Lessons From The Road

I feel like there’s a lot you learn about yourself while driving in the middle of the night. As the lines in the road speed by and your headlights wash across exit signs, the road strips away the ignorance and pride from your plane of knowledge and reveals to you the truth.

The things you’ve just assumed and hoped were always true start to unravel and in those moments of dead air between the songs and the station identification breaks,  you can see where the cracks have always been. The reflection you catch in the windows is your own, but it shows you as you truly are.

You’re a mess. You’re scared. You’re out of your element and you really wish you had someone there with you. You can still see your crown, so you know you’re still capable, but you’ve noticed it’s slipped. You’re unsure. Most of all, you’re feeling less than you.

The road tells you these things. The destination not so much.

 

The Crown Slips

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Such was the case for me one night at the of the beginning of this month. After a day of being sick, my husband was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. Let me just state, one more time for the Universe to hear, diabetes fucking sucks. He has Type 1 and for some reason, his body decided to flip out and slip into diabetic ketoacidosis. As we have three children at home and are in the middle of flu season, I was stuck. I couldn’t go with him in the ambulance. I couldn’t follow behind with the kids in tow. On our previous trip to the local ER a year previously, I had learned that when the security guard says no one with children is allowed back to where the patients are, he really means it. And no amount of yelling and crying will convince him otherwise.

So I had to sit at home and wait for childcare to come before I could go and catch up. When I finally was able to join him, I was a wreck. I do not handle not knowing things well. Knowing that he was ill, possibly even gravely ill, and there was nothing I could do, drove me crazy. It was in that interim that I felt the crown start slipping.

 

I was at the mercy of those who I had asked for help. From the EMTs that transported him to the hospital to the ER workers who were working on him to the family members I called in tears, I was indebted to all of them. I had bent my knees before them and asked of them their service. I felt helpless. I felt powerless. I felt needy. I felt like a bother. And to their credit, the hospital workers and nurses, the EMTs and staff never once made me feel this way on purpose. They were just doing their job. They were pleasant and kind and gave me so many words of encouragement.

When I finally arrived at our local ER, I found out the process to transfer him from our local emergency room to the closest regional Veteran’s hospital had not only already begun but had been approved. After an hour or so, he was placed back in the ambulance and taken off to a waiting bed in the MICU at the VA hospital that was an hour south of us.

I said my goodbyes while he was being loaded into back of the ambulance and walked myself to my vehicle. If I had ridden with him, I would have been stuck away from not just my kids and my dog, but my home and all my other responsibilities. Just because my world hiccupped doesn’t mean that it stopped spinning around me. So driving myself down would allow me to drive myself home when I needed to.

So I did what I had to do. I got in the truck and I cried. I cried and cried and cried. And then I stopped, pulled up Google directions, and drove off into the night.

 

The Road To ReCoronation

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There’s a pair of owls that live on my street. I’ve seen them cuddling each other while sitting on the tree behind my house. Sometimes, I hear them calling to each other during the evening from different trees in different yards. Sometimes, the crazy birds hoot during the day, when I just assume they should be sleeping. No matter where they are, no matter what they are hooting about, they make me smile. They make me feel like I’m at home. They make me happy.

But honestly, I as much as I love them, I am not one of them. I am so not a night owl. So my drive to the hospital was extra complicated. It was well after midnight when I left the ER in my city and the place I was going was, according to Google, an hour and six minutes away. Maybe it was my worry. Maybe it was my fear. But at some point, being awake well past my normal prime didn’t seem to matter. I’m usually going to sleep with the chickens. On that night, while taking the back roads that lead me to the Interstate, I was one with the owls.

It was this time alone that allowed me to think about everything that was going on. It gave me room to evaluate what was going on in my life and how I should handle it. The wheels and the road were just rhythmic enough to zone me out to a state of thinking where I was able to assess what was and what was yet to be. I was also able to face the reality of the shallowness of the pool of physical, local support my family and I had our feet in. These revelations were neither positive or negative at that time. Like the shadows my headlights created on the trees that lined the roads, they just were. The emotions from them would come later, when more time could be assigned to them.

I’m not going to incriminate myself and talk about my speeding on the way down there. But for the most part, the stretch of Interstate I was on was pretty empty. And I was lucky enough that none of South Carolina’s finest were working that area that night. I made it all the way into the single digit exits for the city and found where I needed to go. With it being the early morning hours, I was able to find parking and somehow found my way into the back emergency entrance of the VA hospital.

It was then, when I crossed that threshold, that I felt the crown straighten. The kind lady at the desk helped me direct me to the elevators and soon I found my way to the floor and then the room where my husband was.

I’d like to say it was a joyous reunion and that the night was one of those magical nights where the love of the couple overwhelmed whatever sickness was happening.  It was not a Disney movie type night. It was a night in an intensive care unit with someone who very ill and his significate other who was very worried. Nurses were in and out taking blood and doing glucose checks. There was vomiting and pain. There were machines beeping and malfunctions. And needles. So many needles.  And when there was sleep, it was fitful and separated by tubes and bed rails. For me, it was in a hardbacked chair with a pillow and a blanket kindly brought by a nurse who might have actually been more than just a human.

