Category Archives: history

The Short Life of My Very Good Aunt

Aunt Brenda was the second oldest of four sisters.  Her two younger sisters considered her to be the good one in their family, the one who was more of a mother to them than their actual mother.

Aunt Brenda left home as soon as humanly possible, like all the sisters did in turn.  She worked, went to church, taught Sunday school, took her little sisters to the soda shop and movies, invited them to her apartment, and basically mothered them when she could.

Then right after she turned 33, she was diagnosed with an especially aggressive form of breast cancer and five months later she was gone.

Aunt Brenda had never married because the love of her life cheated on her with another woman.  He had gotten the other woman pregnant and “did the right thing” and married her.  He still lives in town and I know who he is.  When I was old enough to drive, I got a fill-up at his gas station and he recognized me as Brenda’s niece.  He made a point of bringing it up, though this was the first time we had met.  It made me think that he still carried a torch for her all those years after her death.

My own memories of her are the fragmented impressions of a pre-schooler.  There was the time she gave me a Nestle’s Crunch Bar–I held it in my hand so long that when I opened the wrapper to eat it, the chocolate had completely melted onto the foil liner.  There was the Christmas Eve at our house when I sat on the living room floor and untied her shoes over and over again while she kept re-tying them.  And after she got cancer, there was the time we visited her at my grandparents’ because she’d had to move back home.  I remember her sitting up in bed and she had white bandages wrapped around her entire rib cage.

After she died I think everyone stayed alone in their grief.  It was a tremendous loss which just got stuffed down, and it stayed down.  That’s how we tend to handle all the kinds of grief in this family.

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Filed under family, grief, history, human nature, injustice, love, Uncategorized

My Aunt Louise

Aunt Louise is the oldest of four sisters.  In her day, she was very beautiful with a beaming smile.  She was also quite awkward in many ways.  As an example, when she graduated high school, her fiance still had a year to go, so she kept going to school and audited classes so she’d have something to do while she waited for him to graduate.  She didn’t feel free and excited and have all these girlfriends to do things with.  She waited for her fiance to graduate high school.

The following year, they did indeed get married.

In the wedding photo she looks quite happy.  He looks kind of bashful.  The article in the paper is typical for 1949 with descriptions of what everyone wore and the several bridal showers she was given, including one given by the office girls of the place she worked.

Her life afterwards turned out to be very, very difficult and sad:  dysfunctional marriage, death of a three-year-old daughter, poverty, divorce, more poverty, then a good husband who died years ago, abusive relationship in her later years, and finally death of another daughter from brain cancer.

I would read the wedding article sometimes and wonder where it all went wrong….

Aunt Louise is due to turn 90 this coming January and my mother recently remarked that she has been quite talkative the last few times they were together.  Louise has said surprising things such as:  the reason she never worked after getting married was because not one person had liked her at the job she had.  She knew it the very first day she walked in the door.  They hated her at first sight.

How strange.  I wouldn’t have guessed that she was hated at her job.  According to her wedding announcement she had worked there for two years and “the office girls” had even given her a wedding shower.

I had always thought she had two lives.  The one before marriage and the one afterwards.  Instead, those “two lives” were part of a familiar pattern.

Her life turned out like all the other women’s lives in this family.  A beginning seemingly full of promise and light, beauty and hope.  Smart, sensitive, active girls who end up as victims on some level wondering where it all went wrong.

I suspect the clues to the future were right there all along.  We just missed them in the quest to do the right thing, please the people around us, be good girls, and basically give away our power until there was no more to give.

There are more women’s stories in my family and I hope I can do them justice.

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Filed under anxiety, decisions, depression, dysfunction, emotional health, enemies, family, first impressions, getting along, grief, history, human nature, journey, love, opinion, social phobia, Uncategorized, wellness, work

Oh What a Night

Last night I checked on my passport a final time in preparation for today’s trip to Canada for a baby shower with a good friend.  Imagine my surprise to discover that my passport had in fact expired two months ago.  My first thought was, oh, she is going to be furious at me.  Mistake number one.

There was no other option but to message her about what happened and apologize.  We generally text with each other so it never occurred to me to call her.  Mistake number two.

There was no answer, so I texted again twenty minutes later.  No response.

Waited up until midnight in case she got her messages late.

Went to bed with my phone so I wouldn’t miss her message.

Worry grew and grew with each passing hour of no response.

Texted again at 9 am this morning.  Waited an hour and still no response.

My anxiety was really ramping up by this point.

She’s not speaking to me!  Oh no!  It was just an oversight.  Nooooo!  This seems familiar to me.  I remember two past friendships that were ruined by similar thoughtless mistakes on my part.  But that was in high school and there was hell to pay for those mistakes.  And it clearly left an impression on me.

Then something else came to the surface of my boiling thoughts and memories.  My mother does this to me.  She does it to everyone, really.  Innocent and thoughtless mistakes can never be forgiven.  Ever.  Because her feelings get so badly hurt.

