Wednesday's Word/Fiction: A Lateness of Words

He was about to walk into the sprawling blue house on Merton and Fifth. That is, after he had decent coffee (if he could find the cozy weathered spot he’d always gone to), driven past once more (he was confident this wouldn’t be difficult) to better prepare himself, and called Rennie for support.

After parking at a corner he knew like the back of his hand, he slouched about, hands in pant pockets, looking this way and that. There was the hardware across the street with new awnings and paint; there was the staid brick bank; there was the grocery, although with new name and entryway. But no Dot’s to be seen. Instead, a hair salon sat in the coveted corner property. It had been a few years, okay, but Dot’s was an institution, the place everyone met up for a quick or leisurely cup from breakfast ’til dinner.

He dashed into the street between two vehicles to cross the street and he got a better look at things. There had been more alterations; it was looking oddly prosperous in spots. It was disorienting, shiny storefronts jammed between almost ramshackle ones. Then he saw it. “Dot & Daughter” was proclaimed in calligraphic gold and black above the double door. That would be Dot, yes, and …Hannah? He guessed she’d be early thirties now. He was surprised–she had said she was leaving, too–so he crossed back over and went in.

Even though he was stunned by the fancy decor and too many coffee choices beaming at him from the menu, he knew Hannah right off. It was the back of her head he was staring at as he got in line. With heaps of unmistakable glossy black curls as always, she turned and it didn’t seem like years had passed. She looked past him, waved at another customer. He gawked at scattered quaint cafe-style tables and stools, the glass case tempting with baked goods plus pita bread and hummus, veggie wraps, yogurt, cheese and crackers– it was like he was in a big city place trapped inside a small town.

“How you doing? What can I get you?” Hannah greeted him with appropriate cheer as she pushed away a stray spiral of hair.

“Espresso, two shots.”

She noted the order, looked at him a second time with lips parted then firmly closed. One more moment and she frowned, then recovered. “Name for order?”

“Hank.”

She dismissed him with raised eyebrow and nod.

He stepped quickly away from the counter, stood along the wall. He could have given his real name. Arley, the nickname of yore; now he was just Arlen. She may not have remembered him, but he suspected she might though he’d changed his look. No shaved head, no scraggly beard and feathery mustache. No black jeans and torn jacket, no heavy motorcycle boots. “Arley and his Harley”, a joke, a stupid one since he never got a Harley. He’d become a grown man. So different from the young man his hometown knew that he surely blended well for a few hours– and then he was gone. It had been right, even necessary to leave years ago. And good to be a bona fide grown up, slowly transforming.

It was taking much longer than he wanted so he zipped his jacket, made for the door. He didn’t want to revisit any of it, no good would come of it; just a stop at the house. But then “Hank” was called out, a hand holding out his espresso, and he was about to down it when he felt her eyes on him. And then another gal’s and guy’s then as he shifted his gaze felt all were looking at him–or trying to not look at him. Just what he didn’t need. Arlen;s heart raced, his stomach turned. He left.

“Arley, wait.”

He opened his car door and got in but Hannah was fast on her feet. He lowered his window by half despite a chilly shower descending. She stood there with arms across her chest, leaning in a bit.

“It is Arley Whitaker, right? Come home for a visit?”

He responded with the grin that used to get everybody, easy and warm as a summer breeze. But inside he felt cold as the rain, and miserable.

“Your mama, I guess? Heard she was doing poorly. I hope you’ll come back to Dot’s and Daughter’s before you go. Catch up.” Her gaunt face softened, seemed hopeful.

“How you doing, Hannah Jean? And where is Dot today?”

“Oh, I’m good, married Jeff, got a kid. Mama’s in the back but she’d come out and say hi, I’m sure–“

“That’s okay. On my way.” He started the engine and shifted.

“Nice car you got, must be having better times,” she said, eyeing the pristine, refurbished silver Camaro. “Fast bikes and fast cars forever, I guess!” She then had the decency to slap a hand to her mouth, knowing too late he’d not want to hear it put that way.

“Give your mother my regards, great coffee as always.” He waved at her like he was in some damned parade; she stepped back, staring after him.

Arlen drove off nice and slow as he could, foot just itching to slam the gas, hand gripping the gear stick knob. She was still nosy and naive, but good for her and Jeff, he was better than most he knew.

There was no one and no thing that could permanently lure him back to his hometown. It was one stop for today, and he already half-regretted it. He dared a cop to get him for speeding as he wheeled out of downtown.