But we were together. I was there when he needed me. And even when he didn’t know I was there, I was there. And slowly, the crown righted it’s self on my head. I was fragile and unsure, but I knew what to do. I wasn’t helpless. I was able to step outside my fear and do my best for the ones I love. Even if that act was nothing more than holding a hand, rubbing a leg, or getting more ice chips.

 

Ever After

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Now because all of that happened, the rest of the first weekend of February was pretty much a shitshow. There were trips back home, trips to get the kids, frustrations about feeling like I was not getting what I help thought I should be getting. It was hard you guys. Being separated from where I felt I needed to be and expected to keep just pounding along like life was normal was excruciating.

But what could I do? There’s no option for curling up and crying until the hard parts are over. Slowly, the minutes turned to hours, the hours to days and after more worrying that I’ve done about anything worth worrying about, we got the notification. After recovering enough to be moved to a normal room and having his levels be normal for 12 or so hours, it was time for him to come home. So that evening, it was just a process of loading up the kids and making the drive down.

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It was a lot different this time. I was a lot different this time too.

The road didn’t hold the same amount of self-reflection in the daylight. Even though the sun had managed to slip out of the sky while we were driving, the car was filled with too much excitement, relief, and still nervousness for there to be any meditative feeling. It is a known fact that when you are traveling with children in the vehicle, any drive becomes less ‘Oprah Super Soul Sunday’ and more ‘Mad Max Fury Road’.

After getting turned around in traffic and entering through a non-entering way, we finally were reunited. And with him entering the car, it was over. The lessons we learned were not.

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While his health is paramount here, there is a whole stream of things from this I learned about myself. I learned about the holes in my circle and the need to fill them. I learned that I need to believe in myself and my abilities more. I am responsible for so many people, wallowing in my doubt is just not an option.

Sometimes shit is going to go down and I’m going to be the one who is going to be one to hold it together. Whether I want to be the one or not. It’s just what it is.

I can’t rely on the road to remind me of that.

I have to wear the crown and all its weight in it’s full glory.
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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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Better Living Through Chemistry

Yesterday I did something pretty amazing. It was amazing in that it was completely normal. For most people, it would even be bordering on the mundane. But for me, it was a pretty big deal.

I went to the doctor.

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Why is that such a big deal, you ask?

 

Because Dear Readers, I have a LOT of baggage that I’m starting to unpack when it comes to medical professionals.

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From my writings in the past, you know that my relationship with my mother was dysfunctional. One of the things I don’t think I’ve ever touched on is that I suspect my mother had some degree of Munchausen syndrome.

Munchausen syndrome according to Wikipedia is the “a factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves.” I am not a mental health professional and other than a Psych 102 class I took in college, I’ve had no training or education in any of the fields of psychology. That being said, there’s only so many checkmarks you can place on a page before a conclusion shows itself. I’m not saying she had it for sure but as a layman, I’d say it was a huge likelihood.

Looking back now with adult eyes, I can also see how some of her behaviors spread to me and my health care. There was a period of time when I was a little kid that I went to the doctor a lot. It wasn’t just for the routine childcare type of reasons, but for just random things that became huge ordeals. Tonsils, yeah that’s normal. But from second grade to 9th grade I had a medical issue pretty much every year. Some of them even overlapped. At one point, I had two surgeries for two different things within a six week time period. Twice I was “homebound” and had teachers come to my house because I couldn’t go to school because of medical issues.

Throughout all of this, she became exalted by her role as this super caregiver mother savior figure. She relished the concerned smiles and the pitiful nods. As I got older I started noticing the perverse pleasure she got when one of us was in poor health. Even when I couldn’t place a name to the actions, they were uncomfortable neighbors. When I was old enough to extract some control over myself, I stopped telling her about my ailments. And I made a promise to myself never ever to be like her.

That made me totally and completely gun shy of doctors for most of my adult life. I did receive the necessary maternal care when I was pregnant. But as far as other healthcare? I nope’d the fuck out of it. For years and years, I’ve OTC’d myself. For the few serious infections  I couldn’t beat into submission, I allowed myself to be dragged to a doctor. But mostly, I healed myself the best I could. And what I couldn’t heal, I just dealt with.

That was until I couldn’t deal with it anymore.

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For years I’ve seen struggling with headaches that I could not overcome. I’ve tried everything to counteract them. While some efforts brought temporary relief, nothing stuck. Seeing as they were mostly connected to my period, I cycled through different birth control options. That ended with my tubal ligation (you can read about it here). So when they still circling me like buzzards in the months since then, I decided to throw in the white towel.

I began to look for a primary care physician.

It took some calling around but I was able to get an appointment with a doctor I had seen maybe five years ago. Once the day came and I sat there on the crinkly paper of the exam table, I decided to make another brave move. Not only was I going to tell this doctor about the headaches that I’ve nursed for years, but I was also going to tell him about my depression too.

Part of me felt like a failure. Part of me felt like I was slipping dangerously close into my mother’s shoes. It probably also didn’t help that there was another voice in my head, one that belonged to someone I had once held in high regard, repeating that if I went to a doctor about depression, the doctor would report me to CPS and my children would be taken away.

Here’s the thing. I knew then, just like I know now that statement was a bunch of bullshit. But sometimes when you’re struggling, you go against your intuition. You follow the leader because it’s easier. Look, when you’re struggling just to keep your head above water, you don’t give a damn what direction you’re being towed. And that’s exactly what people who make such comments want. I know a lot about the type of people who corner you into submission for their own gain. They want you weak and powerless.

