grief

Good Grief

If I had superpowers at my disposal one would the uncanny ability to remove soapscum from a bathtub at will.

Being a human capable of flight sans an airplane is a superpower I’d love to have.    And never finding onseself in a situation of saying or doing something that would end in regret would be another.

I’m about to quote someone who once heard  Dr. Phil ( I’m not a fan) quote Will Rogers,  “Never miss an opportunity to shut up”, or something like that.    Knowing when to completely self-edit is something I’m keen on trying.

But apparently now isn’t the time to start self-help endeavors.    Lately, I’ve been so incredibly angry.   Hotel reservationsists, and several poor saps at a call center in Mumbai have experienced it firsthand.

And it’s not so much anger as it full on rage.

I’m mourning the loss of a friend and the better part of a ten year relationship that ended in his taking the perpetual dirt nap.   This happened just over two months ago and I’m only now addressing the residual effects of those left behind.  Ours was a complex duet that most most people didn’t understand.    He was an asshole, a crook, a dick.    People freely  called him names without knowing him.  And maybe he wasn’t a shining example of humanity.   I’ve always said I can’t beatify the dead simply for dying,   Still,  he meant something to me.   Even so, I should have defended him more.    But I couldn’t.   I guess after a while, I either weenied out or got tired of the fight because it was easier to allow  people think as they wanted.   I was outnumbered.   I had to dismiss him when he was alive and remain as dismisive in his death.    Now, instead of calling him names, they say nothing at all.    This means  I’ve been doing a lot of mourning all by myself, partly on purpose, partly because his death like his life, remains awkward for people.    Hell, any grieving person is awkward for anyone to deal I don’t care how much empathy or sympathy you think you have.   You can feel shock and be apologetic during the funeral and wake, but afterwards, you get to go to back home to life as you know it.    You’re barely on the periphery.

That sounds like such a luxurious place to be….on the outside and only infrequently looking in.

There are supposedly five stages of grief, first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.   They are the denial and isolation combo, anger,  bargaining, depression and  ultimately,  acceptance.    I understand there are caveats to all of these.  Aits different across the board.  One grief stricken person won’t necesssarily go through the stages precisely as Ross determined them, others will,  some won’t experience any of them.  Others might go through a few of them.

I understand isolation and anger, as little Habib who instists for English speakers, his name is Greg Jones, can surely attempt.  But I consider myself too rational to bargain.     There are no ‘what ifs’ in life, much less in death.   Depression?    Hardly anything new.  Denial?    I’m too much of a realist and acceptance was /is something I’ve always found easy.   Acceptance of all things is immediate with me.   Once I knew my friend was dead, I acceped it.      I didn’t like it, I felt it happened too quickly, so suddenly,  too out of the blue, yet I accepted it.   Like Automatic reflex.

But the anger!!!

I’ve been doing dome thinking and Ive realized there  are subtexts to anger and isolation Ross never considered.

1–The pajamas phase.  It’s very important that we exeperience a denial in terms of personal hygiene.    This means a complete lack of desire to bathe or shower and  a full on need to be consistent in our filth.   Such as wearing sweat pants, pajamas, the same robe or caftan for days and days and days.

Usually there’s weight loss or significant  weight gain during this time.   And if we eat at all, the majority of food becomes part of the daily uniform.    We wear our food.   And the kind of food also matters.    Grocery shopping is out of the question so, we either have food delivered or if that’s not an option,  the minimal amount of effort is using the drive throigh, but if that’s not possible, we eat whatever we can find in the fridge, And this can lead to some very weird  combinations.    For example:  Peanut butter and mint jelly on stale potato chips.

2.   Isolation:    Mourning  is personal .   In the beginning,  well-meaning friends and family call and try to visit and we tell them, no, no, we’re fine, all is well.   We tell them not to come by and we refuse to answer the door if they stop by.   Then, they eventually  stop dropping by, they stop calling as much or completely, which can be a double edged sword.   We want to be left alone,  but we still appreciate the effort.    Wether we admit or not, the concern makes us feel relevant, a little less alone.   But grieving really is an extremely personal process, even with four people living in your house, it can still be a very lonely process.     It makes us uncomfortable and skiddish, even for those who’ve walked in your shoes, even those who know then mourning game first-hand.    The reality of loss is very inconvenient and even more inconsiderate.   It plays by its own rules and often strikes at our core at 3:15 on a rainy Sunday morning, seven months after the funeral.  Sometimes three years later.     Sometimes longer.

3.   We become mini-hoarders.    We endure this isolation and anger sub-phase by becoming quite messy.   There is no order in grief– why should there have any in the life of a gerievinf person.     Our environmental hygiene suffers, too.  Dishes are piled high in the sink.   Bottles, cans everywhere.    Empty food bags and wrappers.     Junk mail is everywhere, mixed in with bills that have gone unpaid.    Days old pizza still in the box on the couch.   Shoes  everywhere.     The ever-growing pile of Mt. Laundry is in the corner of the room with new foothills that can be found throughout the house.

These brief  dalliances with hoarding behavior comes as no surprise.  Hoarding is a direct response to loss.   I don’t necessarily get how or why one feels compelled to cling to an outdated page of Burger King coupons,  but I understand that’s part of the hoarding process.     And hoarding is the result of how a mentally ill person deals with loss.