Grudges will be carried to the grave.  Ten, twenty, thirty years later, an innocent and thoughtless misstep will be thrown back at the offender like a lightning bolt and nothing can ever be the same again.  Healing and forgiveness never happen.  An uneasy truce can be established and that’s the best one can hope for.  That or the end of the relationship.

I sent one more message to my possibly former friend at 10 am and the phone rings immediately after.  She wasn’t mad.  She just hadn’t checked her phone in twelve hours.

I told her what I thought was going on.  No, no, no!  She was not mad at me.  She wouldn’t get that angry over something so small.  Don’t worry, get some rest, do some yoga.  It’ll be okay.  When I tell the others at the baby shower about your passport, they will probably laugh.  Who even thinks about a passport for Canada anyway, right???  It will be fine.

Maybe there aren’t any mistakes.  Maybe things get mixed up sometimes and then you work it out and get past it.  And then you leave it in the past once and for all.

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Filed under anxiety, family, friends, getting along, history, social phobia, stress, Uncategorized

In Defense of Me

I had a little text exchange earlier today.

My sister sent me a picture and two videos of the kitten she is giving me in the fall.  I did not want a new cat as I have three and that is enough.  But my sister cleverly sent a picture first and then asked me if I would like to have a new kitten.  She would pay for all the shots, the spaying, and bring her to me from N. Carolina since they were coming up anyway.  It was a cute cat, and my sister always gets her way, and one of my cats is 19, so how long would I have to wait to be back down to three cats anyway.  So, I said yes.

Now my sister sends regular updates via text, which is considerate, I suppose.

Today I felt compelled to thank her for her efforts which are allowing me to see my kitten grow up even though she is hundreds of miles away.

Instead of responding with a “you’re welcome” she texted back with “You’re welcome to come down and see her and bring her back with you.”

Gahhhhhhh!

Why would I want to drive myself all the way down to Asheville, NC to pick up a cat (that I probably shouldn’t have said yes to) when you’re coming up to New York anyway in September???  In fact, all of this was your idea to begin with.  In fact, about a hundred whyshouldI’s raced through my mind when she responded the way she did.

The safest answer I could come up with was, it wasn’t in the budget to make a big trip this year.

Her answer:  Budget?  It’s a couple of tanks of gas!  We have plenty of room for you.

Gahhhhhhhh!

This convo was exactly like nearly every exchange with my mother.  No matter what I say in answer to any question, large or small, my answer is up for grabs, correction, improvement.  How did these people get so far into my brain?  Why do I have to defend everything all the time????

It’s the boundaries again.  I never learned good boundaries.  Neither did they.  But they are okay with it and I am not.

I can not be okay with poor boundaries.  I will never get better if I don’t firm up the boundaries.

And why am I still thinking about it and turning it over and over in my mind an hour later?

I get so stuck sometimes.

I probably should have sucked it up weeks ago and turned down the kitten even though she is super cute.  But I didn’t and now I am entangled.

My answer that shut down the exchange: I would have to fly.  That’s a hell of a drive and I’m not up to it these days.

She had nothing but an “oh, okay” for that one.

Score!

Such small successes in this journey, but I’ll take it.

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Filed under anxiety, boundaries, bullies, decision making, decisions, dysfunction, family, getting along, growth, history, honesty, journey, pressure, progress, self-care, self-respect, Uncategorized

Re-Reading

My journaling and blogging are both pretty sporadic even though writing helps my depression a great deal.  I guess I just don’t like to be in a routine for too long and need to change things up regularly.

During my down times, though, I do go back and re-read what I’ve written.  It gives me a new perspective on things which is also helpful.  I consider the re-reading to be an important part of my journal and blog writing.

Last night I re-read most of this blog and was pleased that some of the entries actually seemed to be well-written.  I still think someday I might write a book, but it would have to be a well-written book or it wouldn’t be worth it to me.  So, that dream still lives on for now.

I was also happy to come across an idea I had forgotten about over the past few months from this blog post:

https://pennyplant.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/abracadabra/

In that blog I wrote about asking myself the question, “If I were happy, what would I do right now?” which I then acted on and ended up feeling so much better for some reason. After finding the idea again, I decided to bring it back as a strategy because I have entered into a slump and was out of ideas for how to turn the corner and begin making progress again.

Sometimes we know ourselves better than we realize when we are in the trenches.  You just need some time and distance to be able to see it.  Re-reading my own work is a way to achieve that for myself especially since I don’t have a therapist and rarely confide in other people.

Maybe everybody re-reads their own writing and this is not a new idea for others.  But it helps me a lot and I haven’t seen it addressed in other blogs yet so I figured I’d put it out there just in case.

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Filed under blogging, depression, growth, healing, history, self-care, Uncategorized

Progress? Who knows….

Tonight I learned how to make Christmas cards with two friends of mine and about ten other women at our local library.

While checking out one of the card-making stations set up by the instructor, I recognized a woman carrying a cane who came in along with two other younger women.  She was the mother of one of the girls who, in junior high school, made my life a living hell for several months.