I am many things, but weak and powerless I am not. And that is what made me stand up for myself and speak my truth to the doctor.

I just told him. I told him about my struggles with headaches and with not feeling worthy. I told him about not being able to sit in brightly lit rooms when my brain decided to turn on me. I told him about my anxiety. I explained how when the pain was bad everything changed to technicolor that blurred like the lights in a 1980s recorded sporting event. I told him how the pain started in my neck then went behind my eye and lodged there like a metal spike.

And he believed me. He didn’t judge me. He didn’t think I was fishing for prescriptions.  He didn’t call CPS and try to take away my kids.

He knew what I was experiencing was real and it was a malfunction of my body and called it by its name. He said it could be treated.

He gave me a diagnosis. In fact, he gave me a few.

And some prescriptions.

And I wasn’t afraid.

I’m not my mother. I’m not held by her standard. I’m not even held by that really bad advice from someone else. I’m my own person. And right now, I need some help. And it just so happens, that help is of the chemistry kind.

The medicines were called in at the pharmacy closest to my house and ready for pick up by the time I got back in town. I started them this morning.

I don’t know if today has been weird because of the introduction of new substances to my body. Or from the weight of unpacking so much of this bullshit. Or from the impending storm (Yes! Another one!!) but it hasn’t been bad. It’s been okay. And I think I’m going to be having more okay days than I have before.

And I’m happy about that.

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Book Review: Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic

It’s time for another book review Dear Readers!

But before I review this book, I want to tell you how I even came to read it.

I was doing that mindless scrolling down my Facebook feed that we all do. You know the type, the not really looking at anything but not paying attention to the outside world either sort of scrolling. It’s a horrible waste of time that could be spent being productive.

One of the post I saw that day was someone talking about Working Conjure by Sen Moise. I don’t remember what page or person it was from but I remember thinking the cover looked pretty neat. And the tagline, “Find your power at the crossroads” tugged my heart a little. I briefly read the summary the person or page had included and made a mental note to try to pick up a copy when I got the chance.

Then my mindless scrolling continued. My day went on from there, taking care of people doing things, you know, the same old grind.

That night, camped out on the couch after an exceptionally tiring day of being a mama, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when once again, I saw the cover of the book. This time it was a different person talking about it and how much they enjoyed it. Though the who’s and what’s escape me now, I remember clearly they were two different people, two different pages both talking about the same book.

Because I’m the type of person who doesn’t (often) have to be told three times, I went back to the computer and ordered a copy of the book, Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic by Hoodoo Sen Moise

 

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It arrived a few days later and I began to read it as soon as I got the wrapper off.

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The book opens with an introductory tale about a day in the life of a Conjure man. It sets the tone for the book early. The author’s voice is personable and clear. It’s like you’re talking to an older family member around a table while you snap peas together. It reminded me of the various “uncles” that used to come around my great grandma’s house when I was a kid, but much more knowledgeable.

The book then jumps right into the meat of the issue. The first chapter answers the question What is Conjure/Hoodoo? thoroughly and with a very common sense approach. The history of Conjure/Hoodoo/Work is talked about as well as the many different aspects to it’s continued following. It’s a quick, insightful, pleasurable read.

The following chapters carry on in the same manner with the author providing personal insight and experiences that get to the heart of the practice. There’s also practical advice and instruction on how to do work. There are instructions for making mojo bags, fixing a candle for separation, a work for a simple cleansing, and a lot more.

Most of these works include the Scripture that is best used for the piece of work. This is something that threw me off a little. And I think that is a purely personal thing. I am not very close to Christianity, even though it was the religion I grew up neck deep in. Sometimes I get to black and white in my thinking.  I not sure why I was surprised at the passages being included. It’s laid out clear as day that Conjure/Hoodoo have elements of Christianity in it. Honestly, it’s feature in the book helped me tackle my own prejudice and dichotomous thinking. I’ve still got a lot to work on when it comes to that, but I think I have a good start.

And speaking of work, one of the most important ideas presented in the book is the idea that your practice is not just reading and thinking. It’s doing. Rootwork is work. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to put yourself out there and be active in your practice. You have to know your roots and know your surroundings. The chapter that goes in depth on the powers that locations have is one of my favorites. Especially the focus on graveyards. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but there are some very good ideas and precautions in the book about doing work in and around graveyards. If you use graveyards ever in your Practice, you need to read these pages. 

The book also talks about spirit work and emphasizes the importance in the connection to our ancestors. This part of the book hit close to home for me. I have been feeling tugged towards finding out more about my ancestors. Its almost like I can feel them calling me but am not quite able to hear it. The reverence this book places on our relationships with those that came before us has inspired me to listen harder and connect better to those whose blood I share.

Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic is a wonderful book. It does something that for me, not a lot of other books do. It gives you the tradition of the work as well as a way to implement it in the present day. And that I think is a perfect balance.

 

 

 

Diverging

I had set the alarm to go off thirty minutes earlier that morning.  I’ve never been one to sleep hard, so I chose a light twinkling sound that would be just enough to wake me up. I gathered the clothes I had laid out beside my side of the bed the night before.

You know how when you’re trying to walk quietly but it sounds like you have tap shoes on your feet? That was my struggle as I walked down the hall. I held my breath as I passed doors with sleeping children behind them.