******

He drove right by, eyeing the house, noting the long-faded blue needing a repainting. Surely it hadn’t been like that for almost ten years. The yard was emerald green even in the silvery drift of rain, and mostly tidy as always; the porch swing was gone but nothing looked decrepit. After circling the block, he parked a couple houses down, got out his phone.

She answered right off.

“Arlen, love, you there now?”

Her words came to him like petals floating on a pond, peaceful, gentle. He mused again over her absence; he missed her already. She had said it was his journey, not hers, and he should get it done alone. She’d meet up later. He supposed she was right. It was all before her time, his wrecked life to try to better restore.

“Got a coffee, felt like the town was breathing down my neck so came straight here. I can make it to the cabin by four if this is a short visit. Which it should be…”

“Take it as it comes. It’ll be good or it won’t, but you at least are there.”

He had nothing to add to the bare facts. Rennie knew the whole story, she knew he hadn’t set foot into that house for nine years, and he and his mother spoke briefly only on Christmas. Until the last one, when they had talked a little more, updated a few things. And he’d found she had had pneumonia, had been in the hospital and he didn’t even know; she was still weak. It struck some nerve deep inside. She’d always been so healthy, strong, more resilient than his father who had died at 52 when Arley was in his senior year. Before the even worse thing.

He shook his head. “I know, but what if she–“

“Keep it honest and to the point unless it feels right to do more. Remember? Trust your gut, honey.”

Silence rang between them. He fiddled with his key chain, finally pulled it out of the ignition. The windshield was fogging up; he cracked his window since the rain had let up. Fresh air gave him more calm, some strength.

“It might not be such a good idea, but I drove five hours top do it, so I’m going in. At least I can get to the cabin right after. Spread my thoughts and feelings over Lake Michigan, listen to music of the waves.”

“That’s my baby. And I’ll be there tomorrow by noon or 1:00. I’ll love you back to normal, so no worries either way.”

Arlen released the worst of his simmering fears in a short exhalation.

“Okay, here goes. See you tomorrow.”

******

At first his feet wouldn’t move up the path. He knew what he had to say. He had called her the night before, said he had some business up north, would it be okay if he stopped by a few on his way. When she didn’t respond, he panicked, nearly told her never mind. Instead she had told him between a deep cough and wheezing that sure, he could come on by. She had said it as if he was in the neighborhood and she was accustomed to his visiting. Then they hung up, both of them shocked by what they’d just done.

The porch was deep and wide and he had half a mind to walk it, get the sense of it and the moment, look back at the street to see how it felt. He didn’t have time. The white door with the stained glass rosette window opened wide, and his mother stepped back as Arlen came into the house where he was raised.

“Mom.”

“Hello, Arlen.”

They looked at each other, eyes startled, secretive, and looked away–but not before she took his upper arm, led him in. Her still-firm grasp felt foreign yet too familiar, and yet he let her do it.

The smells, then. Musky and sweet like ancient dried roses (the garden’s) she had kept in a pretty wooden box. Yeastiness of baked bread that has cooled awhile. And still those worn wood floors with a rug here and there. Smooth dark wood banister on a long staircase that led up to dark halls and quiet bedrooms. He averted his eyes from the upper reaches. Where her and his siblings had slept, squabbled, studied.

The living room beckoned with low lighting, same green velvet love seat and deep gold with green couch. The fireplace stood gawking, empty of fond memories of roaring fires.

She began to sit first and, as he had been taught, he waited until she was settled in her arm chair, then sat on the couch.

“This is a surprise, I know,” he said. “I said I’d never return. But we have talked a bit more, I felt I could come, finally. If you wanted that.”

She laughed, just barely, as she coughed easily. “You knew I got sick, about to die, maybe?”

“You were?”

She waved that away. “Not yet. You know how they talk around here, always drama. I make progress daily.”

“Yes. Good.”

She settled the afghan over her lap. She was not old, maybe sixty, he had forgotten to his dismay, but she looked almost old in the dusky room. Her hair, for one thing, had gone all steel grey, and was pulled back from her pale, lean face.

Arlen sat back, trying to not think of “Then versus Now”, how different it was despite a strange sameness of the place. Heat rose from his chest, trapped beneath his jacket–she kept the rooms too warm, as before– and he wanted to take it off yet was unwilling to do so. It might be thought a signal, give her the idea he wanted to stay awhile and maybe she would hate that. He didn’t want to, really, although they hadn’t embraced, or acted so glad to see one another at least she hadn’t said anything terrible yet. Nor had he. What words could ease such distance between them, the misery gnawing and creating the deep impasse to separate them?