3.  Emergence.    The darkness in grief can be stunning.  It can take a month or three, but newfound singles who earned that title through the death of a mate or divorce (loss is loss, my friends)  will eventually come around.    Most of us have to.   We have to work.   You have to be wealthy to be have degenerative grief, the all consuming kind that seemingly lasts forever.    When opportunistic  mental illness comes to visit and stays resulting in the way you can only traverse  your home through the tunnels of junk you’ve created then yes, you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis.    You might not realize there’s problem until  a few TLC producers, a camera crew and a HAZMAT  team knocks on your door.    While those sad cases we see on the TV show, Hoarders: Buried Alive  are the exception rather than the rule, most of us (if we even get to the messy phase) rarely stay there.   We arrive at a point where our reactions to death start to wear  thin.  Basically, boredom can set in.   Monotony.    This is healthy forward progression.  It doesn’t mean we no longer love our dearly departed, or that their death has become any less significant.    It simply becomes a matter of moving on.

It pains me to quote Dr. Phil a second time (I’ve actually gotten more psychological assistance  from watching reruns of Frasier) but he often asks people, “What are you getting out of this?”   Or worse, “How’s that working out for you?”

Shudder, but there is truth in the queries.

Living life in a perpetual state of mourning means you’re not living.   Change is tough, You can’t eat your way through this….or sleep through it.  Stockpiling garbage isn’t a healthy response.  There’s not enough Scotch or Vodka in the world, not a Xanax big enough.   There aren’t  enough carbs to eat your feelings and by contrast, refusing to eat won’t work either.  When your life stops working for you for whatever reason, it’s time to make a change. Yes, you’re heartbroken.   The death of a mate or spouse or a relationship of any kind, even the loss of a job, means the end of an ideal.  It means the death of plans, hopes and dreams and these things are horrendously painful.    So yes, Loss hurts.   Break ups, divorce…terminations of all kinds.    The death after a loved who one lingered  with an illness, a suicide, a sudden massive coronary or aneurism, are all very painful.   After a point, the process by which one arrives at death doesn’t matter; the end result is the same.  So called prep time doesn’t matter.

But if the sadness is overwhelming and not subsiding,  if guilt has beome an unwelcome roommate who won’t leave, if your grief has literally taken over your life, then please seek help.   And if you keep glancing over at that bottle of pills and that quart of whiskey, please, PLEASE  seek help.     Death + death only = more heartache.   It’s the simplest example of negative math.  And if by some chance you are thinking of taking your own life, well depending on your faith, you won’t end up in the same place as your dead wife,  so why bother?

So, rid yourself of ‘end it all thoughts’.    Embrace your curiosity about life and maintain your healthy fear of death.    Be brave enough to dare yourself to wake up tomorrow just to see what the day brings.   Until then, go with your pain….cry, or not,  get angry, feel free to wear sweats containing a poly blend AND  the four basic  food groups for a week.   There’s no rule book.   No game plan.    Just understand that you have ultimate control over all of your feelings.   Please look  for that eventual break in the clouds.    Even tarnished silver linings are better than none at all.

So, wail, cry, shriek.    Punch a wall….I won’t judge.    Just do your best, even in the midst of it all, to understand why your heart aches.    Be very clear and honest within your pain. Death is the ultimate ending.   It’s life’s final play of the game and when it happens to someone  you know and love, it becomes your new reality.  This death is now a part of your life,  a fact that mercifully becomes something  you’re just going to have to live with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something For Walter

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I must request that you indulge me in something.  

I need to take a break from the madness; my madness and remember someone who was very close to me.  Someone I miss a great deal.

Walter Minter Tarpley was my best friend.  

We had a strangely initmate love/hate relationship that only a gay man and a straight woman can have.  Our disagreements could divide a nation; our good times often bordered on criminal, but life with Walter was so much fun.    My life with him was amazing.  

He didn’t believe in much, except that a good time was had by all .    His circle was small and I always felt quite honored to have stood at one of the corners.   Circle in a square; square in a circle and somehow, it…we always fit.     He could be extremely cavalier at times and his carelessness bothered me, but then again, he made me realize that I wasn’t really the hip, happenin’ chick I thought I was.   He was liberall;  Tim Robbins liberal.   I was Conservative and becoming more so as each year passed.  It had gotten to the point that I was inching toward being politically on par with Elizabeth Dole, save for the fuel injected Southern hair.  

We argued about the ever growing abyss between the two parties, but we learned to sway the topic if politics reared its head.   And despite our differences, we cared a great deal for each other.   Our first outing together was  Halloween in 2005.  We made a vow that we would always spend Halloween together.   We had a wonderful time that night and the next day, I had a tough time working because I kept laughing at the things we’d done..said…felt.  I remember thinking that day that we’d be friends forever; but forever only lasted two years.  

He died on July 4th 2007, a mere nine days after being diagnosed with AIDS-related pneumocystis pneumonia.   

We used to go out and make merry every Halloween and frankly, I can’t let another one go by without honoring my best friend and remembering how his life cand death, altered the course of mine.

I wrote this post three years and a half years ago.     I republish it today.

For Walter.

Twenty years ago, I dreamed of meeting one  special man that I could be friends with for the rest of my life…one man to laugh with, cry with….share my most intimate thoughts with.

He was given to me on a warm and sunny August day in 2005.

Walter came into my life quite by surprise, but hardly by accident. He sent me an e-mail at the radio station where I worked. It took no time at all for us to become friends and when we did, I found that I adored Walter.  He was devilishly handsome, brilliant, crass but polished, opinionated, fearless, acerbic, openly gay and hilarious.

To me, he was Perfection.

He was also a tortured soul. As was I, when we met. One would think that two fractured people would just create a pile of emotional shards. But that wasn’t the case with us. We seemed to provide the bonding needed to keep each other together. I think it was laughter that served as the consummate adhesive. We became best friends.