It wasn’t until I was in the living room that I allowed myself to breathe. I quickly pulled on pants and slipped shoes on my feet. The dog lifted his head from his pillow, decided I wasn’t worth moving for and went back to sleep.  I grabbed my purse and keys from beside the door and quietly locked the door behind me.

I walked to my car in the dark. The day was more than a handful of minutes away. If I could get out of the driveway and on the road before anyone in the house realized I was gone, I’d be okay.

The car was unlocked and started easy. The shifter was stiff as I slid it into reverse and backed out of the driveway. I popped it up into drive and just like that, after all that quietness, I was gone…

To Wal-Mart.

Wait, you thought this was the story of me leaving my family and running off to be a free woman?

Oh no, this is not that story.


This is the story of waking up early to go to Wal-Mart to get cleaning supplies and some cash for yet again another school fee.

Why didn’t I just go to an ATM and get the cleaning spray later, you ask? Because my dumb bank, Bank of ABunchofFuckingIdiots, doesn’t have an ATM in my backassward town.8d1 

And when it comes to service fees I get possessed by Red Forman from That 70s Show. I will go out of my way to keep the $3 ATM fee for trying to get my own money. I shouldn’t have to pay for my own money! Or pay extra for a company to accept my payment online!

 


Now that my rant is over. I’ll be honest with you.

While driving in the dark and quiet of the predawn hours, the idea of leaving did dance in my head. I was a little dazed by how easy the idea came to me and how easy it would have been to execute. I could have just taken the car and all the shit in my purse and just keep going.  I have a phone with Google directions on it, I could have just gone anywhere. In the three-mile trek to the local superstore, my life could have totally changed.

In my life, I’ve seen a number of women who have done this very thing. They’ve uprooted themselves from their lives and just…fucking left. Like just up and, POOF, gone.

Not all of them did it with a car on a dark road. Some did it with a bottle of pills. Some did it with hookups from Craigslist. Some even did it with nothing more than their own ego. They decided one day to separate themselves from their families. And more times than not, they never came back.

And the longer you think about it and the more you tilt your head to change your view, blame becomes hard to stick on them. Being a mother is hard. It’s really fucking hard.

You take your life and you use it, for however many years it takes, to help guide someone else into theirs. You’re on call continuously. Personal time is almost nonexistent. Hell for the first nine months, your body isn’t even yours anymore. Then they spend the next forever coming into the bathroom when you’re trying to pee. The definition of personal time gets changed a whole lot.

The definition of responsibility gets changed too. Because suddenly, you are responsible for so much more than yourself and your path. Mothers are often solely responsible for the upbringing and strategic planning of that upbringing. We sign forms and check temperatures, change diapers and administer medicine. We are the boo boo kissers and the nose wipers. We encourage, discipline, maintain and inspire. And we are expected to do that all the time, as needed, every day.

So the fantasy of wandering out of frame or driving off into the sunset is a real thing. And I for one don’t feel guilty about it.

I would never leave my family. I don’t need to justify my love for them by telling you here that I love them. I would do anything for them. And in a lot of ways, I have. I lost myself in them. I’ve forgotten myself for them. I’ve taken every “right” path even when I didn’t want to or knew it would do me harm. And that’s okay. That’s what my role is. I know what my job requirements are.

But there’s still the feeling sometimes that I’d like to get away. Runaway to somewhere no one knows me by the name of “Mom” and start over. The desire to be wholly independent is sometimes palpable. The hand I got dealt in life had me being a caregiver at a young age. It’s not surprising that by now, three decades into being alive, I want to taste the lightness of being free from caregiving. I’ve been doing it for a very long time. Everyone needs a break.

But life doesn’t afford us those breaks often. And when it does, it pretty much always feels too foreign to enjoy. That’s why the fantasy of taking off and walking away is so tantalizing. It’s our little taste of escape, that when tempered correctly, hurts no one. It’s an indulgence we need to try to keep our wits about us. And with the weight we have to carry constantly, we need that help.


In the life that lies on the other side of the left-hand turn I never take, I am a professional writer. Maybe for VICE, maybe for Rolling Stone. I live in a small apartment with a pug named Deadpool. I have no children, I fill out no school forms, I have no husband. I’m happy, but it’s in a differently shaped way.

Making up the world Alternate Angela lives in does not mean I don’t love where Actual Angela is. I very much do. This life is hard and sometimes unfair. But I don’t want it to be anything but what it is.

No one has better summed up these feelings than everyone’s favorite red haired country singer, Reba McEntire. (And if she isn’t yours, go listen to “Fancy” until she is).

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Hobby Horses

You’re probably wondering why I felt the need to write about a child’s toy. Seeing as I’m surrounded by them constantly, maybe the title leads you to think I am an aficionado. That’s not quite the case.

The only thing I am an aficionado of is messes. So clearly, this is not about stuffed horses heads on sticks.
In this context, hobby horse means a preoccupation or a favorite topic. It’s something you’re excited about, something you’re always thinking and talking about. It is that one thing you devote what little and precious spare time you have to.

For some people, it’s sports. For other’s its music. For some, it’s art or working out, or celebrity gossip. For some weirdos, it’s watching buff dudes in usually small tights throw other buff dudes around.