He’d imagined he’d offer a few but true sentences and be gone. But they now dissipated. And she spoke.

“I made bread. And coffee. Would you like some, Arlen?”

He followed her into the high-ceilinged kitchen with big six burner stove. Fresh bread perfumed all. How she had once loved to cook. The worn teak table in the dining room beyond was set with pretty placemats; a loaf of bread on cutting board with a knife; plates and knives and a butter dish all in a row. The coffee carafe and cups were at the ready.

It was then that a small, persistent lump formed in his throat. The trouble she had gone to. The way it had been before…how they all had been happier more often than not, better off than most, a home filled with industry and ideas and play– and kids and adults who had learned–primarily– reasonable ways and developed good plans for life, together or apart.

“How is your business faring so far this year?” she asked. She buttered two pieces of bread for each of them, poured the coffee. Gestured toward the homemade pear preserves which she’d forgotten he didn’t like much.

“The shop is busier all the time; I have so many new orders this past year. The cars are beautiful once rebuilt, restored. You should–” He had forgotten himself, got excited. He wanted to tell her more but why? It was his unusual interest in vehicles, his mechanical talents that did the damage.

“That’s good, Arlen, you’re doing well then.”

Arlen was good with mechanical things since childhood; his father and he had shared the knack. And it wasn’t long before he fell in love with all things related to engines and wheels, especially motorcycles though his father didn’t, not really. But he encouraged his children in their interests.

In a short few years Arlen gave in to his growing need for power and speed. The desire for not just the fun weekend dirt bike but then a fine sport bike, not the Dodge Tomahawk he desperately wanted to ride one day–but, still, the Honda Blackbird was a dream, its acceleration, its dexterity, how it hugged corners, gave him that charge of adrenaline. And it was true he changed some as he rode more. It emboldened him, gave him a sense of freedom, a confidence as never before. Too much confidence. Arlen the “all around good guy” got a bit tougher and some said wild even as he increased his skills with hands, and his riding. Well, he met people. He met guys who liked those things rather than studying and such so by high school he had slipped from one social side of things to another. It wasn’t bad, he felt–it was just…faster, riskier, and when on a motorcycle this is what counted to him. Challenge and reward.

The slices of bread seemed to melt in his mouth, such richness, smoothness on the tongue, how they filled him. The coffee, though weaker than he’d make, was also a pleasure as they talked some more. Just this sharing of food and drink with his mother was easier than he had thought it could be.

He dipped into the vast pool of family matters. “You hear from Marilyn? About coming for awhile to help out and all?”

She brought a tissue to lips, coughed three times, hard. “In a couple of weeks. She had to take time off her county job, find someone to help out Dan with their two kids. Your niece and nephew…”

“Yeah. I have pictures.”

“When did you last see them?”

It sounded accusing but maybe he was wrong. She looked calm, interested.

“It’s been awhile.” They’d been two and three, respectively. They were now seven and eight, at least he thought. But he and Marilyn were never too close, she was older than he and…Doug, and after what happened, they were in touch twice a year, maybe three times max.

“Do you miss Dad still? I do,” he said before he could stop himself. He should not be going down that path. He should stick to script. Just make amends and be gone.

“Do you really mean, do I still miss Dad and Doug?”

Arlen felt the slippage inside him, as if he was coming off his moorings, fear threatening. He looked at his hands holding bread, put the slice down, lowered them into his lap where his fingers twined into knots.

“It’s funny,” she said, adjusting the afghan on her lap, smoothing the placemat, “how you can finally get used to losing a husband who died of a heart attack, yes, you actually can–with practice of new routines, after much mourning. But a child? That is another process; it never really ends.”

Arlen couldn’t bear to look at her so looked at the large portrait still hanging as it always had, taken one moment in time when they were all presentable and accounted for–all alive in this house.

“But.” His mother’s voice came out in soft breath, then almost a whisper. “But to lose a husband a son and then, despite him still being alive, another son–to lose, essentially, most of a whole family–that is the hardest thing of all, Arlen. The thing that cannot be forgotten.”

He rose then, paced back and forth, gesturing at nothing but the walls, careful to not see her eyes. “I didn’t make him get on, didn’t encourage it, not on that bike, I swear it! Dad had just died, we weren’t even thinking right. I kept saying that after he…I told you then but no one heard me. He insisted, he felt left behind, he had to have some fun he said, even when I told him he shouldn’t get on, I was still learning the Honda’s ways. And Doug jumped on behind me as I was taking off but I didn’t for one tiny second think we would get so far as to find trouble, much less crash on the hilly curve… I’m so sorry, I loved him, too–I’m so sorry, Mom!”

