The Experience I Did Not Choose

“The experience we did not choose, which we would have given anything to avoid, has made us different, has made us better. Through it we have learned the lesson that no one studies willingly, the hard, slow lesson of Sophocles and Shakespeare–that one grows by suffering. And that too is Jessy’s gift. I write not what fifteen years past I would have not have thought possible to write: that is today I were given the choice, to accept the experience, with everything that it entails, or to refuse the bitter largesse, i would have to stretch out my hands–because out of it has come, for all of us, an unimagined life. And it will not change the last word of the story. It is still love.”

–Clara Claiborne Park, The Siege, A Family’s Journey Into the World of an Autistic Child

Tell me about a time this was true in your life. Or why you can’t imagine it ever being true.

Comments

  1. Gayle says

    Leaving

    Life on the island
    Was no life at all
    Tedious, alone with my husband
    No conversation
    Guarded
    One day a week to town
    Forty-five minutes away
    Same three stores
    No lunch, no niceties
    Back in four hours
    Because of the dogs

    The islanders waved as we would walk by
    Giving us the finger when we’d pass
    Smiles to our faces
    Never an invite
    Fighting our right
    To work at our home
    Roadblocks to the hoped for life

    A call at night
    To a supposed friend
    Fear in my voice
    Telltale sign ignored
    ‘Let him sleep it off’, he replied
    I kept the bedroom door locked
    It felt like a dream in the morning

    My hands were full the day I left
    The dogs looked up to see me struggle to open the door,
    Not getting up from their comfortable spots on the floor
    I thought, ‘I should give them a hug’
    But I closed the door and didn’t look back
    I turned off my phone
    Got into the heavily packed van
    And took the ferry away from that island prison

    ‘Unbelievable’, I whispered over and over
    When I heard the news that
    My husband shot our dogs in despair at my leaving,
    He was planning to kill himself
    But didn’t have the nerve
    Alcohol and drugs made the
    Unthinkable possible

    ‘You are lucky you left when you did’
    I heard from that supposed friend
    Others were afraid to bring their children
    To the island with the Mad Man
    Police didn’t arrest him
    Just hospitalized
    ‘Not a crime to have mental issues’

    Now he is back on the island
    All is forgotten
    They asked him to be on the Road Committee
    Back to normal—
    Except for me

    Some days I mourn my pets
    Miss the deer and raccoons
    I had fed instead buying food for myself,
    Miss the incredible sunsets from the porch
    Walking to the rocky beach
    To hunt for miniature spiral shells

    More and more I feel relief
    Experience joy and am able to laugh again
    Every day has become an adventure
    Connections with family and friends
    Expressing emotions long lost
    I’m free to write without hiding
    I am remembering who I am

    My life has changed immeasurably since the day I left, nearly two years ago. I realize now that the fifteen years of making my life small to please an unpleaseable, controlling person, was a life lesson for me to never give my power away again. It taught me to trust my inner voice, to appreciate the connections I make with other people, animals and nature. It taught me that I could be alone without being lonely, that I could be joy-filled by simply being present to life. I am happier now than I have ever been, more confident, more willing to share my unique gifts with the world.
    I am coming home to myself

    • Laura Davis says

      Gayle, It usually takes a lot longer after this kind of traumatic events to be able to have the perspective to see how you have grown. I’m so glad you are there already. I’m also so glad you are free.

      • Gayle says

        I am lucky to have found such a safe community of writers–thank you for your comment. It feels good to be heard.

    • Hazel says

      Gayle,
      Thank you for sharing this incredible journey to self.

      I can relate well to your experience and it was amazing when I found out I could please myself and I was really a very good person worth knowing.

      Your last statement, “I am coming home to myself.” had me crying.

      • Gayle says

        Hazel, you are right about pleasing yourself. I was always so focused on everyone else’s comfort that I forgot to put myself in the picture–until now…and I am making up for lost time, saying ‘yes’ to Life. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person at the retreat!

      • Gayle says

        I never knew I could feel such lightness. Thank you, my friend, you were there from the beginning, supporting me through the hard times.

    • Ilana says

      Nice job, Gayle. You took me on an amazing journey with you. What a triumph at the end. Thank you for sharing.

    • Adrienne Drake says

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. Through the shock and despair came a very new appreciation for yourself and the world around you. I ache for all that you lost and I rejoice in all that you found.

    • Polly says

      Gayle, I loved this piece – especially the line, “I am remembering who I am.” Such powerful words. This was extremely moving. My heart broke for you and your dogs, but I’m so happy that you are reconnecting with all that life has to offer. It gives me hope. Thank you for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Gayle–what a beautifully crafted piece of regaining your power and trusting yourself. You hooked me immediately by the form and by sharing so openly. Like others here I loved your last line, “I am coming home to myself.” Nice job.

  2. Tony del Zompo says

    I never meant to go crazy. When I was a kid, “crazy” wasn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up. My training began, however, at a very early age. Dad was a Staff Sergeant in the Marines during the Korean War, and a San Francisco Police Officer for 32 years. Although he never spoke about Korea, I realized much later in life that he suffered from a pretty severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was big, loud, and scary, and he was also an alcoholic. Mom was scary in her own way. Born and raised in North Beach, the child of Sicilian immigrants, she was also loud. Dagos are like that. Loud, that is. They fought constantly, and divorced when I was nine-years-old.

    I experimented with drugs and alcohol in my teens, and looking back, I realize that I was already an advanced stage addict by the time I started college in the fall of 1984. I hit my first bottom my senior year at U.C. Santa Barbara. UCSB was an infamous “party school,” and Isla Vista, the college town adjacent to the campus, was a challenging place to get sober.

    But I did get sober. I entered recovery one month before my 22nd birthday, and remained sober long enough to marry, father a child, and begin a career in the medical field. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was that I was still a little left of center, just a few degrees off plumb. It didn’t take more than a couple of years to play out the next generation of drama that I had been so well trained in.

    Vanessa and I divorced in 2000, and I entered a hell I could never have anticipated in my darkest nightmares. Alcoholism and addiction are controversial issues. Although the American Medical Association categorizes them as disease states, to the uninitiated, the are indicative of weak moral fiber. And, often times, it would appear that way.

    Addicts and alcoholics lie, cheat, and steal. We put our need to drink and drug in front of everyone and everything. We destroy ourselves and our friends and family are held hostage by our madness.

    By the time I turned 40, I had destroyed everything worthwhile in my life. I was left with little more than the clothes on my back, and they had been donated. At one time I had a beautiful family and a promising career. Now I was waiting for SSI disability and a Section 8 housing voucher.

    And then something changed…

    I wish I could tell you exactly how, what, and why, but it’s still a mystery to me. I entered recovery again in 2006. I was unemployable for a year, but I volunteered in different community organizations. Through the experience, I learned that I was more than a drain on society’s resources. After a year, I got a job. And then I got another job. People began to believe in me long before I could believe in myself, but slowly, over time, I gained a level of self-respect that had been absent for the first forty years of my life. I got off of my medication, and am practicing my career once again.

    I developed compassion for my parents. Through my difficulties, I learned to see them as fallible beings, rather than the omnipotent figures of my youth. Respect grew from compassion, and love grew from respect. And it continues today.

    I have reunited with my daughter, and her mother and I sat down together for coffee last month and cleaned up the disaster of our marriage and divorce. It wasn’t easy. We sat for five hours, and once we got through the posturing and the anger, we became honest and vulnerable, maybe for the first time together in our adult lives. We were children when we married. Sure, we looked like grown ups, but some vital components were missing.

    Although I feel guilty for the pain I caused my family, I’m no longer ashamed. Guilt says, “I made a mistake.” Shame says, “I am a mistake.” I was ashamed for years. Today, I’m grateful that my addiction took me to jails, psychiatric hospitals, and the homeless shelter. My “bottom” was absolutely incontrovertible. I can never look myself in the eye and say, “It wasn’t that bad.” It was. And as bad as it was, it can still be worse.

    Today I know that I have honor and integrity. Not only that, but I’m a tenacious and resilient son of a bitch. I’ve become someone that people can count on, and, most importantly, I can count on myself. Today I choose to dare greatly, lay it all out there, and I’m willing to fail in order to succeed. And given where I’ve come from, and where I’ve gotten to, where I want to go doesn’t seem so far fetched…

    • Hazel says

      We are stronger than we know.

      Thank you for sharing your story in such a well written way. I thought your two sentences in the last paragraph, ” I can count on myself. Today I choose to dare greatly,” are very powerful. Stating what we want to happen often brings it into being.