Whatever it is, whatever spark it lights in your emotions, it’s important. And I’m going to explain why.

I was having a conversation the other day with my #bestwitchforlife (yep, that’s our thing, lol) and she was very excitedly telling me about the beef between Eminem and MGK. Neither one of us are big rap fans, but she was really really into this. And because she was so excited about it, I was too. I spent a good few minutes watching diss videos and reading background info on the situation.

At one point during the conversation, she apologized for being so wrapped up in it. And that was something that got my attention.

Why do we feel the need to apologize for being really excited about something? Why do we feel guilt over our hobby horses?

Everyone has a hobby horse. Like I said earlier, it could be sports or art or vintage talking boards. Sometimes it’s as mellow as gardening and sometimes it’s as loud as motorcycles. We have things that we like and that excites us. So naturally, we want to share this with the people around us. And when we do, we shine. Our excitement and happiness raise us up.

But it seems, that the moment you express it there’s someone standing there ready to tell you how stupid it is. There are naysayers that want to snub out your excitement over something the way they would a cigarette. They don’t want you to enjoy one second of spreading the name of your hobby horse. And I think I know why.

There is a huge amount of society that has no desire to see someone else succeed. And that’s because they feel inadequate. They might say they want you to do and be good, but what they really mean is they want you not to be better than them.

It’s not even business or monetary success they are jealous over. It’s that shine. That feeling you get when you’re excited with the pleasure of your hobby horse. When you’ve brushed it and watered it and gotten it all saddled up to go. That’s when they reach out like a viper and strike it down.

Dull people, those without a shine, often try to find a way to make themselves better than those of us that shine. It’s a way for them to distract from the fact that they don’t have something to shine about. But like putting lipstick on a pig, it does nothing to cover up the fact that they are sad people.

Some of us have been so inundated by the reactions (or in some cases, the none reactions) of those around us who want to snuff the shine, that we keep our hobby horses in their stables. We feed and water them still, but we only let them out when we’re alone. We devote time to them, but only undercover. So when something happens and that hobby horse shows up in conversation, we are quick to shoo it away, put it back in the closet. The pain of getting manure thrown on your shine radiants long after the incident.

And I think that is one of the greatest travesties of our time. We are made to feel that we can’t share our passions, of any degree. We must dampen ourselves because our excitement offends those who don’t shine at all.

There is no guilt in being a fan. There is no guilt in being passionate about something. There is no guilt in being slightly obsessed with something.

Read the books, watch the sports, get lost in the juicy slices of celebrity beef.

Our time on Earth is limited to just a handful of years. We must be the ones who decide how we spend it. Hard drugs and acts of violence and cruelty aside, there is no wrong way to live your life. There is also no right way. There’s just your way.

So keep on shining.

Bumping Your Nose Against the Glass: Thoughts on Caregiving, Being Strong, and Self Care

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Don’t those words sound pretty?

They sound pretty in that behind the glass at a jewelry store type of way.

You see them sparkle. They draw you in close. But before you know it, you’re bumping your face on an invisible barrier that keeps you from reaching them. Over and over you try to break through. If only you could touch one, hold one for a moment, you know you’ll feel worlds better. But you can’t. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t reach. The only thing you can feel is that enlarging hole in your self worth and a busted, bloody face.

That’s the major struggle of being a caregiver.

For many caregivers, they have one job and one job only. It’s an all consuming position that has little to no time for that pretty concept called self-care. Their one job is being strong.
I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s when Strong Man competitions were popular on TV. Early morning or late at night, on one of the seemingly endless ESPNs, there would be big muscle dudes pulling or picking up big heavy things. And wrestling. Oh my word, there was so much wrestling in the late 80s and 90s that my little eyes couldn’t look away. Those sports helped me to develop an idea of what being strong meant.

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To young sports entertainment fan I was, being strong was being able to do things with your body. Being “strong” was being able to work through the pain to make changes. Even if the changes were moving a giant tire or body slamming a giant man. Being strong was a purely physical thing.

After years as a caregiver,

I’ve learned just how wrong that thought was.

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Being strong is watching your loved one become sick, and knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Being strong is knowing that no matter how much you accomplish, there will always be something else that needs to be done.

Being strong is waking up at all hours, making serious decisions on an unholy lack of sleep.

Being strong is bathing someone who can not bathe themselves.

Being strong is watching the words and phrasing you use to keep your loved from one feeling like they are worthless. It’s remembering they are more than an illness. It’s dressing their emotional wounds along with their physical ones.

Being strong is offering a shoulder to cry on and an arm to lean on, physically and emotionally. It’s being a sponge for the emotions someone won’t or can’t handle.

Being strong is balancing appointments and medications, checkbooks and utilities. It’s knowing what food you can make a meal out of and what type of soap to buy.

Being strong is standing during the storms of emotions and the tidal waves of unhealthy words because sometimes your loved one has been reduced so low that they are not who they once were.

HOWEVER

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Being strong is also saying enough is enough.

Being strong is not feeding into someone’s negativity

Being strong is providing recommendations instead of solutions to someone’s problems.

Being strong sometimes is saying “No.”

Being strong is taking action to patch your own sails when the winds of another have left them battered.

Being strong is practicing the dirty parts of self care. Self care is as ugly as it is brutal. But there’s strength in that pain. There’s a beauty in breaking what you think is yourself to clear the path for a better you.

