of hysteria startled me. As well they should a young girl. I absolutely did not deserve to be a grown woman’s shoulder to cry on. One night in particular, on my mother’s 30th birthday, we went to dinner just the two of us.  I loved the Chinese restaurant down the street from our house.  They always brought me a Shirley Temple.  My mom laughed because I refused to eat those little baby corn on the cob things. When we returned home, the gin and tonics she guzzled at the Chinese restaurant hit her as a reminder of her loneliness. She sobbed for hours placing her head on my lap. I was 5 years old and understandably unaware of her unhappiness, and ill equipped for how to respond.  I can picture exactly where we were.  In the dining room, next to the entry way on her hope chest.  Facing the table and thankfully a window.  I caressed her head, gently pulled her hair from her face, and stared out that window until she couldn’t muster another tear. From that moment my mother’s emotions were always in the forefront of my mind. I was acutely aware of them.  I see it now as an anxiety.  I was learning how to enable her, consequently excusing my own emotions, often misplacing them to be shelved somewhere within me, not knowing if I would need them later or how to recall them when I did. To this day, a sense of paralysis comes over me when I realize I am being cued to feel a certain emotion, and when I figure out what that feeling is, how do I respond? My heart shuts down when I should be crying.  (But I can cry at the TV drama, no problem.  What the hell is that about)?  Getting out of the situation is my only goal so I can return to own thoughts where no one can judge me.  

My only encounter with my father lasted just minutes. I wondered why my mom dressed me up nice and fixed me up for a special day. This was extremely irritating. I felt uncomfortable. This did not fit with the tomboy I saw in the mirror, but when she informed me that my dad was coming to see me, I quietly smiled on the inside with anticipation. I wouldn’t show my excitement because there was a possibility I would be disappointed. I learned from an early age that being optimistic was a set up for being let down.  Our house was small, just enough for the two of us. Built in 1914, it was old but strong with character. It contained two bedrooms, one little bathroom, a kitchen, and a living and dining room that made up one big front room. The ceilings were higher than most houses which made it feel huge. Our carpet was an ugly burnt-orange. I remember how excited mom was when she finally picked out new carpet. I tried to talk her out of beige because of how easily it would stain and reveal dirt, but beige it was.  There were two rooms, one for each of us.  In between, lay a huge closet connecting the rooms together. Not great for privacy but served well for playing and hiding. Our basement held the washer and dryer. It was mostly for storage, damp and dark, and of course housed many spiders. We had 3 buckets in the kitchen catching the water falling from the ceiling. I remember the work party my mom threw when all of her new friends from the shipyard came over to re-roof the house.  I wonder now how many men were thinking this was their chance to get into her pants.  At least the job got done. After that, my mom and I together took hammers and tore down the walls in the living room. We watched all of the old plaster fall to the floor in a cloud of dust, smiling in anticipation for our new sheet- rocked walls. We got rid of the pea green cupboards in the kitchen, along with a new stove and refrigerator. Even new tile on the kitchen floor that I helped pick out, unlike the beige carpet I had no say in. My mom was proud of what she had done. She was a single mom who got us off welfare and transformed an old dilapidated house.  I was proud, but when I became old enough to have friends from school, I was quickly humbled and embarrassed because my peers had two parents and lived in a bigger, nicer house.

The sound finally came. The knock on the door I had been waiting for. My father had just been released from Walla Walla State penitentiary. He drove four hours to visit the girl he had only seen in pictures. He was present for only the first nine months of my life. I remember being awkward and unsure, a disposition I have held close like a child’s worn blanket ever since. My mother prompted me to rise from our Texas Instrument Computer as she opened the door.  I was in the living room brushing up on my math skills.  There was a sun room like an enclosed porch hiding the door from my view as I waited in the living room.  I heard Lew’s voice. He had a deep yet gentle tone. The muffled conversation was brief. And then I was face to face with the mystery man who carried the burden of bringing me into the world. He seemed very tall to me. He was muscular and tattooed from all the years in prison. He had dark hair and blue eyes. Just like me. We walked over to the dining room table, a solid oak table my mother had spent an entire paycheck to purchase.  That table still sits in the same place. I remember sitting on his lap looking at him intently and with such curiosity as he exchanged words with my mother. I kept repeating in my head, ‘this is my dad.’ There was no close feeling, no excitement in the room whatsoever, just an uneasy tension mainly between Lew and my mother. I don’t remember what my appointed parents talked about. I am sure it all sounded a blur, as I sat memorizing his face. I sensed my mother’s irritation. I could not blame her considering my dad had a friend in the car (presumably a fellow inmate), and he wasn’t able to stay long. My insignificance was confirmed when I heard him say that.  Just released, he was on strict supervision, and was instructed to go straight to California. Veering in any way was a serious parole violation. So I guess the gesture to come to Seattle and meet me was a commendable risk he took. This was my special day. I had been waiting for this moment my entire childhood. And now he had to leave. He had just got here, and now he was leaving. Again. I heard the car pull away. The getaway car used to transport my father away from any responsibility or burden. I imagine them traveling the pacific coastal highway all the way down to my father’s home state of California, returning to Long Beach where his roots lie. He had brothers there and a place to live. I knew in my heart that was more important than his only daughter, at least I knew at that moment. 