      Good writing, good work, go for it!

    • Gayle says

      I liked how you wrote about becoming conscious and knowing the qualities that will keep you on path. Unconsciously, we tend to replay our parents drama. When we wake up, we can take the reins back, it is never too late. Thank you for this ‘teaching story’.

    • Adrienne Drake says

      I have the feeling you are a great sponsor, Tony. My brother is also an alcoholic who has never been in recovery, destroyed his family, and has never made amends. I have seen alcoholism work its destruction through family after family. All I can say is keep up your good work!

      • Tony del Zompo says

        it’s funny adrienne, but no one has asked me to sponsor them yet. i guess when the teacher is ready, the student will appear…

        • Adrienne Drake says

          Tony, It will happen. It will be awesome when you are FINALLY on the other side of your personal hell. I think the teacher will soon be ready….and your students will soon appear! ;-)
          Adrienne

    • Terry Gibson says

      Tony, a minute ago I wrote and lost my comment to you. To regroup, your story is so compelling. Your life and transformation over the years is inspiring to me. I could quote all of this back to you! Instead, I cut it down. “…I’m no longer ashamed. Guilt says, “I made a mistake.” Shame says, “I am a mistake.” I was ashamed for years…. I can never look myself in the eye and say, “It wasn’t that bad.” It was. And as bad as it was, it can still be worse.” These descriptions and the ultimate realization that it could be worse, click so well with me. Also, the first two sentences of your last paragraph, being tenacious and someone people can count on you. People count on me and trust me and I know I’m worthy of it. When I slip back into my self-defeating reasoning, I can’t figure out why in hell they do or would. Always working on it. Thanks. I learned a lot from this.

    • Polly says

      Tony, wow, thank you for showing us the strength and integrity that you possess. Again it just makes me happy to see the ways in which members of this community can overcome tremendous obstacles, and be better off for it with profound and admirable perspectives. Nicely done – both this piece, and what you have accomplished in your life.

    • says

      Tony, you know I think your story is awesome and that you are too. So glad you’re enjoying this forum and making a commitment to it. I know we’re all enjoying “getting to know you” too, via your strong and powerful and vulnerable words.

    • Judy says

      Tony–WOW, this line is written with such power “My bottom was absolutely incontrovertible. I can never look myself in the eye and say, “It wasn’t that bad. It was.” And as bad as it was, it can still be worse.”

      Healing truly is a mystery and I think you for sharing this journey here.

  3. Hazel says

    The experience I did not choose.

    Just now I sat here for two and one-half hours intently writing a four page story from my past. I took great care to write it with detail and feeling. I took you through seven months of an almost surreal pregnancy and birth of my second child who turned out to be the baby from Hell in that she cried every time I lay her down, and would not stop until picked up, for eighteen months. Looking back and having worked for an adoption agency where I took babies to the doctor all the time for checkups and illnesses, I believe she had an undetected ear infection. At the time I thought I was surely going crazy. I was definitely sleep deprived. But, you will never know the whole story because it is lost in my computer somewhere and may have just gone into the ether with Judy’s baggage in the last prompt.

    Perhaps that whole story was baggage that I should have let go into the wind before that second child and I get to the Commonweal Retreat next week. She is now the light of my life, my very best friend, on our second go round of relationship as mother and daughter.

    I am choosing not to rewrite or attempt to rewrite the story I lost. I am just going to acknowledge it and let it go.

    Baggage to the wind!

    • Gayle says

      Yes, baggage to the wind! Your quip made me smile…even though I can relate to the frustration and grief at losing hours of writing…darn computers! I liked your resolution to let it go. I’m so glad that your relationship with your daughter is so fantastic–to go together to this retreat…what a treat for you both. I look forward to meeting her, also…and now I know the rest of the story:-)
      p.s. my second son was the same way as a baby (I could tell you some stories!)–now we are very close and he and his girlfriend will be driving me to the retreat.

    • Polly says

      Hazel, I had that happen with a report I typed up at the end of the day today. Where a month or so ago, I would have stayed to re-do it, I said ‘eff it’, came home, and decided to give it another go tomorrow. That’s all beside the point though. I think it’s wonderful that your daughter is now the light of your life, and that you are on your second go around together now. You still got your point across beautifully. You may not have chosen those initial stressful circumstances, but now, together, you have each other.

      • Hazel says

        Thank you all for your words sympathy at losing my work and your joy, with mine, of the relationship I have with my daughter. I thought I had lost her forever, a couple of times, but now we are Best Friends FOREVER.

    • says

      Oh Hazel,

      I know how that is–when you lose something you’ve worked so hard on into the digital vacuum. So sorry for your loss. Glad you were graceful in letting go–what else can we do?

      Maybe the story will resurface in a new way when another prompt rolls along down the line…

      so looking forward to seeing you next week. what a treat it will be after reading so much of your beautiful work here.

      • Hazel says

        I am so anxious to meet everyone that I had trouble sleeping last night. I love writers of all kinds! Everyone looks at the world through their own prism and to see what they pick out to write about and how they see it is just amazing.

    • Judy says

      Hazel, baggage to the wind, ah yes. How frustrating to loose hours of writing. Ouch. This piece is delightful–full of your kind heart and clarity. Have a glorious time with your daughter at Commonweal and look forward to hearing about your new adventures.

  4. Jess says

    There are paths in life, that I never choose to walk down. Paths that seemed to force themselves underneath my feet no matter which direction I went in. But now, looking back down those paths, I can see that while they may have been hard to walk on, I’d walk them again without a second thought. Because those paths made me strong and they made me who I am today.

    The first path took me by surprise, and I have to say that I never saw it coming. And it is the path that started it all. Ever since the momment I walked into that hospital room I have never been the same. I saw my grandfather lying unconcious on the hospital bed, with tubes going in and out of him every which way. He was hooked up to so many different machines that I couldn’t even begin to think of what they were for. I sat next to his bed with my grandmother and my uncle for a moment just trying to take it all in. I knew that this was goodbye, it was just too sureal in that moment. It wasn’t until my dad took a tissue from his pocket and started to dab at his eyes that the shock woar off.
    “Sorry,” he said “It’s just hard to see him like this.”

    It wasn’t until then that I burst into tears as well. My grandfather died the next afternoon when he was taken off life support, less than a week before Christmas. I think I was numb for the rest of the week. Everything was a blurr of tears, mourners, and funerals. But somewhere within that I realized that my Grandfather was gone. The one I saw at least twice a week, the one who taught me how to run the fastest, told me the best stories, gave me desert after breakfast, deccorated the Christmas tree with me, was gone.

    The next few months were difficult, and left me to give a lot of fake smiles and empty laughs.Then the following November I lost my other grandfather to cancer and two months later I lost my dad’s step father to alzhimers. Leaving me with an overwhelming amount of greif that none of my friends could understand.

    I think that the loss of these people is one of the things that made me fall for him. He was my saving grace. He made me laugh when I didn’t remember how, he made me smile honestly with just one look, and he made me forget about the people I missed so badly. Even if it was just for a little while. He made me feel alive. He was sweet, funny, smart, caring, and he knew how to put me back together when I was broken, without even knowing what he was doing.

    And in return for these things I gave him my heart, and loved him more than I had ever thought possible. But he didn’t love me. And he didn’t care. He would never want me, and he didn’t even have the courage to tell me so himself.
    He broke me completly, and I still loved him. He was my undoing. I was shattered again, all the old wounds were back and ther were a hundred new ones to join them. I was broken, and no one was there to pick up my peices. So I let myself stay there frozen in place, Until I found myself in love with someone that I didn’t even know anymore. Then slowly, one by one I picked up the peices and put myself back together.

    So now here I am. With a heart that might be a little broken, and a soul that carries the grief. But I made it through. And I have no dout that its only the beginning. And thats fine because I no longer have my childhood fear of death, I know how to deal with greif, I’m not afraid to fall in love, I know how to be broken and put myself back together, and I know how to do it all with my heart on my sleeve.

    And I cannot wait to see what road is going to force itself under my feet next.

    • Polly says

      Jess, you demonstrated strength and a newfound self-assurance in this piece. I like that you are looking forward to the next adventures, and the lessons they will no doubt bring. Thanks for posting this.

    • Gayle says

      I like the description of your grandfather, based on how he was in the world, ‘…the one who gave me dessert after breakfast’. It says a lot about what kind of person he was. Perhaps you got your optimistic outlook from him, with your heart on your sleeve. Instead of hardening you to life, it makes you look forward to the next lesson.