My relationship with Walter was rather cloistered. Few people understood our connection. I’m not sure even we understood the degree of our closeness. That was fine with us; we preferred it that way. When other people listened to us speak, it was as if we were speaking Esperanto. We jokingly said we spoke “TarKen”; our own language which was interspersed with many expletives and the requisite “Filthy” and “Dirty”, all spoken in a feigned British accent we used.

Few “got us” and that was OK.  We held on to each other, only letting go only when the other stepped free, but even so, the bond was never completely broken.   We were content  knowing that we’d found each other. We were happy to have found a certain “punctuation” to the paragraph of our lives.

We just clicked; my cup to his saucer—mismatched, chipped and crazing down the center, but still beautiful, even in it’s damaged state. Perfectly flawed.

Walter entered my life at a time I needed him most. He brought joy and laughter where there was none. He helped me learn to live again.   In fact, he was best time I’ve ever had. He felt like home. Comfortable, safe and secure. Like a hug, accented with the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, wrapped in a soft, familiar blanket.   He never dismissed me or made me feel anything less than extraordinary.

He was never aloof, nor did he ever exist passively in my life. He was a willing participate–fully involved, concerned and more importantly, he was there when I needed him. We were good about being there for each other. Walter understood that Life is inconvenient. So is Love. Neither will ask for permission and both can be obtrusive.   Still, he was never too busy for me, even when I was.  He was kind in the sense that he never decreed me as anything other than one of his very best friends. What an incredible honor!

Make no mistake, we had issues.  We had our disagreements which were legendary. And vicious!! Imagine a film recording of Joan Crawford telling off the board of Pepsico on a continuous loop that plays at painful decibels.We never stayed mad at each other;  at least, not that long.

Ultimately with Walter, I always felt loved. Unconditionally so. I could be thin, pudgy, hair perfect or teased up to a dizzying Elsa Lancaster’s Bride of Frankenstein height. I could be sans make-up or with a full compliment and wearing something that fashion-wise, would’ve have been considered only luke-warm from five seasons earlier. That didn’t matter.

To Walter, I was always just Laurie. No pretense.

To me, he was always Walter. No pretense.

One night he asked me why I couldn’t have been born a gay man. On that particular day, I had to fire six members of my staff. I was crying in his arms. I was wearing this silk blouse with, pink feather scuffs. I looked up at him, mascara streaming down my face and said, “Take one look at me, Walter. Look at what I’m wearing then take a gander at my make-up! I have to ask you, what makes you so sure I’m not?”

Our friendship was enduring and so incredibly special.  We had this idea that we’d grow old together. That we’d live long enough to comb gray hair, use our AARP discounts at dinner, complain about arthritis and those damn kids and their crazy music. We thought surely one day, I’d be Blanche to his Baby Jane. Aging wouldn’t matter as long as we could view the process through each other’s eyes. Together.

But the Universe had other plans. It gave me Walter, but the one thing it couldn’t give me was a relationship with him that could be measured in years. He was only in my life for a mere 23 months. That was all. Even though I have many brilliant memories that could rival the most dazzling, star-filled constellations, I felt this was and still is so incredibly unfair.   I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I’m still not. My first hello to him–seemingly uttered just yesterday– still resonates on my lips!!

I wanted more time.  No, I needed more time for one last look at his wonderfully handsome face; one more chance to absorb the warmth of his smile; to hear that wicked, wicked laugh; to read his soulful eyes; to feel the touch of his hand.

I grapple with the Divine more than I care to admit and when Walter got sick, I felt angry.  When he died, I felt cheated.  I’m told that people are put in our paths for special reasons.  Sometimes,  it’s to force us to give of ourselves and sometimes it’s for us to receive.   If so, then that means sadly, tragically, these beautiful, divine human gifts must also leave our lives for special reasons.     Why Walter left mine is something I’ll never, ever understand,  but I know why he came into my life. And that was to save my life  and as a result, I’m a much wiser and richer woman for my all too brief experience with this angel.   

I love Walter and always will.

His death cannot negate my feelings or the relationship I’ll continue to have with him. The love lives on because I do. And I live on because this precious man gave me a reason to do so.   His friendship in many, many ways gave my life back to me.

I went to his memorial service and saw his ravaged body lying in the coffin.   He would’ve hated that.   He would’ve loathed how his make-up had been applied and how badly he looked.   I made myself look at him,  I needed to see him one last time.   I fought the urge to cry as I touched his withered and drawn face.   I stood there and actually mustered a smile for a few fleeting moments as I thought about the strange, cyclical nature of life and how for every mortal journey, death is the final destination. 

This was Walter’s time to die, but unlike so many people, Walter also knew how to live.  And for an all too brief moment in time, his beautiful life intersected mine.

And I am so incredibly grateful.

Twenty years from now, I’ll dream of how I met that one  special man who I wanted to be friends with for the rest of my life…one man I laughed with, cried with…shared my most intimate thoughts with.

And I’ll remember how he was taken from me on a warm and rainy July day in 2007.

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And that’s the way it is…

She’s 31-years younger than me, but even so, this lovely child looked down at me (at 49, I’m a freakish five feet tall) and told me she wanted to be me when she grew up.

Poor, disillusioned young thing.

I looked up at her; stood on my tip toes to touch her cheek maternally as if to emphasize the sage wisdom I was about to impart, but all wizened comments were foiled by a cramp in my calf, an obvious electrolyte imbalance.

Cursed, cursed aging!!!

She then dealt the final blow by telling me that her mother used to love my FM morning show antics and would have our show on the car radio when she’d drop the kids off at school.

Elementary school, thank you very much.

Great!