For months after, my mother cried. She was alone and wondering if she had made the right choice when she filed for divorce. She often wanted to talk about my dad, and I refused. I became angry and screamed at her to stop. Any talk of him hurt too much. I was intent that she was never to see me hurt or crying over my father. I had to hold it together because a house filled with two people’s emotions was like a bomb waiting to explode. There just wasn’t enough room.  My mother’s emotions were always flowing, like an out of control river about to crest. My mother had no idea she had stunted my emotional growth. It was of no use telling her. In full denial, she insisted she did everything right when raising me. My mother expected full credit and gushing praise when talking of her great achievements as a single parent. Only once did she see me miserable over my father. I was sitting at the piano in our living room. I was supposed to be practicing my scales on that Sunday afternoon. Rather, I was in a trance like state, mindlessly pushing keys that formed in a sulky fashion. Tears were flowing as my mother’s attention turned toward me. With a mother’s instinct, she rushed to console me. I was too grieved to hide my feelings this time. I couldn’t control the tears. It felt like my heart had an anchor tied to it; it had sunk to the lowest place in the pit of my gut, and it just lie there like a heavy burden. As she realized the cause of my hurting, her expressions matched mine. This was the reason I never allowed my feelings through. It was too late to reel them in, so we were both broken with emotion, except my mom was getting angrier by the second. My mother reached for the phone and began making calls to California. She talked to a number of people, presumably my dad’s brothers or their wives, but she seemed dissatisfied with their responses and excuses. I sat in the other room listening to her desperate attempts to make some sense of this and grasp an answer for her daughter. I heard her say sternly, “Please tell Lew I need him to call his daughter.” My father’s family seemed to avoid contact with my mother. They were hiding something.

At the age of 14, I still longed for my father. But as life became busier with starting high school and making new friends, my attention shifted along with the painful longing. I buried the pain, but not too deep. It was just under the surface. It still lives there. I believe my depression is a result of repressed anger. The frustration of not being able to do anything about my situation, the helplessness of having no choice but to accept my life’s circumstances. I am still angry at my mother for marrying this man. I am still angry at her for defending him when there was nothing to defend. Those were her choices, not mine. Yes, we all have to live under the circumstances made by another in some way. Expected to play the hand we’ve been dealt, life is more fair to some than others. Everyone handles the good and the bad differently. That’s what makes us unique. What might drive one person into a suicidal frenzy might just be a tiny mole hill in the grass to another. We are all wired differently. How boring if we were all the same. Like robots. I guess the point being… how we respond to a problem in life is far more important than the problem itself. You may have been dealt a shitty hand, but you can still have a good outcome.  I am just unclear if that is a learned skill or just luck.

One day in that 14th year of my life, we received a phone call. I remember being in the kitchen with my mom. I know the back door was open so it must have been a pleasant time of year. My mom’s reaction to the unknown caller, however, resembled nothing pleasant. She asked a couple questions, her voice getting higher with each one. The shock on her face broadened with each response. Her shock turned into anger. She yelled into the receiver as I wondered how her voice traveled through the long spiral cord that led to the big pea green box with numbers that attached to the wall in the kitchen.  I hated seeing her upset. My insides immediately shook wondering how to calm her down, and what the hell could possibly be such bad news. She slammed the receiver into its cradle. Her Anger quickly turned into sadness. Crying, she explained that my father had died. Okay, I thought. Well, I haven’t seen him in 9 years and held no hope of seeing him again. So, time to console my mom.  Just like on her 30th birthday.  After all, he was her husband for 7 years. She refused to remarry because no one could replace him.