    • Hazel says

      Jess,
      “And I cannot wait to see what road is going to force itself under my feet next.” What great optimism!

      You have shown us deep sadness throughout this piece of well written response to the prompt with the ending paragraph, “So now here I am.” Then you end with this encouraging burst of nonchalance and optimism. Way to go!

      Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      Jess, I love the insight and strength and perspective that shines through this piece. It takes a lot of time and a lot of healing to be able to see your past from a different perspective. I always love what one of my students wrote, “Every time I look in the rear view mirror, the past is different.” Your piece exemplifies that for all of us.

    • Tony del Zompo says

      when my heart was cracked open completely, i learned that my greatest successes would come from remaining wide open. than you, jess

    • Ilana says

      Jess- There is such strength in this piece. I love that. As I read this paragraph, “So now here I am. With a heart that might be a little broken, and a soul that carries the grief. But I made it through. And I have no dout that its only the beginning. And thats fine because I no longer have my childhood fear of death, I know how to deal with greif, I’m not afraid to fall in love, I know how to be broken and put myself back together, and I know how to do it all with my heart on my sleeve.
      And I cannot wait to see what road is going to force itself under my feet next.” I felt that strength wrap around me and tell me that I was going to be okay too. This is a very rough time for me and your piece helped me feel a little safer. Thank you! Ilana

    • Judy says

      Jess–your strength and optimism come shining through in this nicely written piece. Love your last graph and last sentence. I started humming that Sheryl Crow song, “Everyday is a winding road…” and like others here, eager to hear of your next adventures.

  5. Deb Mansell says

    When I was a small child I would stamp my foot and scream “I didn’t even ask to be born anyway!”

    And the elderly man who lived two doors away would say, “Oh, but you did!”

    Whenever I went to visit his home with my mother I was stunned by a painting of a native Indian chief all dressed up in his fine clothes with an amazing colourful headdress full of feathers and beads. I stood staring into the eyes of this man as he stared back at me almost as if I knew him and almost as if he were real. Whilst my mother and this couple would talk I would be transfixed by this painting, by the immense kindness I felt from this chief.

    Years later I found out that this man who lived two doors away was Mr Albert Lee who started the spiritualist church in Swindon (my home town) and that amazing man in the painting was his spirit guide. Mr Lee believed that we are here for a reason and we asked to be born into this life and experience everything for a reason, to learn and to grow.

    So according to Mr Lee we chose every experience, just to learn from them. So according to Mr Lee all these horrible things that have happened to me I have asked for, I don’t think so, I’m not prepared to take responsibility for other peoples actions but I will take responsibility in investing time and energy in my healing process helping me to grow.

    • says

      Deb, I was intrigued with your connection with that portrait on the wall and the strong feelings it evoked in you. Children are so tuned in on that level.

      I always hated it when people said to me, “You choose everything you need in life to grow.” That always pissed me off and I discarded it as so much new age hooey.

      Still, in retrospect when I look over my whole life, every single thing that happened to me has made me into the person I am today–and for the most part, I really like that person. If only the sunny parts of my life had happened…I would be different. So although I’ll never ascribe to the “we choose our parents” and the rest of it, I do feel at peace with ALL of my history–though it’s taken me many, many decades to get to that place of really accepting it all as part of the fabric that makes up my cloth.

      • Deb Mansell says

        I remember his face even now Laura even though I can’t have seen this painting for more than 35 years! I do wonder sometimes if he was the man who stood guard by my bed 12 years ago whilst in hospital fighting for my life against peritonitis. I say that someone of his description was there but I had so much morphine in my system I couldn’t be sure.

        I take personal responsibility seriously, with out this I would still be blaming myself for the mess my family have tried to blame me for making.

    • Ilana says

      Deb- First off, let me say I am so pleased to hear you sounding much better, stronger. Now, about the piece, lovely. So much of it resonated with me. As an adult I am now thinking that my children never asked to be born. That was my doing. I asked, prayed, begged God to give me these three little people. It is therefor my responsibility to keep them safe and do the best I can for them as their mother. I also stood mesmerized by a painting at my aunt and uncle’s home while the adults talked. My aunt noticed and we shared our thoughts on the painting. It was a very special memory. Finally, I share your discomfort with the implication that we asked for all these terrible things to happen to us. I love the way you worded it.

      “I don’t think so, I’m not prepared to take responsibility for other peoples actions but I will take responsibility in investing time and energy in my healing process helping me to grow.”

      Incredible. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us. I have come to look forward to your posts and your responses to my posts. Thank you for being a part of this community. Ilana

      • Deb Mansell says

        Ilana Thank you for your comments. I must admit this is a bit of a lull after the storm. The stored up tears of many years broke on Tuesday in counselling and I cried on and off from 12noon till 11pm. Boy that was a lot of tears, my eyes felt like sand and ached so much.

        I have worked out things in my history that make so much sense. Today I am reflective I know I have a long way to go but, BUT I am so much stronger and have so much more to give to this world than any of the cowardly perverts that ever touched me will ever have.

        Deb

        Ps I did try to read your post, and I will try again, but I do feel very fragile and raw still. I do admire you so for writing here xx

        • Ilana says

          Thank you, Deb. This is rough, I know. Apparently we must go in cycles, do well for a while and then get ripped open again. I’ve only been at it for two years. I’m in the storm right now. Logically, I know it will pass. But what I know and what I feel are two different things.

          Please don’t read my post until you are ready. If you are never ready to read this one, I understand.

          Good job with all the crying. I’m slowly learning to do that too.

          Take care of yourself, Ilana

          • Ilana says

            oops. Should have spoken in “I” statements. Apparently I have to do this in cycles. Apologies to anyone I offended. IM

    • Polly says

      Deb, I really enjoyed your description of that painting and how it captivated you in a way. I agree that we don’t choose the terrifying circumstances into which many of us are born or find ourselves. The message almost feels insulting on some level. I can definitely see Laura’s point – that everything we live through helps to shape who we are. This is such an interesting topic. Thanks for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Deb–you articulate with wonderful images and clarity a concept I’ve tried to get my mind around but simply can’t. It’s a concept that turns to jello but I’m open to the possibility that the ‘truth’ is somewhere in the middle.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Deb, I am glad seeing your therapist helped. The job of healing is not easy. I admire your fortitude and that you rejected the blaming Mr. Lee’s statements amount to. Words like that crawled deeply under my skin first time I heard them. Take care and keep writing.

  6. Ilana says

    “Kinda’, Sorta’, Ish”

    It’s hard to say when my journey first began. April 20, 1974, when I first came into this world? Or was it later, in 1979 when he first invaded my private space and put his hands on my tiny helpless body; when he first started hurting me? When did I turn so dirty, ugly, horrid and undeserving? All I know is I had no choice, yet still I blame myself, even after all the healing I’ve done. I’m so confused and lost and scared that I don’t know which way is up. I don’t know what is going to happen next, what I can believe or how I will be punished for believing it. I know two things and that is it.

    The first is that no matter what good comes out of this journey I would still give just about anything to never have begun it at all.

    The second is that this hurts. It hurts so much that I think it’s going to drive me crazy. I’m barely holding on and the questions that are constantly going through my mind are, “Why does it have to hurt so much? When is the pain going to end? And how am I ever going to survive this?”

    That’s all I know for sure.

    Thoughts. Everything else is just thoughts and suspicions. It’s all beliefs that I dare not speak aloud for fear they will be contradicted and that, too, will be taken away from me.

    The strongest of which is where I believe this journey has landed me; “Kinda’ Sorta’ Ish.” That’s who I’ve always been. It’s the hole where I found myself… I don’t know how many years ago. “Kinda’ Sorta’ Ish.” I’m always two inches shy of being sure. Challenge me even a little and you can have me reconsidering my entire existence.

    “Is that what you believe?”
    “Kinda’ sorta’ ish.”

    “Is that what you want?”
    “Kinda’ sorta’ ish.”

    “Are you sure of anything at all?”
    “Kinda’ sorta’ ish.”

    That’s who I am, an unfinished sentence. Not a person but a proposal. I exist only by the sufferance of those around me. If it’s not okay with any one person around me then I’ll do my damndest to fade away.

    I’m sorry.
    I’m sorry I have to exist.
    I’m sorry I have needs.
    I’m sorry I take up space.