I am a Southern woman by way  of Texas and I was raised as such.  That means, regardless of the situation and the embarrassing levels it might reach, we’re taught to be gracious.   Always.

I thanked her and limped away. I drove home feeling old, but okay about it.  Does that make sense?  You see, I’m grateful to feel anything.

Permit me to explain.

A major hurricane just blew through Houston and vicinity and decimated so much of Southeast Texas.  It had been 25 years since hurricane force winds blew through downtown Houston.  With our complacency now gone; we no longer feel impervious to nature and many are walking around as if we’ve been ‘fragged’;  shot by our own troops.

I had some property damage, but it’s minor at best.   My satellite dish– I swear, has teeth marks on it and as a result, I don’t have TV.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I DO get one channel, but it’s Lifetime Made For TV movies.  And this cruel restriction my friends,  is a fate worst than death for thinking women.  Sorry, but it is.  Imagine, all Markie Post or Valerie Bertinelli, all the time.  And every title of every “movie” includes two words.  As far as I can tell, that’s a “Lifetime” law.

“Desperate Stranger”

“Strange Desperation”

“Desperate Love”

“Love Storm”

“Calm Storm”

“Stormy Calm” and then there’s the rare, “Donna R: Portrait of A Teenage (insert malady here)”

Since Ike blew through a week ago,  living in Houston is like living in a Communist block country.  There’s a curfew that’s strictly enforced.  You have to present credentials and proper I.D.  to justify being in your neighborhood past certain hours.  Few restaurants are open and those that are, have a limited menu.  There’s still no power in over a million homes and those that have it, have it intermittently. Phone reception is spotty; there are long gas lines; long food lines…little ice and very little patience left among the populace.

Life is reminiscent of a fascist checkpoint without the Adolph Menjou character in a Nazi uniform.  It is inconvenient and annoying and there’s also an emotional toll, even for those affected peripherally.

Few people are sleeping.   I know I’m not.  I don’t have much of an appetite;  my hair looks like hell and my skin, which now–after all the stress–looks like an aerial view of a flesh colored relief map of Appalachia,  but I’m still here and much better off than so many people in Galveston and other beach front communities and surrounding counties which took the full brunt of the storm.

Don’t worry, kids.  This will be my last storm post.   But in the meantime,  please indulge me…I’ve got to get this out of my system.

Hurricane Ike took so much from so many people; it stole lives–the authorities say it’ll probably take years to properly determine the exact number of lives it claimed;  most of which were swept out to sea by a vicious storm surge; and Ike also ruined lives.   My heart goes out to the victims; they’ve nothing left.    But you see, I get it now more than ever;  I understand what I didn’t during Andrew,  Katrina or even Rita for that matter.   I got it by watching the recovery struggle of “the never hads”  and those, who by virtue of this horrific storm, have now been made, “the have nots”.

Hurricanes always damage more people than they do buildings,  but I never noticed it–not really.  Before, these people and their plight were just news stories to me; things which I blithely reported.   Hurricane Ike was different.  I lived it. I live it.

There is physical and human devastation all around me.  So, as I sit in my well lit home watching the movie,  “Stormy Love” on Lifetime in air conditioned comfort, I realize that when the winds blew fierce over Southeast Texas and took so much, they actually gave me something…gratitude for what I have and humility for what I don’t.

The Sad Art of Gaslighting

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Yesterday, was “one of those days”.

All was going fine—until I stumbled upon something that shook my core: I was going through my voluminous Inbox in an attempt to make room for my life and I found an e-mail from my best friend who died a year ago. For some reason–never opened it. I guess it got lost in the shuffle.

Anyway, I read it and was flooded with emotion.

I didn’t sleep.

I tried watching TV but “The Giant Ladder System” was on 269 of my 280 channels so, that was a wash. I thought I’d try reading, so I went looking through my books trying to find something that would either take my mind off things or one that could help me better understand and deal with my grief.

I found just what I was looking for, but it wasn’t a book that dealt with the loss of my best friend; it was more like a book that would help me cope losing myself. It’s entitled, The Gaslight Effect: Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Your Truth by Robin Stern.

“Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”

Stern goes on to say that gaslighting generally takes two to tango: one person who needs to be in control to maintain his sense of self; the other, who needs the relationship to maintain his/her sense of self and because of this, he/she acquiesces—constantly.

The victim ends up giving far, far more than he/she gets. This process invariably erodes the soul.

You know you’re in a full blown Gaslight Effect when you find yourself second guessing your own reality; when you’re unsure of what you really think and feel. Why? Because you’ve allowed someone else to define your reality for you. Invariably, this leads to being told what to think and how to think. And then in turn, you’re told who you are. You’re molded into an entity that someone else deems worthy of his or her love, affection; attention.

And because of the constant whittling away at your psyche, you believe you’re a better person as he or she sees you; as he/she needs you to be.

As the kids used to say….”word”.

Having been “gaslit” in the past, I’d like to share my thoughts with you.

Gaslighting I think, is all that I just mention, with refined manipulation added. And this is maniplation that’s defined by greed and selfishness. It creates cognitive dissonance and it’s this “in between state of cognizance” that women–people, find themselves most vulnerable.

It’s being forced to color inside the lines that others have drawn for us. If we don’t, we’ll be alone and that to some people, is a fate worse than death. Knowing that isolation and lonliness are the dreaded alternatives, we allow gaslighting. It’s not compromise. Hardly–it’s utter relinquishing of the self.

The authentic self.

Then, you find yourself in a horrifically bad relationship but you stay because of that INSIDIOUS goddamn mindset that a bad relationship beats no relationship.

