Five Years Ago

Five years ago today, on a beautiful late-summer day in Northern Oklahoma, I wrote some letters to my family.

Five years ago today, I kissed my almost-three-year-old for what I was sure would be the last time.

Five years ago today, I washed down the bottle of pain pills with alcohol and prayed for Death to come swiftly.

Five years ago today, I drove my van erratically downtown, hardly able to see through the tears, and parked near the train tracks.

Five years ago today, I staggered down the empty sidewalks, planning to lay on those tracks until the train came.

Five years ago today, I called my brother Matthew to say good-bye.

Five years ago today, he hung up on me and called my husband, Jim.

Five years ago today, Jim raced from his office building and, using the iphone locator app, tried to find me.

Five years ago today, Jim stopped beside a police car that just happened* to be idling by the side of the road to request an ambulance.

Five years ago today, I was intercepted by my distraught man, who clasped me in a bear hug as I beat my fists on his chests and demanded release, cursing him for trying to stop me.

Five years ago today, I was taken to the hospital, handcuffed to a bed in the ER, and given liquid charcoal to drink until it cleared the drugs from my system.

Five years ago today, I entered a mental hospital and stayed for a week, listening and learning.

Five years ago today, I wanted to end the pain. The endless litany of darkness in my mind. The relentless accusatory rhythm of my heart.

Five years ago today, Death beckoned, promising relief.

Five years ago today, I took Death’s hand and walked with him, just for a little while.

Five years ago today, I didn’t think I could ever feel better.

I was wrong.

I am glad.

 

*make of that what you will

 

 

 

Ingredients

Our hearts are made
of earth and clay
of cells and blood
and DNA

a tree is made
of cellulose
of branch and leaf
and breeze that blows

the stars are made
of fire and light
of wishes made
on summer nights

and oceans come
from storms and rain
from ancient tears
no one can name

but mostly I
am empty space
and dismal thoughts
I can’t erase

I wish to be
an unnamed star
a tree, a raindrop
yet here we are

a soulless thing
I cannot be
and so I sit
myself and me

and try to hope
and strive to stay
this human thing
for one more day.

Award

Oh wow, for me?

It’s for me? Really? I’m overwhelmed, I’m startled, I’m completely amazed!”

*stands up, smooths dress, strides to the stage*

Yes; yes, of course I’ll accept it!”

*takes award, smiles, waves*

Oh my, I can’t believe this. Let me just catch my breath here for a moment, I never imagined this moment would come for me.”

*breathes deeply, waits for applause to die down*

Thank you, Father Time and Mother Nature, for awarding me this enormous milestone. Without your continual persistence and steadfastness, I wouldn’t be here today. FIFTY. Wow. It never occurred to me that I might actually make it!

I’d like to take this opportunity, if you would indulge me, to thank some people who have given me incredible gifts throughout the years. Their contributions to my life can hardly be fathomed. 

First, the Sun, for the hours of pleasure beneath your rays, for the vitamin D, and the great tans. Also for the crepe-y skin, wrinkles, and abundant freckles. Hey man, you’ve been more than generous. Maybe enough is enough now, though? Haha, yeah. No, seriously.

Next, Aunt Flo. Girl, we’ve known each other for, what? Thirty-seven years? And you’ve been such a consistent companion, always showing up at the exact wrong moment. You’re amazing. You and your partner, Hormones, always kept it interesting. I know you’re planning to leave me alone completely in the next year or so, and can I just say one thing? Don’t let the door hit you. Thanks for the parting gifts, too: hot flashes and hair loss. Nice.

To my Muse, hello! Hello? Muse? Where is she? I’d like to thank her for being a flighty bitch, but I see she didn’t bother to show up tonight. Typical.

Also, I don’t want to forget Medication. I see you there, don’t blush! Don’t know what I’d do without you. Thanks for being there. We won’t mention the side effects now, it’s not the time.

But seriously, folks. I have, surrounding me, some of the best companions on this journey a girl could ever have. They pick me up when I stumble, they encourage me forward, and they bandage my bloodied knees when I hit the ground. For instance:

My parents. You taught me how to work, how to live, and how to laugh. Without you I wouldn’t be here (literally). I love you and am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to walk this earth.

My friends. You who have stuck close beside me through the good times and the bad. You who have prayed for me, wept with me, and laughed at my razor-sharp wit. Yes, you. You know who you are.

My sister Pam. She has demonstrated a determination to reach for the stars and never quit, a bull-dog like ferocity to achieve her dreams, and she has shown me there is no shame in doing so. She would drop everything to help someone out, even when she herself is hurting. She loves me unconditionally, keeps my secrets, and forgives my lapses. Thank you, dear sissy.

My brother, Matt. Steadfast friend. Selfless hero. Generous giver. Faithful encourager. I have no doubt this man would strap me to his back and carry me if he had to, just to get me to safety. He has given me gifts I will never be able to repay, shared with me his abundant talent and creativity in more ways than I can count, and I miss him desperately every moment he is not near me. Thank you, Machu.