    How? How can you say that, Ilana? You are a mother, a working member of a family unit and a member of so many different communities. How can you say that you do not even claim the right to exist?

    I don’t know. I just do it. Perhaps I’m a fraud. I have all these communities, including my adoring husband and children, fooled. They all think I’m worthwhile. They all think I’m contributing something. God help me when you all figure out the truth.

    That’s when I’ll do it. That’s when I’ll find a nice big rock and crawl underneath it to disappear forever. Then the world will go on without me and forget me so quickly that it will be as if I was never here. When the jig is up and you all know how little use I really am to you, that’s when the pain will end. There will be no more hiding, no more lying, no more fear and no more apologizing.

    “Is that what you really believe?”
    “Yes. I mean no. I mean, kinda’ sorta ish.”

    I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

    And now I’m all out of sugar. I can’t sweeten up the end of this piece. My world is now a blur of tears and pain and fear.

    You’ll have to forgive me for that. Or maybe you won’t and then I’ll be sorry again. But at least I told you the truth. I’m lost and confused and scared and I don’t know the true answer to anything. Not right now, anyway. Not right now.

    • says

      Dear One, so sorry you’re in so much pain. And you’re so damn articulate about it. You nail it every time.

      It’s good for me to be back…and good to read your words once again.

      I was struck by this: “That’s who I am, an unfinished sentence. Not a person but a proposal. I exist only by the sufferance of those around me. If it’s not okay with any one person around me then I’ll do my damndest to fade away.

      I’m sorry.
      I’m sorry I have to exist.
      I’m sorry I have needs.
      I’m sorry I take up space.”

      I promise, you will not always feel this way. I know it feels like forever, but it won’t be.

      • Ilana says

        Thank you, Laura. I know this is another storm. Logically, I know that I will weather it. It just doesn’t feel that way and there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel right now. I’ll take your word for it that this is not forever.

        For now, you, Terry and others who have said it will have to believe enough for me too.

        So lucky to have this community,

        Ilana

        • Jess says

          I’m sorry to hear that you’re in such a bad place. But thank you for sharing your writing with us. I too have felt very “kinda, sorta, ish” before, and I love how you described it. I hope you’re feeling better soon.

    • Polly says

      Ilana, I love how honest and raw this is. You have a way of pulling the truth up from the deepest places in you, and showing it bravely to the rest of us. You have such a gift. This entire piece resonates with me. Just know that you are anything but a fraud. I hope that sinks in someday. And please keep taking your space, and using your voice. You have every right.

      • Ilana says

        Polly,

        Thank you! I have read this so many times and the part that really reaches out and holds me is “You are anything but a fraud.” I guess right now I need to hear others say that. This is the one community where I am 100% honest. If you guys can accept me then I guess it’s for real. I’m still struggling quite a bit. For now your belief in me, Laura’s, Terry’s, Debbie’s and all the others, that will have to hold me until I can do it myself.

        Thank you again,
        Ilana

    • Judy says

      Ilana—I am so sorry to hear of this great pain and anguish. It is a gripping telling and expresses deep raw emotions. It is a dark place and perhaps together we can bring some lightness with this idea. Others of this community may wish to join us.

      There is a gentle gurgling stream near an ancient healing tree deep in our imaginations. Join me there for a ceremony? I will bring a beautifully bejeweled case and various shapes and colors of silk and satin.

      Let us sit comfortably by the tree and with great love and tenderness take each of the deep feelings you so eloquently wrote of and wrap them in the silk or satin. Wrap anger in green; anxiety in white; fear in black and overthinking in yellow. These are the emotions and their colors spoken of in my qi gong practice.

      After each wrapping, blow a kiss to seal the seams of the fabric and with a gentle smile, whisper,”Let it be.” When all the emotions and experiences are tucked in the case you may close it when you are ready.

      We will step into the stream, put the case in the water and bid it farewell as the water moves the bejeweled case to its drift downstream.

      We will join hands and stand in silence. After a time, we will hum a sound familiar to each of us since it is buried deeply in our core. It is the sound that supports all others and radiates from our hearts to the comforting breeze that surrounds us. Afterwards, we will embrace, wishing safe journey back home and greater comfort to you, dear one, Ilana.

      • Ilana says

        Judy- I have read this a couple of times and am not yet ready to attend this ceremony. Will it still be there if I find the strength later?

        This week has been really difficult and Saturday night I had to go to the ER. They never did find out what was wrong with me but with a breathing treatment and some anti anxiety meds I was able to breathe freely again. I think it was an extreme reaction to the stress I am under right now.

        Thanks for your caring. I hear it whether I go on this image retreat or not. Ilana

        • Judy says

          Dear Ilana, Of course this image retreat will be here for you anytime. I’m so very sorry to hear you were at the ER but so happy to hear you are breathing more freely now. Sending hugs your way and know you are in my heart and mind always. J

  7. Terry Gibson says

    Ilana, it is hard to see you in such pain. All I can say is that the last words Laura said to you are my truth as well. I am no shining example of healing if I or anyone else expect(s) me to be happy all the time. Yet I have and am healing. Though it hurts so much sometimes, you are too. Please take good care of yourself minute-to-minute.

  8. Judy says

    This Sunday I head to Ashville, NC to spend time with my sister-in-law, Josie, before we drive to North Eastern Indiana on an ‘old ladies road trip’ and my 27th annual Clan reunion. In telling Josie of this week’s prompt, I decided to write a dedication to my three siblings, especially my older sister and her family, who in the past two years have had more than their share of experiences they did not choose.

    Dave, 87, a spry, virile, hunk of a guy with drop-dead good looks, affectionately dubbed Mr. Fix It, climbed onto his roof to repair a leak. After pain-stakingly hammering a ‘roof ladder’ for his protection, his foot slipped and he fell two stories, landing on wire rebar used to repair the patio. It was stored between the house and the hedge, maybe a three foot expanse. Anne, hearing something, came dashing out of the house to find her husband of 65 years with rebar protruding from his body. It had entered his back above his right hip and exited the front of his right side, angling upwards. Miraculously, no organs were touched.

    Their oldest daughter, Julie, heard the developing medical airlift plans on the police scanner, ran out of her house (she lives just down the street) and arrived as the ambulance was putting him on the stretcher. As they headed to the football field and the awaiting hospital copter she took his hand, fighting back tears, as he looked up smiling to say, “Don’t tell anybody about this honey, I don’t the whole town to know.” “Right, Pops,” she replied.

    He is fully recovered; is affectionately referred to in two Indiana towns as “RebarMan’ and forbidden to make roof repairs or shovel snow by his children and grandchildren. He does, however, mow their lawns. He is greatly admired and loved by his Tribe. He and his wife, Anne, my sister, have made amends for his roof adventurtes.

    Anne, 80, tells that at one hospital visit Dave began rubbing her thy. Greatly surprised, she said, “Honey what are you doing?” and as his lifted the bed sheet, commented, “Oh my, Mr. Happy is happy.” She knew he was on the mend and crawled in.

    Within six months of his return home, and after long discussions with Dave, Anne made the decision to undergo knee replacements. Her doctor, with whom she sings in the church choir, scheduled the procedure at a larger hospital with a specialist in the next town south. She was advised to have a bladder lift as a first step in this process. One year after the procedure, she still has an open incision from her pubic bone to an inch above her navel. After an extraordinary series of events, including being rushed back to the ER, released and sent back again, it was concluded that her intestine was punctured during the bladder lift.

    Our family was beside itself on whether or not to recommend that she pursue legal guidance for medical malpractice. In the end, we made gentle hints and she took no action. Nine months ago, she had her left knee replaced and is slowly gaining strength to exercise and return to normal. She is back singing her divine contralto in the church choir and is the smiling greeter at the local hospital. She and Dave are worshiped by their children, grandchildren, siblings and community—and like the Bickersons of old-time-radio, they fuss and fume but love each other deeply. Who can ask for more?

    Tom, 50ish, Anne & Dave’s eldest, lost his first wife when she wrapped her car around a tree and died instantly. She left behind two small daughters, Leslie and Harper, a devastated young husband, and a family asking why? Tom and the girls struggled for years until he remarried, Natalie, a lovely, warm, energetic woman who instantly became a devoted wife and mother. Their son, Andy arrived fourteen years ago and his older sisters doted on him. All seem right in the world.

    Andy, 14, a gifted athlete and straight-A student, began having difficulty his sophomore year. He started skipping school, his grades dropped and he was using drugs. His parents, Tom and Angie, his sisters, Leslie and Harper, tried family therapy, church retreats, individual counseling until finally, Andy was kicked out of school for smoking in the parking lot.

