Chapter 34

This past Saturday, without much fanfare and while shivering in the chilly November breeze, I welcomed my thirty-fourth year of life by watching my son take part in the local Veteran’s Day parade.

I stood alone on the sidewalk of my small town’s Main Street as vintage cars, Girls Scouts, and a few of the bravest men and women of the Armed Forces passed by.  

The group my son is in, a youth leadership group called iLead, was near the end of the parade. He ended up sitting on the side facing away from me, but I could he see hands waving spiritedly to the people facing him from where I stood.  

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But let’s rewind a bit. Before the parade, before loading up, before trying to get ready, let’s start with that morning.

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I woke up with the day sitting heavy over me like a cloud. I reached for my phone, but unlike every other morning, this time there was a hesitation. I knew what the date was. I knew what day I was waking up to. I had the hope that when I looked at the screen my discomfort would be meet with missed messages and texts from overnight from friends and family wishing me a happy birthday or a simple “I love you”. Instead, I got nothing but the weather.

I’ve filled you guys in on my hesitation with Fall. In some sick twist of fate, the anniversary of son’s death and the anniversary of my birth fall within seven days of each other. So my chances of being able to have a joyous birthday celebration are pretty much forever stamped out. And that’s something I’ve been troubled by recently. I’ve always had an uneasy balance with my birthday.

Because of the nature of my upbringing, birthday celebrations were a double edge sword. They were often the basic celebrations of a typical poverty level child, hotdogs, chips, ice cream, and cake. But because of the issues of my upbringing, they came with strings attached. Most of those little parties left me feeling guilty and ashamed that I would put my mother through so much trouble, or that my friends would be so rude and loud, or that their mothers would look so sourly at her. Because at the end of the day, any shortcomings were my fault of course.  

Once I left that mess behind me and moved on into adult life, I thought for sure it would be easier to celebrate the anniversary of me. I was surrounded by the idea that women could proclaim the entire week of their birthday was theirs to do of their choosing and that everyone had to pay homage to them. I was taken in by that glamour and selfishness. And then November rolled around and…

I was still nowhere near the ascending to the birthday throne. I was just a worker bee. The Queen Bees made sure I was aware of that.

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So life moves on and with it my understanding of things. One, the elders I have been surrounded by for much of my life were idiots. Maybe idiot is the wrong word. The women elders I have been surrounded by are deeply wounded women who have never taken the time to try to heal themselves. Their wounds have become their identity and in turn, their legacy.

THEIR LEGACY.

Not mine.

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So let’s fast forward to now.

I spent my birthday watching my son pay respect to the Veterans of our country. (Of which his father is one) We then came home, warmed up (me with some coffee and him with Xbox) and I attended to the snotty nosed crew that stayed home from the parade. After I did some laundry, and dishes, and sweeping,

and more laundry,

and more dishes,

and more sweeping because someone emptied an entire box of Nerds candy on the floor,

we had dinner and Red Velvet cake.  Afterward, when all the kids were put to bed, I indulged myself with the fancypants new lotion my wonderful husband gifted me and started plans for what is going in the beautiful leather bound soon to be grimoire my #bestwitchforlife sent me.  

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I was proud of my children, proud of my husband, and, dagnabit, proud of my country. If you watch the news, it’s a tough time to be an American. If you see America from the sidewalk of a small Southern town on a Saturday in November while marching bands play and old men and women proudly drive their antique cars and march down the street while saluting one another, then it’s a little easier. 

And shit, even after a few tears, I was a little proud of myself too.

So the beginning of this chapter, this anniversary of my birth, was okay. It was a lesson.  I know that at this point in my life, I need to allow these days to be what they are. Something between just another day and a celebration of the arrival of the wonderful mess that is me.  I also need to let go of the hurt that the ones of the past have caused me.  

I just need to let go. Just let go of so much. 

To anyone who didn’t hear it and who wish they had, I hope your day, be it a birthday, anniversary or just another Tuesday, was a great day. You deserve it. If no one else tells you this today, I believe in you. 