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I have been strong.

But at the same time, I have not been strong.

I have often taken on the weight of the world when I should not have accepted it.

I have willingly placed myself in pain to help others feel less. I have not been able to tell someone when their actions have hurt me. I have not been able to take a step back, even when it was vital.

I tell you all this not as a pat on the back. I am not saying I’ve done these things to make myself a martyr. I do not need recognition for my actions. So many women in my life have worn a crown made of bitterness and passive aggression and asked to be praised for it. I do not want that weight on my head. I do not want heads bowed at my feet.

What I want is to be accountable for my actions. The ones that are good for others and the ones that are good for me. I want to be strong enough to do both. I want to breathe without having to make sure there is room. I want to put roots down and have a bit of the sun too.

I don’t have a plan.

I have a desire. A necessity.

I’ve read about it, I’ve written about it. The stars as my guide, dammit, it’s now time to live it.

All I’ve been doing is window shopping lately.

And I’m tired of bumping my nose against this glass.

 

 

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

When Dinosaurs Ruled The World

In the summer of ‘93, I was an eight-year-old jorts wearing tomboy, covered in mosquito bites and baseball caps. I spent most of that summer playing in the dirt at my great grandma’s house. It had been a weird year for me. I was a year or so removed from a near catastrophic knee injury (remember kids, don’t ride double on a moped. Not even with your dad), my sister was a toddler and my mother was dealing with an impending hysterectomy. It was a very confusing time. In the chaos that all of that brought, I found solace in three things. Baseball, pro wrestling, and dinosaurs.

 

And 1993 was a very, very good year to love dinosaurs.

 

The commercials for the movie started earlier in the year. Water rippling in colossal footprints, talons through metal gates and the now iconic clip of a young girl shining a giant flashlight into a dilating pupil of something huge and monstrous. I was hooked. I was feverish. I don’t think, outside my family and my little mutt puppy, there was anything I loved more. Without really knowing much about the movie, or any movie really, I knew I had to go. I had to see it.

Pretty soon, my closest cousin was in on the excitement. We’d spend hours reenacting the trailer over and over each time adding a little bit more. We’d trampled through our great grandma’s woods for hours searching for dinosaur bones and pretending the chickens were velociraptors. The briars and kudzu were toxic plants from another age. Smashed elderberries were our blood stains as we battled imagined terrible beasts.

 

When we finally made it to the local cinema (which teenaged me would nickname “The Enema”  much later) we were beyond ready. We paid our nominal fee, grabbed some over buttered popcorn and sat in the darkness.

 

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The next 2 hours and 7 minutes would change my life. 

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And not all of that change was because of the prehistoric beast in the story. Even my eight-year-old brain understood how different this movie was. Yes, it had special and practical effects galore.  But it also had female characters doing the heavy lifting. It had eccentric weirdo-nerds saving the day by loving their craft openly and out loud.

Ellie Sattler was never a damsel in distress. She was a woman of science. Even though she was in a relationship with Grant, she was his equal. Her knowledge was her own. It wasn’t built around her connections. Her bravery, courage, and intelligence made her a hero. She was brave not only in dealings with the dinosaurs on the island but also with the hubris of the males around her.

 

Lex Murphy wasn’t a clueless little rich girl. She was a hacker daredevil that helped reset the park and ensure the group’s survival. Yeah, she screamed a lot, but who the hell wouldn’t? She was also a woman of morals. Even the in the midst of the worst event of her life, she stuck to her beliefs in vegetarianism. If I were being chased by hungry carnivores, I’d probably want to rip some meat apart solely out of spite. She was loyal to herself and her family, biological and collective.

 

Ian Malcolm was more than a sweet talker in a leather jacket. He was like the 007 of chaos theory. He was cool, he was suave, he was unapologetic. He made math and being a geek sexy. He was also unbending in his opinions. He was unafraid of the fat cats with deep purses. He constantly viewed his truth as being more worthy than monetary gain. And he was right.

 

Jurassic Park inspired me in ways I don’t think I fully understood until much later. It strengthened my desire to do well in what years later would be touted as the STEM field. Because of how important math, science, and tech was in that movie, it pushed me to focus on those avenues and go further. Even on an elementary school level, I knew that if I wanted to actually become a paleobotanist, I was going to have to focus on math and science. Math was a struggle for me when I was younger. But that one night at the theater (and many, many Blockbuster rentals) showed me how important that struggle was.

 

That night, watching that movie, changed my young life. The next year at school I was placed in the gifted and talented program.
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Now let’s jump 25 years forward.

33 year old me is standing in the same theater (now known only as “The Enema” in my mind) with my just turned 10-year-old son going to see the latest in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. We grab popcorn and soda and take the same outdated cushioned seats that I sat on in my single digit years.

 

Everything in the theater is almost the same as it was a quarter of a century before. The curtains covering the walls were still dark, but I’m not sure whether it was from age or dust. The seats were squeaky and uncomfortable, from hundreds of butts spending hundreds of hours of movie escapism in them. The popcorn was still less than grand, but still not quite as overpriced as the mega cinemas out of town. The ticket prices are still incredibly low, even with the dollar increase. (“All shows before 6, all seats, $4”). The No Smoking sign was still there but it now read No Texting. It was the very same place with just a slight timeline shift.