    One Monday morning, I opened up a social media site and there was a post from my niece pleading for family members and the community to report any sighting of Andy. He had run away from home and a gun was missing.

    Within 48 hours, Andy was gone. He took his life after leaving a note saying he was unable to bear life any longer.

    The entire Clan gathered at the family church for a standing room only memorial service. No one got an exact attendance count but, the pastor reported that there were perhaps 600 people celebrating Andy’s life in a stunning memorial designed by his father, Tom.

    All Andy’s sports attire had been placed on the sanctuary—his letter jacket, track shoes, track attire, skateboard, baseball mitt, and other items. A slide show of his life, sports accomplishments, honors classes and writings flowed seamlessly on a screen over the minister’s shoulder. After opening with a prayer, the minister explained that while Andy had been a strong part of their church family since his birth, and he knew him well, his father, has recorded the message to share–a gripping, funny, compassionate, telling of Andy’s life.

    It was spellbinding.

    Included was a plea to all young people in attendance to reach out to their families, their community, their peers, church–to seek someone to be an active listener. Dave’s final words said, “Suicide was a long term solution for a short time situation.”

    His dedication has been recorded and used in several local community churches and suicide prevention centers–a tragedy turned to action through love and devotion.

    Everyone attending was then invited to join a luncheon sponsored by the community: tables so bountiful that uneaten food was donated to the local shelter.

    Dave, Harper and Leslie have created a 10K run in Andy’s honor, with proceeds go to a local teen suicide prevention center.

    None of these family members would have chosen these experiences. Their pain has been unimaginable and overwhelming. Each has processed their pain in different ways—some privately, some not so private.

    The good news is—we will celebrate the 27th annual Clan gathering in a delightful nature preserve on a pond stocked with fish near a zoo. Typically, upwards of 65 members of the Clan (4 Tribes) attend: my three sibs, our children, grandkids and great grand kids.

    There will be games, a craft table, a silly treasure hunt, sing-a-longs, photo albums passed, stories told, and time to hold each other, laugh and cry both tears of sorrow, loss, joy. We will celebrate that we are together.

    I will share this piece with them next weekend and remind myself that as John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you, while you’re busy making other plans.”

    Blessed be.

    • Polly says

      Judy, that was a beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking tribute. You managed to demonstrate the resilience of family members who you obviously love deeply, and I know it’s a resilience and strength that you share. Thank you for sharing these stories with us. My heart goes out to you.

      • says

        Judy, thanks for sharing the powerful bonds and strength of your family. Just last night I celebrated the birthday of a friend whose son committed suicide three years ago, so your piece was especially vivid to me.

    • Judy says

      Thank you Polly & Laura for your comments. Yes, there is a deep love within our family. But, trust me, t’s not always ‘resilience and strength.’ There are many dark times when one of the other of us sinks into a kind of despair that feels like drowning before the cycle ends and feelings become alive and joyful. The whole thing is really a mystery to me.

      Wonderful that you shared a dinner with your friend on a such a significant date, Laura.

    • Ilana says

      Judy- What a stunning portrait of your loved ones and their journeies. Thank you for sharing it with us. Ilana

  9. Terry Gibson says

    The Experience I Didn’t Choose

    This week has been a sobering one for me. Everything since my last post has been conflicting, painful, and devastating. This prompt brings much of that up.
    ****
    I didn’t choose to share a meal and table with others only once every six months (if that). My awkwardness at this during events like retreats is momentarily crippling every meal.

    I didn’t choose an empty baby crib. That would’ve never been a choice I’d make. I wanted children so badly and a husband. True, I believed I couldn’t be anything but a bad mother, but I might have found someone who would’ve given me some faith in myself, who would’ve loved me.

    I didn’t choose a partner who was much younger than me and nowhere near me, generally, on the life journey. (I say that with great love and a two-way input on that feeling and reality). I didn’t choose to let that relationship detour me from the life goals I always had for myself. Although much love and mutual support came from that, I didn’t want to be in a relationship until I got over a then-recent humiliation and end of a previous relationship.

    I didn’t choose to lose all of people’s respect as a human being, girl and young adult at the tender age of 17. How could I have proven myself not worthy of goodness, trust, and acceptance in my own peer group? Before I even committed a significant act in life? Of my own accord.

    I didn’t choose to have any intense happiness be such a fleeting and rare thing, that when it’s there I overflow with it, unable to shut up, embarrassing myself, friends, family–always saying the wrong things, being the shell of an old, semi-healed, but always re-opened wound.

    I didn’t choose having to always doubt my sanity. Wanting to say something and doing it (or writing it) and then having a backlash in my brain of ridicule, spewed self-hatred, and accusations which grind me into almost nothingness. When will I not have the power to yank myself back?

    I didn’t choose the poverty I obviously will never escape.
    I didn’t choose to be a hair’s breadth from homelessness and the obvious death it will result in.

    I didn’t choose the pit of despair I still live in in so many ways.

    I didn’t choose to start tearing my skin apart when I first started university. I didn’t choose to lose out on that valuable opportunity–the only way out I had. If only I could’ve turned off that self-hatred.

    I didn’t choose to be dead behind the eyes or despise the quiet, thoughtful young girl that I was. I think prior to my mother and stepfather’s final crime of having me violently raped, I really was on the right path. My work friends and boss liked me and even lent me their car so I could drive to a counselling appointment two towns away. I was a good worker and had just started relaxing a bit. I no longer shook uncontrollably in a sweat in bed at night, certain my Mom and stepfather would walk right into the house and upstairs to get revenge on me.

    I didn’t choose to be someone who would recoil so fast and so completely at the first hint that I ruined a friendship. I didn’t choose to lose all my power with people I consider way ‘better’ than I could ever be.

    Although I did it, I didn’t choose to walk out on friendships because, if they were good people, I was terrified to my core that they would find me out. They would discover that I really was a scum bag not worthy of their attention or kindness.

    I didn’t choose the utter loneliness, which will always be there, no matter how much I try to deny it or ‘fill up’ my space with activities and friends who are online only.

    I didn’t choose to spend the latter bit of my life so alone! And without my brother Steve.

    I didn’t choose to stop writing, every time I did. I stopped because I was always so inferior to others I threw in the towel before I even got started.
    Finally, I didn’t choose to be as ashamed as I am imagining the reader thinking, ‘There she is feeling sorry for herself again. Boring!”
    ******
    Without all of this, I might’ve been confident, grounded, appreciated the deep compassion and care I feel for other people, my desire to appreciate, love, and assist someone in any way I can. I might’ve had a home, family, recognizable education, career, future, and even grandchildren. I might’ve known security as my health worsens.

    However, with all of that going for me, I might have been apathetic, an ignorant bigot, lost to alcoholism, drug addiction, a criminal, hate-monger and cruel person.

    On those latter realities, I am glad I was a victim of all I was. I’m glad I am alive to fight, recover and make every attempt to thrive as well. I’m glad I can feel such gratitude and respect (for others) and take no comfort in other people being worse off than me.

    I say that but temper the statement with acknowledgement that my future is grim. Miracles do happen but there isn’t one for this story. Not in any lasting way.

    It makes me cry but I would also stream tears if this was somebody else’s story.

    • Polly says

      Terry, this piece was filled with a great deal of pain but I also sensed a strong spirit (for lack of a better word) within you. You seem to be a person who’s very determined and who has done some pretty phenomenal things, and survived against all odds.

      I want to say: Something tells me that it’s not too late for you. I have a feeling you can still make things better for yourself. I’m not saying it won’t be challenging, but sit tight, trust that part of you that has brought you this far, and maybe you’ll be amazed. Maybe you have more answers than you think. I want to say those things because I think they’re true, but –

      We all come here not to have people tell us what they think we should do. We come here hoping that people will listen and offer their support, and maybe a shoulder – and better yet, compliments on our work. So I guess instead, I’m here to say that I’m sorry you’ve had so many horrifying experiences that have hurt you, and that things haven’t worked out the way you wish that they had. None of it is fair.

      This piece was rich and honest. Thanks again for honouring us with your words, and for sharing part of yourself with us.

    • Ilana says

      Oh Terry, what courage you have to share your story this way. And what strength to turn around and say “However, with all of that going for me, I might have been apathetic, an ignorant bigot, lost to alcoholism, drug addiction, a criminal, hate-monger and cruel person.