My brother, Paul. Your wisdom and compassion, paired with your inimitable style and confidence, have buoyed me along throughout the years. The music you create inspired (and continues to inspire) me to find my own voice amidst the hubbub of life and the chaos in my own soul. Yours is a singularly calming influence, and I am forever grateful to have you in my life. Thank you, Pauly.

My brother, Chris. When you came along, you instantly brightened my life, and you continue to do so every day. Your sense of humor, your love for humanity, your relentless courage, and your determination to follow your own path teach me lessons I never could have learned otherwise. You love so big, and we would all do well to follow your example. Thank you, TTFer.

And lastly, the brightest star in my sky, my husband, Jim.

What do you say about a man who would step in front of a bullet for you? He has saved my life, both literally and figuratively, more than once. I would not be here if not for his love. He never once has given me cause to doubt his desire for me, which, for a person with as many deep-rooted insecurities as yours truly, cannot be overstated. He sees every tear that I cry and always tries his best to stay tender towards me in spite of my own harshness at times. This award is as much for him as it is for myself. Thank you, darling man. I love you eternally.

Thank you again, Father Time and Mother Nature, for the chance to achieve this, the big 5-0, and may I persevere to reach the next milestones set for me in life. May I ever endeavor to improve with each passing day, and never forget to give thanks for the many blessings that envelop me.”

*lifts award overhead and shakes it for emphasis before proceeding to fall down the stage steps*

Heartbreak

There are
breaches that can’t be repaired
bridges that cannot be crossed
darkness that will spurn the light
words whose meanings long are lost

Wounds
whose oozing edges bleed
while scorning aid that’s close at hand
desert places parched and dry
that no amount of rain can stand

A heart,
once broken, always weeps
help is little, and always late
I stand and pound on barred window
and mourn before a padlocked gate

My voice
Is broken, faint and dim
within the darkness echoing
pathetic messenger at best
a dove with useless, shattered wing

No time
Is left for second chances
fate has spoken all in all
the hourglass can’t be up-righted
the final grain of sand will fall

And so
I stand, a bitter warning
etched upon the thoroughfare
“Watch your step, if this way coming
broken hearts are littered there”

Chapter one of something new

It had been fifteen years since they said I do, and sometimes, just when Geena thought everything was going well and that they were going to make it, really make it, something would happen that would cause her to doubt. Mostly, though, she thought they were doing all right—paying bills and grocery shopping and going to work and putting kids to bed as life made its slow march across their faces, leaving faint lines of crow’s feet around their eyes and worry lines between their brows.

The day her marriage ended was not particularly ominous. The sun rose, bright and hot, and traversed the summer sky methodically, as it had every day before, baking the pavement and sending waves of heat up from the Alabama asphalt. The boys were out of school and spent their days bickering and playing games and wrestling like bear cubs from sunup to sundown. She loved having them home, but sometimes, it was difficult.

Like on this day, when she told her husband that they needed to talk. The boys were complaining of the heat, but as soon as they jumped in the pool the arguing commenced, causing her to step outside the back door innumerable times to tell them to hush, that the whole neighborhood didn’t need to hear them.

On this day, of all days, she and Max needed privacy. So she ordered the kids out of the pool, left them in charge of a babysitter, and went to a nearby restaurant to talk things out. She had a vague notion that if they were among strangers, they might be able to control the seething piles of emotion that lay just under the surface of their words.

It wasn’t true, of course. The emotions spilled over the tops of their words and came tumbling out of their eyes until they were sitting in the car, sobbing and trying to make sense of everything. It wasn’t that either one of them wanted to get divorced, it was just that nothing seemed to be working. Even therapy couldn’t provide them with the healing words that they needed. It only served to highlight their differences and dichotomies until neither one could look at them anymore without feeling deep despair.

It was there, then, in the car on that hot summer’s day, that Max and Geena decided to throw in the towel.

When Max was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer just four weeks later, however, the process of divorcing came to a stop even before it could even get started. Everything changed, and the next six months were an agony of watching the man she thought she’d grow old with slowly crumble apart and die.

“You’re beautiful to me,” he breathed faintly one day toward the end, as she sat by his bedside and gave him sips of ice water. The morphine pump chugged nearby, its steady release of medication alleviating but never completely resolving his pain. He was thin then, a mere shadow of the hearty man he had been before, and his body beneath the sheet moved spasmodically. “I just want you to know that.”

“Okay, Max,” she said in what she hoped was a reassuring tone. “I hear you.”

“No,” he said, turning his head to fix her with his bright green eyes. “I mean it. I love you. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work.”

“But we have, haven’t we?” she said in consternation. “I mean, here we are.”

“Are we, though?” he sighed and closed his eyes and the conversation was over. Geena bent her head to her chest and wept. Though they were here, occupying the spaces around one another, they were not together. And they hadn’t been for a long time.