 

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To celebrate his tenth year of life, the Not So Little Anymore Guy and I were going to watch some dinosaurs. He had seen the other Jurassic Park movies, but not in the theater. I hoped that the magic I felt as a young person would still be in there for him. I hoped that the movie would inspire him the same way its predecessor had inspired me. I wanted him to see the connection between absolute badassery and science. I wanted those strong characters that showed him there was no need to fit into any one stereotype. You can be this AND that at the same time.

 

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Instead, we got a disaster movie full of generic bad guys, flat characters, and jump scares. It just didn’t have the same magic that the first movie had for me. I don’t think he came away from the movie wanting to jump into science or to study dinosaurs. He was excited, he had a great time, but in the five minutes or so drive home (small towns for the win), he was pretty much over it. The movie was all fluff and no filler. There was no meat on those bones dancing around under all that dino CGI. It’s not one of those things where I expected him to be moved the same way I was at his age. I wanted him to have his own experience and I had great hope it would be wonderful.  I just expected the movie makers to do better. I miss the heart that the original movie had. Maybe I’m looking back with nostalgia in my eyes. Maybe we live in a time where it’s easier to produce thousands of frames of computer generation instead of sustainable storylines. I don’t know. It’s like the whole movie felt like a glass of soda after being left out all night.
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I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t have fun and enjoy him grabbing for my hand when a there was a surprising swerve. I did. I loved seeing the movie with him so much. I know how special that moment was, for both of us. In a handful of years, he’s going to be a teenager. I will probably, at least for a short moment in time, not be his favorite person. Soon, I will be the out of place dinosaur, living in an era not my own.  And that’s ok! That’s how things are supposed to work.
This trip to the movies, just the two of us, will be memorable forever. The experience of us giggling to each other after a sudden scare or whisper-yelling that the old lady down front needs to get off her phone will forever be recorded in my heart as something significant. Shared moments always are. The movie may have lacked the importance that its predecessor had for me, but the event of seeing it with my son was worth so much more.
I wouldn’t trade it for all the money spent on special effects in all the Jurassic Park movies.
I never became the paleobotanist that I dreamed of becoming. I never became a computer hacker or a chaotician or any type of person of science. I became a mom. And while I’m not bringing the stories of the past to life for another try at existence, I am trying to make a path for the future by loving my kids the way they need to be. And if that’s by having special moments watching less than stellar films, then I’ll gladly go see the next five Jurassic Park/World movies.
Dinosaurs ruled the world once. Soon the same will be said of us humans. We shouldn’t expect every generation to be motivated and inspired by the same things.

Life, after all, finds a way.

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Summer Status Report

In my neck of the woods, it is totally and officially Summer.

It’s hot, it’s humid, and for our family, both school and work are out.

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The 9-year-old is now officially done with 4th grade and will be starting his last year of elementary school when classes resume. He will also be hitting double digits in a handful of days. This is a progression of time that I am thankful for and utterly scared of. The “easy years” (that honestly were never “easy”) are now officially over. If we get through this upcoming year, and he will even if we have to crawl through glass, middle school is on the horizon.

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The 5-year-old is on his last summer before his school adventure begins. Kindergarten awaits him in the Fall. (Sidenote: Why do we say “in the Fall” but these kids start school in August? There ain’t shit about August that can be called Fall.) Every time I think of his little face and bright eyes going off into the wilds of education I get that feeling you get when you’re at the very top of the biggest hill on a roller coaster. It’s exciting but I’m kind of worried I’m going to pee my pants.

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The 3-year-old is dealing with her brothers getting older and the likelihood that very soon, she’s going to be the only one home. And for as fiercely independent she tries to be, the relationships she has with them are her world. In typical Three-anger fashion, she both loves them and often wants nothing to do with them. She wants to be the special much loved little sister but dear gods, don’t you dare call her baby. That’s a fighting word. And trust me, she can scrap.

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The husband has been on an illness related reprieve from work. He’s got tons of doctor’s visits and goings to and fro on over the next few months. He is taking the right steps to deal with his illness and utilizing every avenue to find them. I am auxiliary in his care. While we’re clearly a team in getting through this, I’m more Robin than Batman. Maybe even more Alfred than Robin. I keep the wheels greased and the machine functioning while he fries those bigger fish.

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As for myself, let’s do a little visualization. Since I’m painfully afraid of clowns, think of one of those juggling, painted faced, multicolour pantsuited bastards on a unicycle. But wait that’s not all! This clown happens to be juggling ceramic statues while pedalling his little one-wheeled contraption of death on an uneven stone floor. All the time, every day, that’s how I feel. Sometimes I make it through the performance with my eyeliner in place and all the figurines in their original shape. Most times, however, I’m spending the night glueing them back together while wearing day old racoon eyes.

I have been making some changes for myself between those haphazard feats of balance. Having the husband around to watch the kids allows me the chance to go do things without the little ones in tow. So far, I’ve found a local (country mile type local) metaphysical store and started the process to change my birth control to a more permanent option.

Both are exciting in their own way.  First, not being dependant on hormonal birth control will be AMAZING for me in so many ways. I’m well past my baby making time.  And secondly, having a nearby shop full of like-minded folks and spiritual goodies is so handy. I look forward to attending events and even networking a bit. Socially, I’m a bit of a hermit. Working on that that will be beneficial to everyone. They both have to do with parts of me I’ve been slack on keeping up on. I haven’t really been to the doctor since I had the last kiddo. My spiritual self has been equally glossed over. I’ve been taking great care to maintain, but sometimes maintenance is in order. That’s what I’m taking care of now.