“I know, I truly did later realize it. Come here, son, come.”

He got down on his knees, wrapped his arms around her frailness and she clutched him to her, patted his back, smoothed his hair.

“Forgive me, forgive me, Mom…”

“God forgive us all, let’s leave what’s been lost, be thankful for what we have now,” she said clearly at his ear.

Then closed her eyes and shed tears with him but not like when it was her hard time of sorrows. This time it was for her only son’s return to her. And he at long last released that aching for it all, and felt salvaged by her arms about him once again.

******

“Here I am,” Rennie called out, hoisting bags of food and other supplies from her truck.

Arlen lay the ax atop the pile of wood pieces he was splitting and pulled off leather gloves. They embraced heartily and he took two bags as they went inside. Rennie removed cap and jacket as she moved purposely across the small living room.

She held out her hand. “You came, Mrs. Whitaker, glad you did. I’m Rennie.”

The older woman rose on steady legs and swiftly passed the dancing, popping fire in the fieldstone fireplace, and took the young woman’s capable hands into her own.

“I’m pleased to meet the woman who loves my son–and be asked to visit this fine cabin. Come and sit, get warm, let Arlen do the work.”

Arlen left the food on the table and returned to the wood, every strike a blow to the ravenous past, every new split log a store against the coming winter’s brittle cold, it’s astonishing yield of snow, All the more reason to gather his family within the cabin. His dad and Doug sure would have liked it. At first that thought jarred him, then felt pretty good. His mother gazed through the window so he raised a hand in response and tossed another log onto the pile.

Monday's Meander/Pacific Beachfront!

Call me lazy today but rather than sort recent pictures I have taken, I spent time perusing my slew of beachy pictures. I mean, it’s February, it rains all the time–then today as I was walking as I do daily, there came a flurry of bits of rain that soon morphed into hail-like stuff–an attempt at Oregon’s Willamette Valley snow. I kept on, invigorated–and appreciably more damp.

When I returned I began to think of the beach…and located a few decent older shots to post today. Ahhh. Of course, the reality is that it is usually very windy, chilly and wet at our Pacific Ocean beaches this month– but we always love it. Time to go again soon–if there isn’t too much real snow in the mountains to close passes we need to cross. Meanwhile–enjoy with me!

Friday's Passing Fancy/Poem: When He was Here

When he was here with her

the day was a fragrant sheen

of lily-of-the-valley, warm as skin

lolling under June’s bloomed sun.

With lips to her shoulder he

murmured love, momentous

as incantation in strange new language,

words like tiny birds freed from other worlds.

She sees them embracing at water’s edge,

fingers entwined, fledgling roots nourishing

roots they thought could never separate.

But there was no partaking of night’s

indigo power nor the incarnadine of daybreak.

They somehow got lost at the horizon, yet

spoke here and there like ghosts

through want and need.

In time life was built of something else,

they grew up, grew resolute, older, old.

But even now she hears his voice of honey,

words as wings brushing against bare shoulder,

recalls water and wind tasting of salt, amber and him,

that time a relief, a reckoning-

back then, when he was here, she was his

and they became crystalline in the passing light

Wednesday's Word/Nonfiction: Something Once Experienced and Done

(Be forewarned: this is real life and not attractive. )

The slate-grey window yawned at me, a near-cavernous thing, a gaping void just beyond which I leaned and teetered, pressed against the cold pane, eyes half-closed. It could have been night or day, either a measure of my sight, my mind, or my disposition. It was 3 a.m., it was 3 p.m., either way it was about to be my undoing, a weak surrender to another gasp of the binding air, a squelched human inhalation/exhalation.

Well, you may ask, how can the very air have binding properties unless filled with smoke or other noxious chemical release of choking minute particulate? But for the time, it felt as if it was, a hazard of living day to day. It was the ponderous curtain of depression, and a deep seeding of unworthiness and powerlessness, and the plaintive sorrow that accompanies it. And it attached itself to me like a second skin that slowly engulfed not only my body but the shrinking core of me. Until a kind of terrible breathlessness came…despite walking, talking, doing as habit bids. Usually. Until an likely imminent failure of purportedly reliable systems.

******

I have never written for a public readership much of the hardest realities of my life in first person, as nonfiction. The details, even a few that resonate and stick to me like powerful sap. I hesitate. I wonder what can be gained for myself, for anyone. I only know a strong desire is suddenly to, decades later, speak of some things in the way it wants to fall onto the page. Call it a shedding, call it a truth telling, call it a writers impulse to confess, even self indulgent–that worst of writing which I tend to think serious, difficult soul-baring writing too often is. Nonetheless, I keep writing. And the black letters leap onto the white expanse like spooked deer running for their lives, or, perhaps, running to better grazing grounds….