“No!” She exclaimed. “He died 3 years ago and those bastard brothers of his are just telling me now.” It made sense now. The phone call. It was Arden, my dad’s brother. From Long Beach, California. The place my dad drove after I met him, the place he grew up. He had worked in the Coal Mines when he was first incarcerated, which gave him Black Lung Disease. They can’t make prisoners work in places like that anymore. It’s inhumane. They also cannot conduct electroshock therapy anymore, like they did to my father. The psychiatrist couldn’t fathom how and why a man with an I.Q. so high, which it was exceptionally high, could and would become a career criminal. He re-offended so many times they gave him the ‘bitch’ (habitual offender sentence.)

He was institutionalized, however staying out of trouble long enough to court, marry and breed with my mother. And then leave. The psychiatrist labeled him a paranoid schizophrenic. I have all the documents from his many trips to the penitentiary. It’s fascinating to read things about such a mysterious man, facts and accusations all typed on an old fashioned typewriter, some of which the print is so faded I cannot discern the words.

I had just started my freshman year. My mom had to beg the all-girls catholic high school I insisted on attending to accept me with financial aid. She couldn’t afford it, but there was no way in hell I would stay in public school after those 2 nightmarish years in middle school. I was petrified of boys. They groped me in the halls. Mean girls tormented me in P.E.  I sat in the corner of a stair well to eat my lunch every day. My mom with tear stained cheeks came out of the office of the school. I had waited staring up and down the hardwood floors and in awe of the high ceilings wondering if this is where I would be spending my next 4 years. She motioned that we were leaving. “Yes, she said. They said Yes.”

After my mother made some arrangements with her ex brother-in-law, we came to realize we would be receiving a measly $100 a month. My mom put that toward my tuition every month. It wasn’t a lot but it helped. My father rarely worked. When the ‘heat’ would get to be too much in one place (apparently even though he wasn’t actively committing crimes, he was always actively being pursued), he and my mom would pick up and move. It took him less than a day to find a job as an electrician. It was a trade he knew, however with his I.Q. he could learn anything. But after adding the years together, the time he spent actually collecting a pay check failed to add up to much. My father never once paid child support. I didn’t resent him. I guess I just understood things well beyond my years.  He sent me drawings and cards.  That was enough.

It turns out my dad’s brothers didn’t inform my mom about his death for 3 years because of an ongoing battle over the estate. Their motive was to make sure I was excluded from receiving anything. I was a minor, his dependent, and by law, entitled to something upon his death. My mom was furious at their selfish behavior. The deceit. I didn’t know what he had, nor did I care. I still don’t care because I can’t imaging it was much. I was a burden to his brothers. And to him. All those years in Long Beach, not incarcerated.  No phone call.  Maybe my mom to stop calling.  His death sat in my mind simply as a fact. I couldn’t feel it. I wouldn’t let myself. I didn’t know how. I still don’t.  Some horrible things went on to happen in my life, starting not long after this, and I know this helped aid in my ability to shut off my feelings. My mom, once again a hysterical mess, needed my consoling. She knew I was the victim here, but the burden fell on me to hold her together. She drank herself to sleep every night. A ritual she maintained since I was four. I don’t blame her I guess. To this day, when I approach her door, when I talk to her on the phone, if I hear Elvis Presley playing in the background, I slowly back away or I slowly hang up. I know she’s mourning him. I let it be. I absorbed enough of her emotion my entire life and I will no longer hold her up. I have to hold myself up.

About a month after the devastating phone call, his death certificate arrived in the mail. So many small spaces and lines for the medical examiner to fill in, so much information on one piece of paper. The lifespan of this man summed up in my hands. Probably the most information I had ever seen regarding my father.

Date of Death: December 25th, 1986

Cause of Death: Arterial Cardiovascular Disease

Number of Dependents:  0

I am not sure I saw that when I first looked at his death certificate. I don’t know how long it took me to notice. I just remember standing there in my room unsure if the moment was real. Did it really say that? Was it a mistake? I didn’t exist. This meant I wasn’t even alive, I had never been born. When his brothers were asked if he had any dependents, they replied no.  I imagined them at the coroner’s office at the hospital.  Lying. I felt sick. Empty. Betrayed I guess. I didn’t know his brothers, I didn’t even know him. But dammit they knew he had a daughter in Seattle. They knew my mother. How dare they. At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around all this. His brothers were not a part of the equation. It had nothing to do with them.

 Inside the deepest part of me, my dad let me down.

To my dad, I didn’t exist.

He gave me life and he took it away.

He checked that box.