I’m slowly moving events from “interested” to “going”. And for me, that’s huge. I’m actually starting to DO the things instead of overthinking all the things. Take this post for example. It’s taken me most of the day, dropping sentences in those spaces between errands, but here it is. Instead of thinking how nice it would sparkle once it was done, I started it. I worked on it. I created it. And now here I am and here it is. While some of this fluttering in my damp wings is from determination, a lot of it is from the support and love of those in my circle. It’s gotten pretty small over the years, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t the absolute best.

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I don’t want to tag this Summer with some cliche (even though I love them) title. It’s not My Summer or The Summer It All Comes Together. It’s even not the beginning of a revolutionary tale where the heroine finds herself in the midst of domestic chaos. It is simply going to be a summer. Whether it’s a summer of legend or something we hardly remember, it is what it is.

We’ll sweat, we’ll be lazy, and we’ll have fun. We’ll also be grumpy, busy, and bored. The Summer will roll on and the Sun will still shine.

I’m going to sit by the AC and try to chill out while it happens.

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Windows Down

In this part of the Carolinas, Summer comes hard and fast.

You see, our Winters aren’t that deep. We don’t dip below the freezing mark enough for it not to be first alert news when it happens. Our Springs are barely a handful of weeks worth of stretching in preparation for the long run that is Summer.

This year, by the end of May, Summer had taken root. The first week of June saw highs in the low 90s and humidity well over 50%. It was like it was going to be for at least the next four months, hot.

It was during that week that I had a rare solo trip out. This trip was the kind of event that house locked stay at home parents look forward to. The kind where you’re running benign errands, but you’re doing them ALONE. No kids, no pets, no significant other. Just you and your to-do list. The kind where you can hear your own thoughts for a change. Not just the unending ramblings of the ones you hold dearest. Cause while you love them, sometimes you love the quiet a little bit more.

Since I was alone this day and was set to be in the car for a while instead of turning on the car’s air conditioner, I rolled the windows down. And much like the advice in a poorly written Country song, I turned the radio up. My solo jam session had begun.

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Uninhibited by the roar of the wind and the thump of the bass, I sang. I sang and sang and slowly, every drop of my build up emotions were loosened. I don’t fancy myself a performer in the slightest, but there in my car speeding towards a routine everyday thing, I was something on display.

The phone cut into the music when my husband called. I told him to hold on while I rolled up the windows.

“Wait, why aren’t you running the AC? It’s hot as shit.”

In my head, I could see his face wrinkle when he asked this. One of his eyes becoming smaller than the other from the effort of trying to figure me out. We’ve been married 13 years, he wears this look frequently.

“I dunno, I like having the window down.”

I didn’t dare try to explain my thinking that it’s cheaper to have the windows down. Or my theory that going ten over the speed limit makes up for the air being hotter outside than what the car’s AC would throw. True, it was warmer, but there was more movement, more excitement, more to get lost in. The regurgitated air of the AC would have felt nice. It would have prevented the line of sweat that dampened the back of my shirt. But it wouldn’t have opened my soul like the windows down music up combo did.

“You’re still broke Angela from Buford.”

There was no malice in his statement. It was a teasing truth mentioning the backwoods community I grew up in.  Even though I’m at a place in my life where I have comforts I couldn’t have even dreamt of as a teen, I often revert back to the behaviors of my dirt road, poor as shit younger self.

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It’s more than just coupon cutting and discount shopping.(Which, don’t get me wrong, I love. RetailMeNot is bookmarked and thrift stores are life) Like many people who grow up in poverty, chasing escapism became an important part of my life. Not being well off enough for video games and too athletic and clumsy for sports, music was my path of choice.

Every song was a story and through them, I got to live. I knew heartache and struggle. I knew friendship and fun times. I knew love, loss, and a little bit of Jesus. I even knew a boy named Sue. When I got older, the flavor of the music changed. I learned the words for rage sounded a lot like guitars. I learned that a bass beat could speak for my heart. I learned the delicate art of screaming four-letter words without breaking the glass cage around you.

So many times, the only place I could find peace was in the car with the windows down and music blaring. It was there I was able to pull myself out of the ocean of responsibility that I was expected to swim and look at the skyline from the shore. The volume pushed the cheap factory speakers to their buzzing brink and the wind wove my hair in knots that would take hours to undo. But it didn’t matter. Those small annoyances were worth their cost for the small taste of freedom.

So now, a decade or so removed, when I do get the chance, not much has changed. I still drive with the windows down instead of using the air conditioner. I still sing with my horribly out of tune voice at the top of my lungs. It might not be popular amongst my fellow drivers, it such as hell meaningful to me.

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My circumstances are not the same as they once were. I am not the same as I once was. My quest for escapism is now of a different variety. I no longer have to quest to escape the pain of an abusive, restrictive environment. My dashes into rebellion are now to find the person I lost under all this caregiver garb.

The situations have changed but the songs, the roads, and the heat of Summer have all stayed the same.

Featured Photos by William Krause  and Luigi Manga on Unsplash