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Make no mistake: this IS emotional abuse in every sense and women are almost always the victims. Don’t misunderstand the premise: women can be the culprits too. But women bear the brunt of more negative genetic coding–or so it seems. We’ve been subjugated by primordial design to believe relationships, love….and men, define us.

But gaslighting isn’t limited to love relationships. We also fall victim to it on the job; co-workers and bosses are often perpetrators and it also happens within the family dynamic.

Gaslighting is very real. As I stated, I’ve lived it. I just didn’t know it had a name. Or a book that defined it. Ordinarily, I try my best to avoid partaking from the sump pump of pop psychology. In other words, if Dr. Phil mentions it, I run in the opposite direction. But this book makes sense.

And here’s my two cents.

Integrity (something sorely lacking in the world today) applies to behavior that consistently matches principles. You can’t be a person of integrity if selfishness and self centered behavior are what fuels every motivation. Gaslighters almost always lack integrity; as distorted as this sounds, they thrive on their own selfishness. They are always self-centered. They are consummate liars. Invariably, they will never fail to fail you.

One must then ask, how can a gaslighter expect to be loved if he or she doesn’t know how to love? How can he or she venture into a real, equitable partnership without knowing how to play fair?

The answer? Manipulation passed off as love or affection…or concern

  • No one will love ever love you like I love you
  • You’re nothing without me
  • I ONLY want to take care of you
  • I only want what’s best for you and only I know what that is
  • You have changed and grown so much since knowing me. I make you think and you are better because of it

Furthermore, what these people demand of themselves will rarely work with others. Once again, we touch on “coloring inside the lines” we draw for others. And when someone refuses, that’s how gaslighting starts. I think foisting this on someone else, is the quintessence of neurotic narcissism.

What this book reveals isn’t earth shattering. If you’ve lived it, then you know exactly what gaslighting is all about. For me, it merely gave a name to what I’d experienced.

In remedying the gaslight malady, it goes on to state the obvious:

Women (especially) must be more assertive. We must be fearless about defining who we are, what we are and what we really think. We must empower ourselves to move forward and find real contentment in a relationship as opposed to sanctuary, no matter how fleeting.

I’ll take it one step further:

Some of us, by virtue of childhood experience, seek emotional replicas of our fathers and mothers. If we had a controlling parent, very often we’ll seek controlling partners. We’re most fortunate if we can break that cycle. And just because we find ourselves in abject co-dependence with someone cruel and controlling, well…that doesn’t mean we have to stay. Gather your courage and leave Simon Legree. As the James Gang so aptly sang, walk away.

But remember this: walking away is sometimes much easier than garnering the strength required to take that first step.

And keep this in mind as well: you’ll never gather courage by allowing fear to keep you in a one-sided relationship that’s devoid of romance, passion and real emotion. To do so is a sign of weakness. It’s giving your power away. We should be empowering ourselves. When we relinquish control, we hand over the reigns of our lives, willingly.

Frequently.

Tragically.

But for some, this is the perfect scenario. We’re absolved of all blame if we have no control of a situation. If we believe we’re not responsible, we can’t be held accountable. Especially when it comes to our own actions. Victimhood is extraordinarily convenienct. It all boils down to neglect. We’re being neglected and we’re neglecting ourselves. Well then– here’s your wake up call: neglect kills as often as a bullet to the head.

It kills relationships just as efficiently. And if you sit by and allow it to happen, you’re just as guilty.

In closing, I’ll just say this: Caruso loved the sound of his own voice…some people love the sound of their own opinions being expressed.

This should come as no surprise.

The typical gaslighter defies Copernican theory. They think THEY are, in fact, the center of the universe. In reality, this blustery bravado masks rampant insecurity. Inside, they’re just scared little boys and girls , very much afraid to be hurt, yet they think they’re too smart, too superior to actually feel the pain they’ve so deeply buried.

Sadly, this fear-based arrogance means they themselves have been “gaslit”…made victims by their own actions.

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Merry Christmas, Omaha

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1:50 PM, December 5, 2007.

It is a busy mall in Omaha, Nebraska.

Shoppers are everywhere. Bundled up, it’s cold. After all, it is early December and this is the Midwest–the place where American dreams can come true. Christmas 2007 is no exception. Christmas wishes are abundant this year. You can see that on the faces of the innocent as they scurry from store to store. The hustle and bustle is as much a seasonal tradition as hanging a wreath on the front door.

You’re thinking about your holiday to do list.

I’ve got to shop for Uncle Ned. What in the world would he want?

Daddy’s business partner needs a gift.

OK, I took care of Mom’s present this morning.

And oh yes, I can’t forget cousin Mike. Oh, look at these sweaters. My brother in law might one of these, too!

You pick one up as shots ring out. Your concentration is broken. What’s happening?

You look to your left and a shopper is lying motionless on the floor. A diffluent pool of crimson is forming underneath him.

Your survival instincts take over. You dive under a table of sweaters that only five seconds earlier, you were contemplating buying as gifts. More shots are fired. More people are shot. One falls down…then another. There is blood and mayhem amid the screams and Christmas music playing in the store.

It is surreal.

More shots. BANG! BANG! BANG! Then denial takes over. For a few brief moments in the chaos that has become your life, you wonder if you left the iron on at home.

Then, with more gunshots comes the horrible reality.

You’re hiding under a table at a mall, while shots are being randomly fired beside you, above you.

At you.

“My God!!” you think to yourself. “Who’s trying to kill us?”hawkins.jpg

The answer to your question is an anonymous, 20-year-old man.

Robert Hawkins was a sad throw away kid really, who spent the last year separated from his family thanks to issues with his step mother. And as if that wasn’t enough to push him over the edge, he was also nursing other significant wounds. He lost his girlfriend not long after he lost his job.