      On those latter realities, I am glad I was a victim of all I was. I’m glad I am alive to fight, recover and make every attempt to thrive as well. I’m glad I can feel such gratitude and respect (for others) and take no comfort in other people being worse off than me.”

      Your spirit is strong and your inner beauty striking. Thank you for sharing so freely with us.

      Ilana

    • says

      Terry, this is a powerful piece documenting tremendous pain.

      I’d also like to see you write one that focuses conversely, on the positive, life-affirming things you’ve obviously chosen in your life, time and time again, to get you where you are. Even if they seem like a narrow sliver compared to the litany here, I’d like to see you write that piece, focusing on the times you chose life and health and to live.

      Although there is tremendous power and truth in this piece, the word “always”–that is a lie. That is the abusers whispering falsehoods in your ear. “It feels like it will always be that way…” maybe…but always to have them win is not your birthright. You’ve come too far for that.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thanks for the idea and challenge, Laura. Unfortunately, I lapsed into a bad place last night, where those whispered lies got too loud, blatant and implied judgments poured out of me, and I tried repetition of painful things (yet again) as a means of somehow easing those festering wounds. An attempt to purge it from my body. I will write up this prompt from the other angle and, with your permission, post it. Thanks to you too Polly and Ilana. Never giving up!

        • Deb Mansell says

          Good to hear you’re never giving up friend. We all stand together in saying you are worth all the time and energy you put into your survival. E hugs to you.

  10. Sheila McGinley says

    The first time that I saw a child in leg braces due to polio was about six months after I had been released from the hospital, newly out of an iron lung and walking on my own. Waiting with my mother at the local bank while she was doing deposits, I was leaning impatiently against her legs when I heard a scraping and clanking sound at the door. I looked to see a boy in a thick and heavy metal brace, dragging his leg beside him with each crooked step. Each time he tried unsuccessfully to lift his foot, the metal on the bottom of his heel would reverberate loudly across the room. He walked awkwardly and was painfully slow with each drag.

    My cheeks flushed red and I sank to the floor at my mother’s feet, hiding my face against her legs. Mom was impatient with me, moving her leg away and tugging me to get up. I could tell that she was annoyed but I didn’t know how to tell her what I had seen in that boy: that he could be me. He could be me, and I was embarrassed. He was supposed to be me, and I was broken inside just as that boy seemed to be. He was me, but no one could see it. He was me, and no one knew. More than anything, I wanted no one to know that I was ruined, that I was broken, that I was shamed. So I just turned from that boy and walked away, ignoring my mother as she called me back, her anger at my defiance less scary for me than my shame.

    I had come home in a wheelchair but had worked obsessively at walking. My legs seemed to strengthen with each passing day. At my parents’ insistence, I practiced the physical therapy exercises daily on our oval rag rug in the living room. I followed each rope-like stripe of the oval with my feet, one in front of the other. I became stronger, more balanced. It wasn’t long until my legs, skinny and still weak, pale and a bit knock-kneed, worked well enough for me pass as healthy. I stopped holding my breath each time I saw a crippled child, feeling only a dim echo of my conviction that that cripple was me.

    It took several years to learn to ride a bike and to roller skate, longer still before I tried to sit on a horse after finding that I could not pull myself into the saddle. But my legs didn’t fail me when it came to following the gang through the neighborhood. While I could never run fast or climb easily, I could manage OK with these stilt-like legs of mine. I walked college walkways, struggled along backpacking paths on camping trips and chased my daughter across the yard on these legs. I was no cripple, that was clear. And I was relieved.

    Until my legs betrayed me. There had been earlier warning signs, of course, like the time my legs gave out on me carrying my daughter up the stairs to her room. Or the feeling of slipping on oil that would come to me out of nowhere when I was out strolling, causing me to reach wildly to grab whatever stood nearby. But then a day came when my right leg, the leg I had always thought of as my “good” one, decided it had had enough. As I crossed a freshly waxed floor at my daughter’s high school, it gave way at the knee and down I went, and even as I fell I looked around the floor to find the spilled drink or errant floor wax that had downed me. But there was nothing there. My leg had simply had enough. My free walks along cliff sides, the dancing with a friend at an exercise class, even walking easily across the parking lot at work: all of them gone. Until finally the day came when the only way that I could walk without falling was to use a cane.

    The doctors said that my legs had simply had enough. Having lost half the nerves and muscles to polio, I had willed the others to do their job. They were fatigued and giving up. You are in your 50′s, said one doctor, but your legs are pushing 80. You need to take care of them, to walk the tightrope of using them. Too much use and they will be gone. Too little and they will die from deterioration. Where was the in-between? No one knew.

    I look back now on those first years of cane use and I long to go back there, but at the time all I could see was that crippled child. That cane brought my shame out of hiding once again. I tried to pretend that the cane was my choice, like the black thorn walking stick my Irish father had used after he moved to our seaside town in retirement. It did work somewhat to pretend and helped me ignore the pitying looks my cane brought, but there was no jaunty Irish in my soul. I mourned my carefree nightly walks with my dog, missed being able to scramble down the rocks to reach the beach or make my way easily up and down stairs at our yearly trip to the cabin in the Sierras. As I moved slowly along the street on cool summer evenings, I wanted to call out to everyone who passed me, to tell them to be grateful for every step they took, to be grateful for the speed at which they travelled, for the thoughtlessness that they could bring to such a gift. Sometimes I wondered why I hadn’t walked much more often while I could, only to remember that it may have been the act of pushing myself that caused my legs to grow weary on me.

    Now I must use two canes nearly everywhere I go. I laboriously struggle a block before my legs begin to weaken and tremble. Yet every night I make that trek, dreading the day when I can no longer go that far. Sometimes I can make it with one cane from my car to a nearby store, as long as I don’t stay long. I have to think carefully before I agree to go anywhere with friends, never knowing if the worst of it will be forcing everyone to slow down unbearably, filling me with shame, or will be finding myself behind everyone as they go ahead and fly down a slope way beyond my means, unaware that I am stranded behind. If I fly somewhere I have to be pushed to the gate in a wheelchair, and once at my destination it can take me days to recover. I am a cripple now, and I resent being treated like one but can break down in tears when my need to be independent leads me to profound weariness and pain. At night, I at times lie awake in dread, wondering how many more months, or years, I will have before I can walk no more.

    Is there a gift hidden in this sorrow? In the midst of my present, it is a gift that is hard to see. I am often a cripple now, and chafe under the solicitousness of others (I am no old lady and I am not dying!) while also wanting to scream when I feel others’ impatience echoed in my own, their callous inability to understand the pain I go through matched only by my own. I feel the shame and the brokenness often, especially when I must walk among strangers. I want to scream when people tell me that I just need to exercise more and become stronger.

    And yet, there is a miracle here, a gift. My world has become smaller and yet more beautiful. I am grateful for every morning that I wake up with the most leg strength that I will have that day. I close my eyes and soak in those hours with no cane at all as if I were flying on my own wings. Even as I give in to the canes as the day progresses, I say an inner thanks that my legs continue to carry me. That I can walk slowly along the beach cliffs at sunset and make my way around my kitchen and bedroom with nothing but a touch of passing walls and furniture. Every moment that my legs are able to stand like shaky stilts below me is a miracle, it seems. An exhausting miracle, one often created by a pure act of will as I rise up from sitting, but my miracle nevertheless.

    An even greater gift is in the beauty that I now see so close to home. A slow struggle along the pathway at the cliffs reveals a heron among the rocks, one that I may not have seen when I moved faster. Each flower on my nightly walks gives me a reason to stand still for a moment and love its beauty. I have the patience to walk my very old dog at a snail’s pace as she stumbles to each plant to sniff out the newcomers to her street. I find in my patio the same beauty as a faraway land or wilderness journey, noticing a raccoon’s prints or a hummingbird in the bush next door. I take long minutes to pick, and then sniff, the lovely golden apricots on my tree. Then I take hours of standing and then lying down to rest to make wonderful, delicious apricot jam. Each such moment is precious to me. The world is brighter, the detail more beautiful, than I have ever before realized.

    This dubious miracle child who was to have died over and over again during the first months of my polio, is so alive. Even as I struggle with the shame, with the pain and impatience and exhaustion that come suddenly upon me, I have found that the world has so much more precious beauty to offer me than I had ever stopped long enough to see.

    • Sheila McGinley says

      I am sorry that I have not replied to others yet this week. In order to find this post in myself, I had to kind of disappear into myself for awhile.