“Don’t let the past steal your present or future”: this is taped upon my mirror on a scrap of paper. I meant it back whenever and I still do. Practice it like a mantra, like a psalm. Use it like a life preserver.

******

I have not felt those above difficult sensations nor daily carried such burdens for multiple decades–way back when I was in my late teens, when I finally almost gave up the fight with late-diagnosed PTSD due to damage of unspoken (and ignored by all adults) childhood sexual abuse. Emotional abuse, the kind that lingers as a low drone, unheard perhaps by others but unmistakable. Those times and those stories are not even fit to print, I always think, so terrible was my habitation within them. It went from bad to worse: those many storied, high-ceilinged Gothic buildings with dark, too cold or hot, near-empty common spaces and such tiny sleep cells, one of which I sheltered within at night; the lack of control over any waking or half-sleeping moment, and many patients roaming and muttering or locked and tethered and mostly drugged out of time and thought, and ultimately alone and deeply lost. There were those committed for drunk driving, for drug use. This was not an enlightened place or time. There were no addiction treatment centers, no dual diagnosis help back then.

The absurdity of it, trying to heal within a decrepit mental institution and a system that was a maze of a nightmare, antiquated, more ruinous than imagined at first glance–which was bad enough. The place where I did survive 4 months. But it was so toxic and poorly run that it was closed not long after I exited via power of a court order. True, I had experienced what was called an acute toxic psychosis, brought on by amphetamine and barbiturates with psychedelics tossed in, then subsequent withdrawals and the old PTSD flourishing in the midst of it all. There was more that happened in my young life than anyone ever knew. And I wasn’t soon talking. And a badly run psychiatric hospital would not make me talk, either. I determined to stay alive, endure, day by day, but being there with those issues was like being scalded then nothing but burn and ash, bereft. The body sickened, wounded by being dunked/scrubbed/yanked/detained, magnification of emotional robberies past and present and a team of medical “judges” lined up as I was sat on a small chair on a platform, interrogated, given sentence, told that doing my tasks and trying hard was not enough, I had more time: the internment as I called it felt like being left in far greater peril, with no way out. No one incarcerated thought differently behind high barred windows… unless they no longer could think, at all. One could see why not and crying about it helped nothing.

Then, too late for so many, there it was: that it’s doors and windows had finally to be shuttered was, of course, no surprise to me. That it took that long, too long, stunned.

That sprawling compound where so many had lived for years, not just weeks or months, remained vacant for a long time, perhaps I imagined to be razed to the ground as it needed to have been, or sold for its considerable, pretty acreage. Then, perhaps fifteen years ago, I came across a glossy article about how a resurrection had taken place: that dark castle of horrors had been reconfigured, renovated, reborn as a resort of sorts, a high-end shopping and fancy hotel with spa kind of place. Imagine my astonishment and dismay. To think of people taking pleasure there. It will never be anything other than it was, to me, and I can imagine there roam ghosts of its long and ignominious past. I wish it had been made into a garden or a wooded haven, a nature preserve for birds to fly free, all creatures roaming at will. Space to be, nothing a barrier to what comes easily and with no harm intended.

But I made it through that experience and the grueling times (including before and the aftermath) as I could only hope that others did. I sometimes think of them, recall their faces, the longing and fear. Since I exited through those gates and found greater freedom I learned there were good ways in which to get better, rebuild my life. It required time, stubborn intention and work to leave behind the oddly magnetic pull to give up. To find sturdy “earth legs” again to keep me steadier. But I found despair did not have to commandeer me; there were coping methods that did not involve drugs, either illicit or prescribed. I may have been fortunate, yes, to read the right books, find a few wise therapists, avail myself of friends and other support people along the way. And I had a faith that I did not altogether abandon, a belief that I would prevail with God’s constancy and compassionate guidance one way or another.

That kind of torment, the black well of it, has not revisited me as happened there in that time and place, the late 1960s. And still the impact has not quite left me, though I might think otherwise.