He also had a minor police record.

He was in his opinion, “a nothing” in life. Sadly, that was also what he believed others thought about him. So, he wanted to correct that in his death and he would punctuate that with a gesture that in this day and age, is unremarkably heinous. He picked up an assault rifle and like so many others who find themselves backed in to a miasmal corner of their own making, he went to a place where people gather–in this case a crowded shopping mall in suburban Omaha and went out in a blaze of narcissistic glory. Or so he thought. Robert Hawkins accomplished one thing: this “grandiose ending” he envisioned had the death toll he wanted. When the smoke cleared, eight were and five were wounded before he killed himself.

And when he placed the gun to his head and fired, really—what exactly did that do?

It simply meant the shooting stopped.

For the time being anyway.

We’ve learned over the years that in this very damaged society of walking wounded, there are few ceasefires. The guns remain silent only until some other demented fool decides to end it all and take others with him.

That’s why I won’t pity Robert Hawkins. I don’t doubt the legitimacy of his deep seeded issues. That’s obvious. But how and why it prompted him to make 14-people symptoms of his illness is for psychiatrists and behaviorists to debate. I want to address what Robert Hawkins left in his wake…

Shattered lives.

How dare he. That’s all I can say.

How dare he? That’s all I can ask.

Robert Hawkins stole Christmas, by robbing people of their loved ones. His shooting spree and suicide didn’t end his misery; he created it for others.

Can this holiday EVER be the same for those who survived? For those people whose friends and family members were killed? The wounded? And what about Hawkins’ own family? Contrary to what he may have believed, surely there were those who cared about him.

Does it matter now? Can we even ask that after the fact? Robert Hawkins’ Wikipedia entry is now complete. Where his sad, tawdry life ends, sorrow and grieving begins.

And that’s why December 5, 2007 now lives in infamy. For many Omaha residents, Christmas could be forever associated with bloodshed.

Tears and tinsel.

How tragic.

How very senseless.

With memories of Columbine and the incident involving the Amish schoolhouse and of course, Virginia Tech still fresh in our memories, we ask why? How did it happen again? We shake our heads in shocked dismay. Will enough ever be enough?

Our pain and disbelief are palpable.

Today, America’s Heartland is in mourning.

For the second time this year, America’s heart is broken.

Merry Christmas, Omaha. I wish you tidings of comfort….and joy.

I pray you’ll soon find both.

Again…..

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Six Years Later…..

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While supping with the Literatti this weekend, the subject of the sixth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks came up. It’s hard to broach such a subject without first wincing at it’s still lingering impact, then you tend to immediately reflect back on where you were, what you were doing–even what you were thinking, when the sad, tragic events of the day gave us a reason to remember it.

I woke up that morning just after 8am-Houston time—my friend Mark’s call served as my alarm. I turned on the TV as an automatic reflex and continued my brief conversation. When I hung up a few minutes later, I looked up and saw that the “Today” show had a camera trained on the North Tower. All you could see was a huge, gaping hole with fire and smoke billowing from it.

I remember thinking instantly that this was the handiwork of Osama bin Laden. No, this wasn’t an accident…no, this wasn’t the tragic result some sight impaired Mr. Magoo-like pilot in a Cessna who’d lost his way trying to follow the meandering shoreline of the Hudson.

This was intentional. This was bin Laden making good on his threat.

Then, things got stranger and stranger and the day got more surreal.

There were more reports that even more planes couldn’t be accounted for….more hijackings. The Pentagon was attacked….jumpers from the upper floors of a disabled high-rise with only minutes left to live, were captured by TV cameras as they fell to their deaths.

It was intensely painful.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. A second plane hit the South Tower. There is, I swear, an eternal imprint on the souls of every person who bore witness to that horrible, lamentable day.

Then came the collapse.

I watched The South Tower crumble first. Floor by floor. I watched walls and ceilings, and tons and tons of steel girders fall to the earth. What took nearly three and half years to build, came down in 12 seconds. And as I watched, I remember thinking that the objects that were falling were doing so with long and rather odd looking plumes of smoke trailing behind.

I don’t mean to be impertinent or disrespectful with what I’m about to convey, but I can remember feeling a bit disembodied emotionally. And when that happened, I remember thinking that the plumes of smoke, at different heights, widths and lengths reminded me of Sideshow Bob’s hair. From “The Simpsons”. I couldn’t shake that insane image.

Notice the photo on your left.

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I distinctly remembering being struck by the comparison, then feeling absolutely awful that my mind “went there” while witnessing such a horrible event. Then, a few years ago, I realized that my mind was merely going into avoidance/denial mode BECAUSE what I was watching…what my mind was processing was so horrible.

The mind does what it must to make sense of something so utterly senseless.

Case in point: I interviewed a man once who lost his leg in a car accident. He told me that as he lied there in the crumpled heap that was once his truck, he heard members of the Fire and Rescue unit attempting to extract him. He was going in and out of consciousness, but distinctly remembers at one point, being overly concerned with whether or not he turned off his coffee maker before leaving the house that morning.

This, as most of his left leg was lying two feet away from him.

Shock is an awesome, protective phenomenon. The mind is amazing.

In those waning hours after the attack– as the nation emerged wounded and disoriented from the debris cloud of our own disbelief, we were glued to our TV sets. After a few hours, as reality continued to force feed us the acceptance of a most unpleasant situation, I realized I was witnessing (especially after so many interviews) a shape-shifting in the collective American consciousness. A rather laissez fare and cavalier attitude toward the government, foreign policy and national defense was rapidly changing in the course of one very event filled afternoon. I was starting to hear an almost primal melange of base emotions being discussed openly and honestly: despair, grief, anger, shock, dismay, rage, bitterness, disbelief, pain, revenge…

And fear.