      • Polly says

        Sheila, this was exquisitely told. I appreciate the gift that you were able to find in all of this – the pearl when you open the oyster’s shell. My parents are both just starting to reach a point where their legs don’t work in quite the same agile way that they used to. I was struggling with that fact just this afternoon. You wrote this in such a beautiful and personal way. Thank you.

    • says

      Dear Sheila,

      I read this piece in awe. It is so powerful, so honest, so real, so compelling, so illuminating and so beautifully rendered. You take your time to tell your story, weaving every bit, word by word, phrase by phrase and you do not shrink from your truth, not one bit. I started to highlight sentences I wanted to mirror back to you, but as I read on, there were far too many! I could easily just reprint your whole piece here in my comment, telling you, ‘This is the part I liked best.” Because each part sang to me–and as a whole, it is a spellbinding piece of work. I’m so glad you’re writing and clearly finding your voice. Just keep going–clearly you’ve tapped into a vein. Perhaps the writing world is opening up for you so you will have another rich, vibrant world to enter when your legs to indeed, one day, keep you closer to home.

      • Sheila McGinley says

        Jeez, Laura!! Thanks so much! And yes, I am hoping, yet afraid to hope, that writing will take me places in the past and in other lives than my own even as my legs cannot.

        Last night I was out walking the dog when a neighbor came to find me. She had read the piece about my mother (I worked up the courage to post it on my small, close friends only, Facebook list) and she said, very seriously, “There is a book here. You mustn’t stop.” I was taken by surprise, but so pleased too. It was like a secret wish that I had not let out to anyone, including me, being said aloud. I came home and trashed my first attempt at this prompt and out came this one. It would be an exaggeration to say that it just comes out whole, but in a way it feels like that. I didn’t finish until almost 2 am and literally was so jazzed that it took me an hour to fall asleep! I love your post to me. I will treasure it. Thank you.

    • Judy says

      Shelia–amazing writing. So rich with prose and your special gift of telling story. Have you considered submitting to The Rotarian? They work to eradicate polio worldwide. Give it a google. And, thank you so very much for sharing your amazing story. :)

        • Judy says

          Yes, Rotary International’s publication is The Rotarian. The Foundation’s mission is to end polio worldwide. Good luck and fingers crossed.

    • Hazel says

      Sheila,
      You have put into words, so wonderfully chosen, to express how it feels to be “broken”. You have shown how it is to persevere when you are so exhausted you feel you will just crumble on the sidewalk on the way back home. You have given courage and encouragement to those of us, who like you, also feel “broken”.

      I hate my wheelchair! Don’t get me wrong I am glad it is there when I really need it, but I hate being in it. I hate riding around with my head at waist level to everyone else in the room. I hate the noise it makes as it moves me from place to place. I hate that people notice me and want to “help” me. I want to do it myself, whatever it is. I am an Occupational Therapist for God’s sake, I have encouraged many other persons to accept where they are and get on with their lives. Why do I feel this way? Maybe it is the questions I get from my doctor who says: “What are you doing in that thing again?” I answer: “Because I just cannot walk from my car here to your office.” Then I get THE look. Why do people think you are lazy instead of that you just cannot walk? Why do people think it is fun to be in a wheelchair? BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT STUCK THERE!

      Why do I cry when I finally have to give up, sit down in it, and go on? Oh, there are lots of reasons like I can’t reach anything, I can’t get close enough to the counters or reach the back of the frig, the list goes on. But the biggest reason is that I now feel less-than, not whole, lacking something most everyone else has.

      I am so glad that I have my brains and for now I also have use of my legs for short walks, and my Z-coil shoes for wearing while grocery shopping. I did not have polio, but I am “broken”.

      Your piece has given validation to me. It tells me that what I feel is not just my brain on “poor me” but that what I feel is felt by others who are fighting for their mobility and self image.

      Thank you so much, I am sending you a hug for your forth-rightness, for your honesty. And, yes, you should publish this.

        • Hazel says

          They are shoes that have coiled springs on the heels and really make a difference when walking on cement floors. https://shoes.zcoil.com/ is the link for the shoes and to see more information about them you can go to zcoil.com You have to have pretty good balance to wear them and they are very expensive but I love them. You can get the springs replaced when they don’t have much spring left in them. They are heavy but they feel light on your feet because of the spring action. They are fitted orthopedic-ally with special insoles also. They have made it so I can walk all over Walmart shopping for groceries which I would not be able to do without them. The best thing to do is to try them on in the store and walk around a while.

    • Jess says

      Sheila,
      Very open and honest, and your story was beautifuly told. Reading this makes me so grateful for what I have. Thank you for sharing with us.

  11. Fran Stekoll says

    The experience I did not choose was being confined to bed for 9 months in 1958. I had just gotten over a still-born pregnancy which ended with a D & C in San Francisco. The fetus was 2 months old, a male, which died but did not abort. I read that more males than females don’t go to term, especially if they’re handicapped or imperfect . We had a daughter 2 years old and since I was an only child wanted desperately to have another. My husband wanted a son to carry on our name.

    I began spotting and cramping immediately after becoming pregnant. My Doctor insisted total bed rest. I couldn’t even get up to go to the toilet. Our daughter suddenly became my Mother. She brought in the mail, the milk, my lunch, (which had been prepared by my husband before he went to work), We read stories, sang, my bedroom became the focal point of every day.

    The neighbors were wonderful. They took turns visiting, folding laundry, cheering me up and taking Lee Ann for short visits to their homes to play with their siblings her age.

    The Doctor would make weekly house calls. There were days I cried, screamed, tore my night clothes into shreds; but then I realized this was temporary and my neighbor down the street was dying with cancer which gave me hope and stamina to tough it through.

    I would enter contests on the radio and when I’d win dinners for two they’d be delivered. Our best friends Sarah & Bill would come over, decorate my bedroom with different party themes and we’d have food depicting that theme. Sara was Lee Ann’s God Mother. My husband did all the shopping, cooking, laundry and yard work.

    When my Doctor thought I was full term, we stopped the many medications I was taking to keep from losing this child. I quickly went into labor, I experienced going through a tunnel, smelling abundant flowers, hearing loud music and almost touching my grandmothers hand. Sheri came out not breathing after being slapped, she had several birth defects, right ear connected to her shoulder, wind blown legs, asymmetrical face, and every other vertebra in her spine malformed. If she lived they said she’d never walk and if she walked she’d be bent over at the waist.

    We both died during childbirth; yet miraculously we both lived.

    When I began hemorrhaging, I heard the Doctor yelling, “Come back. Your children need you, your husband needs you, I need you.” High loud noises pierced through my ears. I felt so peaceful, so happy, so totally blissful I wanted to keep going; but I returned and was asked to put an X on a paper.

    When I woke up, there were tubes coming out of my arms, legs, mouth and my parents and husband were hovering over me. Apparently my afterbirth and uterus had grown together and in order to save my life, I had to have a sub-total hysterectomy. They took out the uterus and re-connected the ovaries. I was only 23, and apparently if they’d done a total hysterectomy, I would’ve been thrown into menopause which would’ve caused some unusual mental condition, so I was told. The Doctor said he took away the buggy and left the playpen!

    Sheri was referred to Crippled Children Society immediately. Her legs were braced, her ear was removed from her shoulder and plastic surgery took place. Skin was taken from her buttocks to form an ear. Every other vertebra
    was malformed; but thank God on opposite sides of her spine. Had they been on one side she would never walk. Today she stands with pain and a severely curved spine.

    Needless to say she and I are very close, almost as if the umbilical cord were never severed.

    We were blessed with two daughters and in 1961 adopted our son.

    That’s a totally other story.

    • says

      Fran, thanks for sharing this harrowing story. I’m so glad you both made it. The moment I was completely caught up in your story was that moment you had to decide whether to come back or not–thank goodness for your family and for us–those of us who enjoy your writing–that you did.

    • Polly says

      Fran, this must have been an incredibly frightening experience. I’m so glad both you and your daughter survived, and that you were both able to receive the care that you needed. Thank you for posting.

  12. Polly says

    Death on a Reiki Bed

    She put her hands on my legs. Rubbed them back and forth from my ankles to my hips, in quick motions, with a little smile. Innocuous, considering she’s a massage therapist.