It wasn’t just the provoking illness and addiction, the self loathing and hopelessness that accompanied it. It was those streaked dirty pea green walls and corridors, the cups and needles full of soul-negating “medicines”, heavy thud of steel doors as they slammed tightly shut and even locked, screams and garbled monologues of agonies named and unnamed, the grave mental states so many inmates inhabited–if one can say they inhabited anything but their bones and flesh. Even I felt taking leave of one’s senses was the best prospect for relief, at times. Then there were less mentally or physically impaired individuals who might possibly have thrived if they had lived more safely, been loved well…they so touched my soul. We found each other’s eyes often and spoke less, there was little will for that. But those things I had to do to get by each day, the labors forced upon me since my mind clarified and I was capable before too long. The required mental gymnastics and learned obedience I was put through by people doing what they were paid to do…the rough hands that informed me there was no escaping anything: these can and do haunt. One does not precisely forget. It gets into sinew and cell and those who’ve known the experience keep it hidden in a series of scars, even as the damage is repaired.

One presses on and looks for anything better. For light amid the depths. One scrounges for courage where there is none. Where every breath feels useless and yet one must breathe. This is how human beings are outfitted if we get to be fortunate enough: we are made to persevere beyond all reasonable cause or any evidence supporting hope. We will ourselves to keep on.

How I prayed when crumpled in dank and dirty corners that if God would only release me from that desert of spirit and mind and body, that Gothic nightmare, I would spend my life in service to help others. I wanted to care more for any sort of real life, but was beaten down and beyond caring…and one prays harder when great need presses in, and also strikes bargains. I was entirely committed to such a bargain (and one day would make good on it).

There it is. Words testifying. But I haven’t thought of this story within the greater context of my life nor of that distant past in so long. Perhaps not since my late twenties. So why now?

I have good cause, maybe. The recall may bring me closer to truths needed so I can rally and come back to joy and peace, not mere facsimiles, not only a hope of both. I already know what hell is; I also know what a sort of heaven is that can manifest here and now.

How does one write of shifting shadows and powerful undertow of depression when I still barely understand it in my own life–despite treating others in some way or another for decades as an addictions and mental health counselor? I have easily empathized with others; I have believed their fight valiant and purposeful. I’ve rallied resources, cheered them on, held the line against more loss and for greater renewal. But, really, perhaps I had lost something vital–a conscious knowledge of all that had been placed on a shelf: Something Once Experienced and Done. Like being beaten or or raped, overdosing or having knives thrown at you or being shot but surviving. I have such stories, too, death and life. So it makes sense to me that it was put behind me and I have simply gone on. This is what survivors learn to do, even as we work out the peace we must have.

Not that I haven’t been miserable other times over the decades for a couple hours, for days here and there–quite low, a darker shade of “blue”–even a greater kind of sad for this or that reason, and also wracked with grief for months after losses, but still living in this world better than expected. We cannot escape these repeats the longer we live; it is only human, as it goes. It’s tested me. I’ve felt becalmed, “emotionally inert” for brief times. PTSD affects things a long while and when the triggers arise even briefly I do know what to do. And yes there are the burdens carried about by the wrong decisions made, aching and worn out. But then they are let go.

So—really depressed? More than here and there\ then done with that? I have had no patience for it. I shake my head, say, No, that was back then–this is now. I am so grateful I have not been there again, not like that. Get down? Get back up, it is simple.

But today I tell you: I have over the last few months glimpsed that misshapen, relentless old beast and found it a daunting thing once more. Not as before, no–I am sober and clean of substances. I am not the same age or of the same time, not that same young, mute and bleeding person. I have had years made sweet and sweeter with happy times to encourage, fortify and heal me. I have learned a ton of efficacious coping methods and use them. And I have time on my side, and it teaches and strengthens me each year. At almost 70, I am stronger and better prepared for meeting “life on life’s terms” and more resilient than ever.

But am I? I am re-evaluating a few factors every day and am not so sure sometimes. IT is not the same, it is not even every day I feel run over by the old self abnegation, but it is a fearsome thing, nonetheless.

And the truth is, I don’t sink too low for no reason at all. It is not chemical as far as I can tell, certainly not for eons, if it ever was– not in the classic sense of clinical depression etiology. I tend to feel internally solid, more or less balanced mood-wise and I do know who I am, know what I need and what to do. Sure, I feel and express several emotions in a day, this is h ow I was built for the world my heart a sieve for feelings and impressions. No one ever accused me of not being transparent, either. But my internal barometer reads acceptably warm or cool, or I change it to what works better for the environment.

No, it is always a particular circumstance which I find more demanding and then finally near-impossible to effectively problem solve around, to improve; or a number of those times with weightier cumulative effect. So I have examined many changes in my life and found that they have taken me down without my full knowledge. Little by little. From one sort of confusion or loss or hurt to another. This low time has been 3 or so years in the making. And I have had to look it in the face; I do not like not turning on a light bulb to see what is coming at me, and what I need to work out.