We’d been attacked by the most dangerous nemesis known to man: hate fueled by a fundamentalist psychopath who believed he was divinely inspired and justified to do as he pleased. This was exacerbated by the fact that the vicious, murderous event happened our own soil. It cost us our sense of security. We immediately stopped feeling safe and started feeling vulnerable. We felt duped, as if we’d been had, because the method used—and it must be said—was brilliant in it’s simplicity. It was treacherous in its effectiveness.

Perhaps, that’s what made it even more frightening. That somewhere, somehow we…The United States of America, the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world with its extremely sophisticated method of intelligence gathering, had failed.

We’d been breached by our own planes, in our own airspace and by a failed system of airport security checks and balances put there to protect us.

We weren’t impervious.

That became more apparent as the day progressed–the afternoon offered no reprieve. Building 7 collapsed and the news was confirmed regarding the crash of the fourth hijacked plane, United 93 in that field in rural Pennsylvannia.

Still, I kept watching, hearing stories of those who managed to escape death’s clutches; I watched reports about people who saw evil “up close and personal” and lived to tell about it. I heard countless tales of bravery, heroism and altruism. After a while, I stopped listening to what they said and instead just looked at them for what they represented; what the day had forced them to become.

That’s when I saw something beginning to emerge…like the mighty Phoenix.

I started looking at the day’s events as the late Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning might have viewed it. He was able to see life’s beauty and promise while suffering through incredibly inhumane conditions as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. So, as the tragic events of September 11th continued to unfold before me, I began desperately looking for something/anything that could be construed as redeemable.

And then, I saw it. It hit me.

That morning, these people–these survivors, entered their respective offices at the World Trade Center representing a wide cross section of America. Men, women, execs, middle management…hourly wage earners. They went about their daily routines…getting coffee, making copies, rushing to meetings, finishing reports, they made calls and checked foreign markets for overnight activity. And they did these things as vastly different people—physically, ethnically, socially.

Yet after the fall; after the towers collapsed, those who survived emerged from the dust and debris, covered in the same whitish colored ash that just hours before had been two-110-story American icons— architectural wonders brought down by physics, gravity and hate. The ash represented so much: pulverized remnants of offices, insurance, money, solvency, debt, flooring, tiles, invoices, hopes, dreams, goals….so many different human lives.

These people, who woke up that morning for the sole purpose of being inexorably and permanently changed, were covered in humanity, really.

Lump sum humanity.

And it covered them from head to toe.

At first glance, it prevented me from discerning who and what they were. Were they high powered Wall Street executives or members of the secretarial pool? A high powered attorney or a window washer? I couldn’t tell whether they were rich or poor; a Wharton grad or a high school drop out. What were they ethnically?

On September 11, 2001 they were merely survivors. Tragedy and devastation removed all other labels.

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You see, on this one day; this one extraordinarily tragic day in our history, these very different people, really weren’t very different at all. For a few hours anyway, they ceased being black, white, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Gentiles, bosses or subordinates–they weren’t rich or poor. These were just men and women who miraculously survived it all and in the hellish aftermath of one of the worst terror attacks in history, found themselves covered in this thick, white, ashen “sameness”.

How ironic, too…..

White represents the total absence of color.

I can only speak for myself, but on the dark day that was September 11, 2001, this realization was a tiny bright spot. It gave me hope.

It isn’t much, but it’s something I still cling to….six years later.

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Angels Unawares

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I woke up this morning pissed. Inexplicably angry.

As the day progressed, so did the depth of my rage.

I puttered around the house, wishing several former boyfriends Tetanus, until I realized what I was feeling was keeping me from being productive. I looked in my kitchen pantry. It was bare, even the stuff that the previous tenants left was gone. I had to go to the grocery store. Spending money I don’t have always seems to lift my spirits.

I put on a shirt, some comfy elastic-waist jeans to accommodate my love handles—now with Kung Fu grip—slipped into some flip flops and headed toward River Oaks.

That, my non-Houston readers, is a very posh neighborhood. Old oil money mostly…well, old for Southeast Texas. There’s a grocery store in the shadow of River Oaks that’s to die for! It’s in the heart of Texas’ hard core WASP land, but its a lovely edifice as grocery stores go. Everything is tasteful and the inventory is marked up to dizzying heights, but the selection is huge and the staff treats customers with ass wiping impeccability. You want for nothing while patronizing that store.

Shopping there is a rare indulgence.

And if there was ever a day to be self indulgent, it was today. My mood was consuming me.

I pulled in the store’s parking lot, opting not to let the Valet park my delightful six year old Ford with one hubcap that bent outwards.

It looks like one of Stephen Colbert’s ears.

The doorman opened the door for me; the concierge greeted me with a smile.

I started shopping.

Meat, fish, some veggies. A roasted chicken. A few canned goods.

I then turned into the “Import Aisle”. I love couscous and there I was standing next to (as best as I could tell) two Farsi speaking chadors with tiny little women inside them. All three of us were trying to reach the couscous on the top shelf, but to no avail. Let me describe the scenario for you: I’m 5’1″ and I was the tallest of this little trio. Finally, a nice, tall man strolled by and fetched all the boxes we needed.

I spoke briefly with the women in their broken English. We laughed about the rigors of being short in a tall world.

We were getting along famously, then they saw it.

In my cart—a package of pork chops, six for $5.65.

I’m not sure, but I think I now know how to say “infidel” in Farsi.