P.S. For good measure, here’s the mural from our Main Street. I used to make fun of it when I was a shitty teenager who wrongfully hated the city (it was a misplaced hate. I hated my home life, not my hometown). But really, it’s pretty neat. Murals are cool. I appreciate it a lot more now that I’m older and have a bit more understanding and lot less piss and vinegar, lol. 

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Palimpsest

noun
a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

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The same heaviness that would later make a home in the foot that controls the gas pedal in every car I’ve ever driven was born in my right hand. In those ancient days of being forced to learn cursive handwriting and taking notes in class, heavy was the hand that held the pencil.

I’d press my pencil into the paper so hard the lead would break so much, teachers would insist I’d keep multiple sharpened pencils at my desk. I’d erase just as hard as I’d write, my anger at my mistakes sometimes even causing the paper to give up the ghost.

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No matter how delicate I tried to be, the weight of my hand, my thoughts, the actions of my creation left a mark. No matter how well the bar of rubber was made, it could not erase the imprint of what I had committed to the page just minutes before. No matter how bad I wanted to erase it from existence, the imprint of its history remained there.

My personal journals, cheap spiral notebooks of poems and short stories unsent letters and emotional catharsis, where all imprinted pages deep with words and their associated scribbles. They looked like football plays you’d see in movies, drawn on blackboards all Xs and Os. The last pages could be grave rubbings of my emotional breakdowns and breakthroughs. A clear indication of what and where I was but not yet who or where I would be.

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I think somewhere on this blog, I’ve quoted Heraclitus’ “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” And if I did, it was probably rather poorly. The meaning behind the statement stands. We do not stay the same person throughout the entirety of our lives. Each challenge, each event, each change (large or small) both add and take away from who we are. If we, the human machine, are functioning correctly, we are changing and growing.

That doesn’t mean that each change morphs us into a complete tabula rasa. We are not one of those magnetic drawing pads kids have where you can just slide a wand and erase everything that ever was. Despite our growth, we keep the scars of the wounds that made us. Sometimes, it’s not scars that we keep. Sometimes, it’s the wounds. The bleeding, raw, unhealed wounds.

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I’ve talked about why this time of the year is hard on me. But this week has been exceptionally stressful.
As I write this is the 7th anniversary of my eldest son’s death. I have been functional today, more than years past for sure, but still hemorrhaging internally from shrapnel buried deep inside.

In the seven years since the morning we had to walk away from the hospital without him, I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I’ve become a new person through necessity but also though will and determination.

For a while, I was not the best version of myself. It was if the person I was had been erased.

I was like that paper I used to write on in elementary school. Who I was had been erased. It would take more than a few years for me to figure out that the nuclear bomb that changed my world on the day my beautiful son died wasn’t much different than those cheap hard plastic erasers I hated that topped the cheap pencils I used as a kid.

While they changed things, erased things, removed things, and sometimes even ripped the paper, they didn’t do shit to change the parts that are rooted down into the pages beyond the top page. They didn’t do shit to the things that were entrenched in my soul.

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My love for him was not taken from me. My love for my husband was not taken from me. The love for my remaining child and the two that would come after was not taken. And after many years of trial and error, and after a lot of skin shedding and toxicity removing, when I held myself just right and let the light shine in just the right ways, love for myself and the person I was wasn’t totally taken from me. My identity as a person wasn’t taken from me.

Those are the lines I am struggling to retrace now. And I feel that I will continue to follow their near transparent lines for many years to come. No matter what has changed, what life events have moved me past what has happened, it’s all there. Not all of it is worth reliving or repeating. I can not expect to be the same woman I was before the tragedy. I have learned, and lost, too much to try to go back. I don’t want that. What I do want it is to slowly try to obtain the little parts of myself that I have lost to grief since. It’s been seven years. I’m okay with it taking a lifetime more. My love for him will be eternal. My missing him will be eternal as well.

Grief is the ultimate life-changing event. It’s a starving fire. It will literally consume everything it touches if you leave it unattended for any amount of time. My belief is that part of grief’s power comes from it being an act of love. And we all know how powerful acts of love are. So if I can sneak some things back from its grasp, if I can look beyond the current writing and see what was there before, I’m going to keep trying.

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