Why “Don’t Worry” Doesn’t Work For the Anxious Heart

Most of us have seen them. They’re ubiquitous on Pinterest, Facebook, and elsewhere on the internet. If you claim to be spiritual, they’re aimed at you: those “encouraging” mantras like “Give it to God and Go to Sleep!” and “Let Go and Let God!” Some people take it a step further and assert that worrying is a form of arrogance, since it seems to assume that we know better than God how to run our lives.
The real question is, do these kinds of comments help? How many of us who struggle with anxiety and depression have felt uplifted after reading such soundbites? If I can use myself as a gauge, I can say with certainty: not many. In fact, they usually cause the opposite result, making me more anxious than ever before. Now I’m worried about how much I’m worrying! I’m not a good Christian, obviously, and I am offending God every time I stress out about anything.
The fact is, the worrier is not doing anything wrong in worrying. The depressive is not doing anything wrong in being depressed. Rather, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain is almost always to blame. Implying that they are committing a sin every time they feel anxious of depressed or worried is useless at best and downright cruel at worst.
Instead of pointing fingers and exhorting those who are struggling to simply cease and desist, how about we come alongside to comfort and console? How about we offer to pray with them when they are at a loss for words? How about we ask “What can I do to help?” instead of browbeating them for not being a strong spiritual example?
Next time you feel tempted to post an “encouraging” exhortation to the anxious/depressed community, ask yourself “Is this truly beneficial?” and if in doubt, don’t. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and remember that there is no magical “switch” that people can flip to change their brain chemistry. If you are lucky enough to never struggle with anxiety or depression, don’t preach. Say no to platitudes. Rather, be proactive and reach out with real concern. Your struggling friend(s) will thank you.

Book Signing

On Saturday, the 18th, I will be at Brace Books & More in Ponca City, Oklahoma, signing Skip to the End and Noah Knows from 1-3 in the afternoon. If you’re nearby, be sure to stop in! Brace is a grand little bookstore, packed to the gills with books and gifts; you’re sure to find something you like.

To Be Found Writing

I labored a long time today on something new. It felt like work–every word–but at least my muse will find me working when he/she decides to show up. Steven King (and other writing sages) says to just write; it doesn’t have to be inspired.  The point is to be found writing, and to make a habit of it. After squeezing myself dry with that project, I decided to do a little freeform exercise. I was asthmatic as a child, and so I called to my mind all the memories of struggling to breathe and the intendant terror that accompanies a full-blown asthma attack, and then took it a step further. Here it is:

She awoke in the inky darkness of the room, panic rising like a phantom up from the cold sepulcher where it slept during the day. Gasping for air, she wheezed instead, defective alveoli hanging in her lungs like so many withered grapes on the vine, constricted and useless in the transportation of oxygen to the millions of blood cells clamoring and dying for it with every second that ticked by. She groped for the rescue inhaler she kept on the bedside table. But where was it?

Commanding herself to stay calm (for she knew that symptoms would only get worse if the fear that twisted in her gut took full control), she snapped on the bedside lamp and threw back the covers. The inhaler was not on her bedside table where she knew—absolutely knew—she had left it. She fell heavily to her knees and peered under the table, under the bed, and all around the floor as her breathing grew more and more labored.

Standing once more, she clutched the lace around the neckline of her nightgown as tears squeezed out from under her eyelids and tiny lights began to spin lazily before her eyes. Staggering forward, she reached her hand out for the doorknob, intending to go to the kitchen for the spare inhaler she kept in the silverware drawer, just in case. Before she could turn the knob, however, it was wrenched out of her grasp, and the door flew open, throwing her backwards against the wall.

Standing before her was Rick, a cruel smile stretched across his wicked, handsome face as he carelessly leaned against the jamb and held her inhaler outstretched.

“Looking for this?” he said.

She knew in that moment what it was to die a thousand times and yet still live, trapped in her mutinous body, at the mercy of the one man she knew would like nothing more than to watch her die.

Who knows? Perhaps a short story will come of it. For now, it goes into my ever-growing Documents file.

New Poetry Book Cover

Here’s the cover for the new poetry book, Cover Me:

Let me know what you think!

New Poetry Book

Stay tuned for a new release!

Cover Me will be my fourth book of poetry, but its focus is a bit different. Whereas my previous books we concentrated on what I would call the soul, this one focuses on the spirit, and is centered around the Almighty and my relationship with such.

I hope that the new book encourages and uplifts. It will be released within the next few days.  Here is a sample of one of the poems:

Benevolent universe
infinite light
hold me together
keep me aright

help me to trust thee
teach me to live
walk me in wholeness
and wholly forgive

all of my frailty
my anger and fear
as I also pardon
the ones far and near

who cause me to stumble
and shake me within
open my lips now
to once more begin

to sing of your praises
unknowable worth
spark yet within me
a holy rebirth.

 

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