As they pushed their cart on down the Import aisle with an indignation that will prompt another post someday, I was struck by something: right there, next to each other was a section for Kosher food and beside, it… Halal. Co-existing, co-mingling…even touching. I saw a misplaced box of Matzo next to some olives.

I thought to myself, “Why can’t these two cultures; these sons and daughters of Abraham, get along like the food in this Import aisle???”

Just then, another cart rammed into mine and one gruff looking man, obviously in a hurry to rush back to his house to feed four Chief Justices visiting for the weekend, snarled at me and spurted out, “Would you mind?”

And in that tone, too.

I really didn’t need the attitude. Not today. It has been a really bad nine months. Loss, grief, rejection… now this?? An asshole in a pair of black Bruno Magli’s!??!?

Oh, hell no!

I was losing faith in mankind.

Onward…..

I got what I needed and meandered over the part of the store where the 2o-checkout registers lived. Each one I swear, had a line of at least six carts filled to the brim. Their human motors standing there with arms folded, hands on hips…waiting.

Patiently.

Rich, white people can be ridiculously civilized.

I pulled into a random checkout aisle and positioned my cart to wait with the other Gentiles. I was behind an older woman who was neatly dressed. She was thin with white hair done up in a tasteful coif. She noticed me out of the corner of her eye and actually turned around. I stood there looking at her and she smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back.

She then asked, “Well, how are you today?”

I paused for a second and actually contemplated that answer. Usually, I’d respond with a patent “Just fine thanks…and you?” But I didn’t.

Instead I said, “I’ve been better. It’s been one of those years”.

She continued to smile and said, “I understand. We’ve all had them. How can we appreciate the sweet if we don’t taste the bitter”.

“True” was my response. No earth shattering logic there.

Then she added–completely out of the blue, “I suspect that a lovely young woman like you tends to over-think things. I’d even venture a guess that you seek answers to questions that don’t even exist. If I’m right Sweetie, spare yourself the heartache. Sometimes things just happen. No rhyme or reason. Ours is not to question and sometimes, ours isn’t to try and answer either”.

I looked at her for a minute…forehead furrowed in confusion. Who was this woman? Was I that obvious? Have the problems and issues in my life become so apparent that they’ve actually physically manifested and raised to the point of being palpable? Like some weird form of emotional Braille, readable only to a select, insightful few???

I just stood there, saying nothing, yet I could “feel” my expression: lips slightly pursed, eyes narrowed—the lines in my forehead were starting to entrench— efforting to take up permanent residence.

I must’ve looked like Simon Bar Sinister.

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“I have something for you”, she said as she reached into her Marc Jacobs purse—not that I was looking— and pulled out a folded piece of paper from a zippered compartment.

“Here you go.” She handed it to me.

As I took it from her she said, , “Someone gave this to me when my husband and son died in an accident ten years ago. It helped me a great deal, so I decided that I would pass this wisdom along to whoever needed it. And I think you need it”.

I felt no need to question her. I put in my purse and said, “Thank you”.

As she handed the check out clerk her credit card, she turned and looked at me and said, “A couple more things: for reasons that will become obvious, don’t read it until you get home. And please, pass this along to whoever you think might need it.”

With that she smiled and put her hand on top of mine. “I promise you, life is good. Savor it. Bad times are only tough when you’re going through them”.

And she walked out of the store— a concierge appointed Bag Boy following close behind with her groceries in tow.

I checked out, paid $100 dollars more than I would have anywhere else, but had the honors of a young, acne- faced, aproned teen named “Todd” escort me and my sundries to my proletariat chariot.

I drove home wanting to read the piece of paper, but I didn’t. I would abide by the old broad’s wishes. I finally arrived in my parking lot, grabbed my bags and went inside.

I reached in my purse, unfolded the piece of paper and held it on one hand as I began to read. I started putting groceries away with the other.

This is what it said:

“People come into your life for a reason—for a season or for a lifetime.

When someone is in your life for a reason, it’s usually to meet a need you’ve expressed to God, the Universe…call it what you will.

They come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, fiscally, emotionally or spiritually. Sometimes they act defiantly and force you to take a stand. They’ll make you mad; they’ll confound you. They might even hurt or wound you deeply. They are a Godsend, though you might not realize that until after the fact.    They are there for the exact reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or seemingly at the most inconvenient time possible, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.     Sometimes they move, sometimes they just leave; they walk away…and sometimes they die.

What we must realize is that once our need has been met, our desire fulfilled, their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it’s time for both of you to move on.    

Your job is to accept the lesson and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and in every area of your life.

So allow for the sad and wait for the happy. Like seasons, one always comes after the other. That is life’s guarantee”.

I stood there, the paper in one hand and a new tube of toothpaste in the other. I knew why she advised not to read it until I got home. It would’ve been tough trying to drive through tears.

What a dear lady she was. An angel.

I put the toothpaste in a drawer in the bathroom and smiled.

I finally understood a few things.

I miss my best friend, Walter. His recent death still shakes me to my core. I miss the Brit, too. For the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with the pain of their departures and trying to figure out why they were in my life for such a short time.

Now I know.

They were seasonal; in my life for one brief season and one season only. They entered my life with a predetermined exit strategy they didn’t know existed. Both taught me very important, vital things. But, as the manuscript said—once lessons have been learned, it’s time to let go….

And move on. 

Arrivals/departures.  Beginnings/endings.

I finished putting my groceries away and stood there, absorbing my newfound clarity.

I decided to take a shower.

It had been a warm day; September is caught in summer’s last clutches. I turned off the kitchen light and noticed that it’s starting to get darker much earlier.

The seasons are changing.

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