At the end of eighth grade and beginning of ninth grade, I was the main character in one of those two-against-one-best-friends-betray-a-weaker-friend-mean-girls-scenarios that you see portrayed in so many movies, TV shows, commercials and… cold-blooded crime shows.

Of course, since it is my story, there is so much more to it than that.  But for now I’d rather just write about tonight.

When I saw the mother walk in, I quickly assessed if her daughter was with her and I didn’t see her at first.  So I thought, good.

It turned out, however, that I was wrong.  As everyone seated themselves for the class and got comfortable, it turned out that indeed, the “evil one” was going to make Christmas cards, too.

It did not occur to me to leave, so we’ll call that progress.  And I did not have an anxiety attack, also progress.  I did decide to avoid being near her, which meant a certain amount of hyper-vigilance.  I’m not too sure how to grade that one.  Maybe it was just some good, old-fashioned self-care.

If I had never met this person before, and knew nothing about her, I’d be under the impression that she was a nice woman who was close to her mother and enjoyed some of the same things I do.  All that might even be true to a certain extent.  I mean, we were actually friends for a time way back when, so there must be something in common.

At any rate, I do know about her.  I know what she is capable of.  I know what I carry around with me to this day because of her and the other girl involved.

People like her are the reason that people like me leave their hometown and never come back.  I did leave for ten years but circumstances brought me back here and now it looks as if I am here to stay.

I actually had her as a customer once at the Terrible Job.  At the time I had no way to avoid waiting on her.  She seemed nervous and hyper and like she was trying to please me.  And the whole time I’m thinking, “Ha!  Your son is in prison.  You raised a violent criminal!  Why am I not surprised?  Your violence led to a second generation of violence.  Ha!”

I expected to see some sign of this tragedy in her face, but there was nothing there for me to see.  I also wanted to see some sign of sorrow or shame for what she did to me way back when.  But again, there was nothing to see.

No, people like her do not carry their own shame.  They carry no sense of responsibility for the effects of their actions on others.  Instead, they give their shame over to their victims.

Over forty years later and I’m still having to deal with such things.

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True Story!

In fifth grade, ecology was a big topic.  So that year, the downtown merchants association held a poster contest.

I was so excited.  My idea was to draw an example of road-making using recycled glass bottles.  It was something I had seen in one of the ecology films they showed us.

It was tricky artwork.  I had to draw a steam roller which was very difficult.  I planned to use colored cellophane for the broken glass in the blacktop.  And of course, there was a human figure sitting on the steam roller running the thing.

The girl drawing next to me admired my work but I was highly critical of it.  It wasn’t coming out as perfect as I wanted and I said I would probably draw something different for the contest.

She asked if she could copy my idea for her poster and I kind of scoffed.  Then she offered to split the prize with me if it won.  I didn’t really think it would win, but I agreed.  We made a deal.

She copied my work down to the very last detail.  It couldn’t have been more identical if she’d used tracing paper.

I went on to draw a very perfect and very ordinary picture of bottles being washed out in a sink.

Amazingly enough, when the prizes were announced, my “partner” had won second prize!  It was $5.00!  So, $2.50 for me!!  Not a huge prize, but woo hoo, it was money!!

When I noticed how proud and happy she was acting, as if the whole thing had been her idea alone, I reminded her that she had said we would split the prize if she won.  My expectation was that she would acknowledge our deal and let me know how I would get my money.

What she actually said was, “I did NOT!  You’re just JEALOUS!”

I wish I could go back in time just to see the expression on my face.  It must have been comical.

I did feel a little stupid as I realized what I had done to myself.  I guess I should have gotten it in writing!!  But I was not jealous and I was the opposite of a liar.  She was the liar.

So here we are in the year 2016.  How has each of us fared since grade five?

I am an unemployed civil servant who had a nervous breakdown and will likely never work again.

She is a nurse with a masters degree who was hired a few years ago to set up a brand new cancer center with all the decision-making powers to go with that job.  She hired a head-hunting agency who found this job for her.

On Facebook she likes to post heart-warming memes to boost morale.  She posts every time she gets a manicure or massage or goes on a cruise or meets someone famous.  She looks very happy and I imagine she is.

Maybe I’d be happy too if I didn’t have to worry about the impact I might be having on others.

We are both married, she for a second time, and have children and grandchildren.

I don’t want the same things she wants or has.  Except maybe for her supreme sense of self.

I can’t be the only person she has treated that way.  I think most people will take advantage of someone who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves.  They might even tell a little white lie to soothe away any tiny bit of guilt they might feel for taking advantage.  It appears she does far more good in this world than harm.

For me the most shocking thing about that story is that a ten-year-old girl was able to come up with such an ugly lie so quickly and naturally:  I did not, you’re just jealous.

At least she got $5.00 and her picture in the paper.  And I got the first of many, many life’s lessons.  And I still don’t know what to make of most of them.

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Filed under boundaries, decisions, dysfunction, friends, history, honesty, human nature, injustice, peer pressure, self-respect, Uncategorized