I will not bore you with endless details but will note some major events. (Those who read my posts weekly, please forgive any repetition.).

Six people I loved have died one after the other in a fairly short time, some in a very difficult manner. I’ve had significant health crises and interventions–cardiovascular issues, serious dental problems (dental matters effect heart health, too, FYI), flares of gastrointestinal illness and issues related to inadequate treatment of a previous female health (mis)diagnosis. I had four random injuries due to hiking terrain/missteps as well as a slip and fall; though no broken bones, they suspended my necessary and loved outdoor activities far more than expected. Years of chronic neck pain from an assault at 40 that can steal endurance. and equanimity–I cannot take opioids, nor even ibuprofen (the latter interferes with my heart health). It can get a bit complicated.

My spouse developed a couple of serious and chronic health problems–surprising, scary. Then there were other life crises/financial worries/emotional issues for our children and others at various times, things that have kept me awake at night. And my only remaining sister–an executive director type, a doer and shaker, and one of two siblings left of four–has weirdly developed dementia, perhaps due to concussion from accidents…. but it doesn’t matter how, it just IS. No other members of my birth family now are here excepting this sister. A brother is in Virginia or travelling the world. (Of course, there are three adult children here plus s few grand kids –for that I am grateful beyond measure.)

One dear friend is slowly preparing to move to Arizona in a year; I already see her much less due to our area move. Another has had a major mental health impasse far worse than my current debacle and another (though younger) who is my dearest friend may be dying even as I write this– her medical diagnoses take greater toll week by week.

Where have so many I have loved gone? Of course this is a not even a sensible question. But it is asked. I count them as they fall and still cannot believe it at times. But we age or get ill, and there you have it.

Earlier in 2019, we moved after 25 years in the same abode to an area quite unlike the old one; I still cannot recall my way around all these crisscrossing, winding roads. One of our daughters had twins (after high risk pregnancy) last spring, and then came unexpected postpartum depression/anxiety with many ripple effects. It was overwhelming for me, too, at first. But she rallied with great perseverance, excellent helps. The readjustments remain ongoing though she returned soon to a good if demanding job. Her spouse has not worked outside home, taking on the household duties and daily child tending for eight months, as well. Money is terribly tight. I have helped out 2 times a week or more for the last nine months.

It has been a past year of unforeseen demands as life just presents us, yes. Communications glitches, ongoing stress with tiredness, expectations not met as imagined. We have all learned things about each other that have been surprising and at times difficult. Not to say soul bruising, now and then, requiring more courage, flexibility, ingenuity, patience, compassion–not all of which operate as well as others or often not all at once for us. We each have had our work cut out for us. But the twins are so worth every single bit of labor and devotion. Their magnificence–who cannot embrace and adore new beings given to our care? We so love them. Still, I think it needs to be said that being grandparents and parents and in-laws all at one time is not so easy-breezy as some would have you think, nor an endless happy celebration day in, day out. There are needs coming at the family all the time, and important. But our delight in those two small girl persons is unending and we care for family so much.

I had a major car accident Thanksgiving Day, not so bad, I made it out okay, overall. But it seemed a tipping point. (I’ve had only one other crash, in 1974; it left me unconscious/leaving body, “jaws of life” employed, significant recovery time, etc.) This was a couple months after my husband also had had an accident. My car was totaled, it was a lengthy process with insurance and finally abating. More expenses, injury to address. It took me a month to stop feeling anxious on busy streets, to stop feeling oddly fragile, and it jarred me emotionally–more than I thought it should. It seemed too much at moments, though it was so small an actual thing in the end. It helped hasten a faster descent; I berated myself for my error of judgment, of being in the wrong place, the wrong time. And the loss of money–a “new” used car, higher insurance rates, etc. when it was needed for more important things.

I have to admit that I have spent more time weeping than in decades. I cry over truly sad stories and real human suffering, but I’m not a sniffler over sad songs, fussy people, flat tire in a downpour, one-eyed dogs, bad hair day, etc.–and not a full-on crier even when life hurts. But I have become one the past couple of months. Not every day, but far too often for my comfort. There have been words: I have heard that I am a person with several flaws. I have never pretended otherwise; there have been shocks. More words, regrets and bafflement.

There has been grief. The grief is what moves me to lay on yielding pillow and moan, press my forehead against a tree on my walk and let tears run. For what? For my losses, for the earth’s losses, even for your losses. It can feel like one and the same, all of us paddling or swimming best we can but too many of us sinking, even drowning. I intend to–I must– at the very least float until I swim well once more. What else can done do? I am far too old to quit and start over. I get up and face the day; truly, some are better than others. But it takes work and risking more hope again.