    I see her for reiki treatments. I am terrified of massages. As a young adolescent, I used to visit my brother in his apartment. He had candles lit, and soft jazz music playing on his beat box which sat on the worn out carpet in his living room. He would squeeze my shoulders and my neck, hard. It hurt. But he always insisted that that was the only way to relax me. It wouldn’t occur to me for nearly twenty years that there was anything creepy about those evenings. I seek reiki treatments now in an attempt to relax without any physical touch. I deliberately see a woman for this because that to me is much less threatening than the alternative. My reiki therapist forgot about all of this momentarily.

    She rubbed her hands briskly up and down my legs. I froze.

    “Wait. Wait,” I thought. “Maybe this will be okay. Maybe, maybe this will feel good. Don’t stop her just yet. Maybe you’re safe. Of course you’re safe. She won’t hurt you. Oh my god I’m scared.”

    “Oh no, I am so sorry! I forgot!”

    “It’s fine.”

    “I’m really sorry.”

    “Seriously, no, it’s fine. I could have said something.”

    She continues the treatment, this time keeping her hands hovered a foot or so above my body.

    I tend to feel triggered each time I am there. I know I have the option of stopping her at any point. I’m aware that she knows my history and will be respectful. Still, I try to push through it.

    As she ever so gradually worked her way up, I began to feel some intense body memory. It’s a thing that surpasses mere aching. My genitals are on fire and instead of being on this soft table with a safe, professional woman, listening to a gorgeous sitar song with soft sunlight peeking through the windows, I am on the floor in my brother’s dirty, grungy bachelor suite. He’s on top of me. He’s inside me.

    “Breathe,” I instruct myself. “Breathe.”

    I subtly rub my hands on my thighs, reminding every limb that it is still present. I want my entire body to know that none of it has to escape. I am safe. I pick three things I can see of a certain colour, three distinct sounds that I can hear, and three separate things that I can feel on the outside of my body, attempting to ensure that I will stay in the present moment instead of being thrown back.

    As she works her way further up my body, my body remembers the ways in which I was held down as a small child. I can feel my brother pushing down on my neck. He would essentially choke me in an attempt to keep me quiet and keep me down. In the present I struggle to breathe. I still neglect to say a word.

    “How are you doing? Are you okay?”

    “Yeah. Good. Thanks.” Fuck. Why can’t I speak up? I wiggle my toes, squeeze my hands into fists. I fight and fight to stay in my body. This was Tuesday after work.

    At various points throughout the last week I considered doing horrible things to myself. Friday night (over a week ago) I examined my razor with such keen interest. “Just the right amount of pain. Just the right amount of blood. It could feel so good.” No. Sunday night I fought numerous urges to harm myself, for hours. I seriously considered a visit to the emergency room as I thought that might be the only way to stop myself from sheer annihilation. I felt like it would be that, or pills, or something sharp. Instead I lie in bed just hoping I would live to see the next morning. Monday I left a somewhat desperate voice message for my therapist, who is away on vacation until this coming week. (I see her in two days for the first time in a few weeks.) Wednesday, I had additional thoughts about it, but they were fleeting. Things have been better since then. I know that I am so much smarter and stronger than my worst impulses. I know that I will always choose to be here. I will choose to fight for myself and those I love. That, simply put, is who I am. It’s just frustrating because I battled those demons as a teenager. I thought I had already fought and beat the self-destructiveness.

    I went for coffee today with my dad (who I think knew some of what was going on in the past, while it was happening) and some of my siblings. They all discussed my brother’s deteriorating mental state, and I didn’t react. I had prepared myself this time, so I was able to shrug it off and remain calm, even when family members looked to me for a reaction. When my sister mentioned the “erotic” poetry my brother used to write, photocopy, and give to us all as Christmas presents (for real – he did that and it was disgusting and so inappropriately detailed) I reacted with what could be considered an unchecked amount of anger. I hadn’t bothered to prepare myself for that topic of conversation.

    Monday evening, I wrote a letter to my brother. It’s a letter I will never send. It was seven 8 ½ by 11” pages filled with my anger. It was an enormous release. I realized that I had been turning a great deal of my anger inward. I had been directing it at myself. The anger and the shame belong on him, so I sent it all his way. It was extremely beneficial. I think the letter was a turning point for me.

    I didn’t choose to be deathly afraid of human touch. (July 14th is my wedding anniversary and it is terribly inconvenient – to say the least – to not be able to handle much more than a hug.)

    I didn’t choose to be terrified to speak up when it comes to my own protection and wellbeing. I didn’t choose to have so much to be angry about.

    So here I am, sitting tight, hanging in there, and doing the work. Sometimes I have setbacks but I will continue to do the work. I have beautiful people, small furry creatures, and things in my life. I have myself. I have what I know in my gut. It is all beyond difficult, but I do have hope, and I have a million happy moments that continue to happen. I choose to see them, to acknowledge them along with the pain. I have a choice to make every day, and I choose to make it better, because if I don’t, who will?

    • Laura Davis says

      Polly, this piece exquisitely and vividly tracks the ins and outs of the healing process. Your description of those suicidal urges had me riveting. And despite it, it is your choice to live and the fact that you choose happiness, over and over again, that shines through the piece.

      • Polly says

        Laura, thank you so much. I’m always so grateful for your feedback. It means a lot.

        It’s really good to have you back, by the way! You’ve been missed.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Polly, you made it through writing that letter, the back and forth struggle all week, and finished this post that shows so much, so well. You words and strength shine through, as does your commitment to your healing life. The life you own and deserve. Here for you.

      • Polly says

        Terry, I guess I did, huh? Thank you very much. I’m inspired by the strength shown by everyone here. Maybe I can pick some up by association. Here for you too.

        • Sheila McGinley says

          Polly– this was stunning as a piece of writing and courageous as a piece of your immense humanity. What strength you have. I was totally with you when reading it. For me, it is my abdomen. No one can touch it and if they do I want to start to hit them over and over again while I also feel shame. But I don’t know how to tell someone not to. I learned so much reading what you wrote. But mostly I felt your strength. Thank you.

          • Polly says

            Sheila, I love this comment. Thank you for what you said about this piece both in terms of the writing, and what it says about me. I also appreciate what you shared about how you relate. The shame is one of the hardest things. Anyway, thanks for providing yet another silver lining to this situation, with your kind words – I’ll savour them.

  13. Patti Hall says

    Sorry friends, just can’t do it this week. I sure miss you. I tried to read each post. Just can’t. Sometimes it is so hard to take on the pain that I read here, and even the loving kindness is too much for me.
    Take care and I’ll try again next week,
    Patti

    • Deb Mansell says

      I know where you are coming from Patti, I have managed to write a little, but not read many, you must look after you and not cause yourself pain through others pain.

    • Laura Davis says

      I commend you for taking care of yourself. These posts can be intense, and for someone carrying a trauma history, triggering. No apology needed. You’re modeling good self care.

    • Sheila McGinley says

      I understand that feeling well. Even feel it when I post sometimes. Thanks for the message. sometimes I can’t even write that.

    • Polly says

      Patti, I’ve had several weeks like that lately, and I completely understand. That’s always my fear too, when I post. Don’t like the thought of triggering people. Take good care of yourself.

    • Hazel says

      Patti,
      Sometimes I feel like we should have some “lighter” prompts. Maybe like: when was the last time you watched a butterfly? or petted a toad? or watched an ant carrying a large load? Just to make us laugh a little.

      Sometimes I just can’t write to the prompt either.

      I do not mean to belittle anyone or anything written here; just once in a while we should toss it all away and smile, laugh at ourselves and with others.

      • says

        Hazel, I appreciate this–and will take it to heart. Unfortunately, these prompts are all set up for months at a time, so it will quite a while before I can make changes to the content. But I think you’re right.

        I also think that everyone brings “what they need to write about” to prompts that are here. I know I’ve seen students in class who have been recently divorced or suffered a death or are dealing with some other compelling life issue–and no matter what prompt I give–it could be about a favorite outfit they wore when they were 20–they will find a way to work it around to the “obsession” that is gripping them on a psychic level at the time. Sometimes, we can’t get away from our own material.

        • Sheila McGinley says

          And sometimes prompts that are trying for lightness are annoying because they do so by coming up with irrelevant topics. It misses the really wonderful things that make us laugh. But I do appreciate your comment Helen. I, too, can feel like– not one more moment of trauma or sadness. But, as Laura says, it seems to come anyway.

          • Polly says

            I’m glad this conversation happened … Maybe the really graphic, potentially triggering material should just go in my journal for a while. I will definitely still keep checking back because this community means a lot to me, but I can respect that not everyone needs to know every detail, all the time. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>