I don’t know if these things are “enough” to create a moderate to significant depressive state. I call it as it is today for me. I tried to clarify events and my responses. For how I react shows me my perspective and deeper feelings. Why have I in other times been quite able to “bounce back as usual”? Why have I felt more alone than before? Why is it tougher to well protect myself from what feel like a bunch of harder knocks? And why are more sleepless nights gaining the upper hand, and heavier days being distracted by ruminations that net too little progress? I have been stopped by the accumulated life happening this time. One can get weary. I find what works and does not, what to seek that will enable greater well being. And thus, to be a better parent, spouse, grandmother, friend, sister.

I am more a “yo-yo” for the first significant period since I drank or used drugs so long ago. So I attend AA meetings. I don’t want to drink or use but I don’t want to be on a “dry drunk”, either. I want to be better than this. I go and I sit and listen to the group’s collective wisdom and experience. I know no one at these new meetings out here but I need to listen in silence for now.

I go to church at times. I read Scripture and other spiritual offerings. I read daily meditations and find meaning that helps. I pray for whatever it is I need to be stronger, be kinder, more adaptable and accepting. The courage to let things be. A lack of acceptance can be a stalling point for me. I have to yield to life more, even as I stand up and keep moving. And that movement daily takes me outdoors, without which I could not locate a deeper peace amid the storms of living.

I write, I draw, I listen to music and sing and dance about. I know the power of creating, its deeply restorative effects. But some days….even that seems hard. And that has scared me some.

For so long I have thought, Oh, I am pretty good at taking care of myself. And I have a spouse who can be here for me, too, in many ways. I know the methods by which to bolster and keep steady myself. And about effective therapy services, which I am willing to use whenever needed, so seek one now. In the end it continues to be a process of learning and experiments, the daily smaller gains and losses. And it will be myself once more who rescues me, along with the durable core and support of my faith. It always has been. I am not a user of psychoactive drugs even for mental health and it isn’t due to not finding them valuable but because I know from experience what else to do, and prefer to do that, as it has worked. I am open to suggestions. Let it not be said that I am unwilling to gain greater understanding. Or to practice that authentic acceptance which comes hard, yes, but can be done if it is the right thing, the best thing.

The good news is that I am not nineteen, nor in the grips of the kind of acute distress that takes me to such terrorizing darker places. I have lived that, and I am done with that. And I am an action taker; I am not paralyzed. I am thankful for all this. But I remain sad and confounded more than I want to be. I am impatient to become a braver and better person still. I got a bit of decent input from my brain as I wrote, more ideas so there is more hope. We all must keep searching, reaching, learning, and not letting go of hope–it is what is available to us in times of trouble.

If these tears must fall and fall again, well drat and damn it and so be it. I must require a true and hearty cleanse. I will not dry up, I will not evaporate. If I feel hollowed out by it for awhile there will be more amazing and tough experiences to occupy those spots. I am just another person, a woman who will not rest until life is ever fully embraced, its variations of light and shadow attended to–its dignity discovered daily… and its steady shining, shining through the murky gloaming, upon this path of dirt, brier, sand, sweet grass, blossom–and humblest rock, which after all, tells stories, holds secret gems.

******

Something “once experienced and done” might again shadow your life, my life. It does not have to own it. Take back your unique and inviolable self still deep within you. That is what I still do.

Monday's Meanders: River Park Walks in Winter

Willamette River view

A recent Sunday afternoon I had the pleasure of spending hours by myself along the Willamette River. I head to the water when I feel less inclined to tackle significant, frequently ascending and descending trails close to our home. It is not far to the river paths, happily. The deeper truth is that I love bodies of water and this river (as well as the more powerful Columbia River) has drawn me from the day I moved to the Pacific NW in 1992. It is close at hand nearly everywhere I go in this part of Oregon.

I offer these shots from that afternoon of delights. It was cold and windy and partly sunny—perfect for power walking or loitering, pausing to admire various sights. The rolling, changing river as it grazes or gouges the banks of earth pulls me toward it like a magnet. The rushing or slapping sounds it generates; the reflections of light and shadow on its currents; the birds and other creature activities; the interplay of the elements and the people (and dogs) who come to benefit from its restorative beauty year around: a place of pleasure, wonder and meditative opportunities.

I also enjoy public art works and a stop at viewing platforms at the three parks I visited (George Rogers, Foothills, Roehr)