Slippery When Wet – Photo Friday
During our Farewell Tour of Puerto Rico,
we spent a family day fishing in San Juan
with a company called Magic Tarpon.
We had an amazing day and even caught a fish or two!
I cling to him, feeling the slippery slope of time catching up to me as the ticks on my watch drum in my ears like a tribal rain dance circling round my brain. If only I could freeze time and force it to turn around and head back in the opposite direction, even if it is against oncoming traffic. I know this is a route he is all too familiar with as he has spent his life on a similar road, always heading in the wrong direction, dodging incoming obstacles. It wasn’t always like this for us. There was a time when we traveled a different road, one smoothly paved with stones of hopes and promises. The uphill challenges on that road seem like small bumps compared to the mountainous climb that is his life now. I hold on tight savoring the hug, not knowing when I will have the opportunity to experience it again. My only thought being that it is the kind of lasting hug I will revisit time and again in the future, when he is out of my reach once more. It is the kind of hug that also makes me revisit the day I officially lost him.
I found him in his room. The youngest of three, he was the only one left with a room at home. As I approached, trying to connect words of comfort I didn’t believe existed, I realized he was putting on a shield of armor I would find impossible to break through. As he tied his green apron strings and adjusted his name tag, the look in his eyes showed turmoil more akin to a battle weary soldier than a nineteen year old stock boy. As my sister and I carried on with our distant lives in other states, my brother had lived the daily nightmare of slowly losing the man we all thought invincible, our father. He said he wished he could just go to work like normal…like none of this was happening. My heart understood his wish more than he would ever know. Still, I couldn’t let him leave as panic swelled within me and the minute hand ticked on the black cat clock on the wall, left over from our younger years and more innocent times.
I did what I thought was right at the time. I somehow convinced my little brother to stay and face our nightmare with the rest of us, and within a couple of hours of being home our father looked around him and took in each and every face in that room including my brother’s. He asked our mother if all his loved ones were there and when she reassured him they were, he took a deep breath and finally went home. I hugged my brother, grateful he had stayed by our side.
I would like to say that was the end of our nightmare, but for my brother it was the beginning of something much worse. For the next twenty-one years he has lived behind bars with visitation rights that are never long enough, and in a cell that doesn’t often see the light. He is trapped in darkness. Of his own making or mine?
You see, the day my brother stayed and witnessed our father’s death he died along with him. Gone was the nineteen year old stock boy who played basketball with his headphones on because to choose between the two things that gave him the most joy wasn’t possible. Gone was the son who took pride in handing over the earnings of a grocery store employee to help with the bills at home. Gone was the light in his eyes. When I look into his eyes now I still see the turmoil of that fateful day and no medication has ever been able to erase it. So…I find comfort in revisiting these hugs, for it is the only reminder of the person I once knew.
Today, I’m featured over at Our Life Songs a non-profit organization designed to inspire, heal and motivate women who are struggling with disease, depression, anxiety and other difficult issues. I am honored to be a part of such a worthy mission. Please take a moment to visit them.
I sat across from her unable to take my eyes away, entranced by the weathered hands whose long, slender fingers wrapped around the tiny gold cross hanging on her neck. She slid it side to side, left to right, over and over again and I was mesmerized by the repetitive motion. I watched the cross swing on its matching gold chain at times of its own volition, others with a purpose it seemed only she understood. Much time would pass before I understood the meaning of it, not the meaning of the man who died on a much larger scale of the small cross, rather what it meant to the woman who loyally wore it.
As a little girl, I found myself looking for the hint of gold against her chest each time I visited. I walked closer to greet her, my eyes searched for it. As she held me at arm’s length, steps before I reached her, commenting on how much I had grown since the last time she saw me, I looked for it. Younger still, I can recall my small hands reaching for it as she held me in her lap and rocked me to sleep. She never pulled it out of my grasp the way other adults yanked things out of reach of a young toddler for fear of destruction. Instead, she let me soothe myself to sleep, my tiny fingers rubbing the gold until I drifted off into peaceful slumber.
Through the years, it was always there. And, as I got older I noticed she not only held onto it during the happiest of times as though thanking the Lord for all he had blessed her with but also in the saddest of times like when we learned of my father’s cancer diagnosis. She held it as she watched her daughter, my mother, absorb the news. And, as she watched my mother I watched her as the pain in my mom’s eyes reflected in her own. I leaned forward a bit as though in so doing I would be able to make out her plea as her lips moved in unison with the motion of the swaying cross. Back and forth, left and right, over and over again she slid the cross, her lips rapidly moving in a whispered prayer.
At those times, she seemed to wrap her fingers around it a little tighter, begging for it to provide more. More what?
Strength? Hope? Faith?
I would sense the urgency in the way she held the cross, and desperately slid it back and forth on its chain. By then, the once smooth skin it had rested upon when I was a child, was now etched with line upon line – each representing her walk of faith, her life’s journey. At times, the lines intersected on her wrinkled skin. I sat and wondered if perhaps there were paths that led her to other paths, each presenting a trial she was meant to endure, an experience that would shape the woman she became. Some lines seemed to have no direction, no beginning and no end, as though they consisted of choices left unmade or decisions changed at a certain point in time. However, it was clear to me even then that each line told a bit of her story, perhaps, because I can’t recall an occasion when I didn’t see it on her.
My grandmother always had it on her person, close to her heart and often reached for it. I think it kept her grounded, a constant reminder of her faith and something greater than her in this world.
Years later, as I entered the hospital room and approached the bed in which she was taking her last breath, my eyes immediately searched for the tiny gold cross. At that point, I needed the strength it always seemed to bring her. I needed the feeling of peace I had seen on her face after she held that symbol of faith in her hands time after time. As I looked at her chest where the hospital gown was pushed back a bit to reveal a hint of gold, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. The lines were now many, blanketing her body like a road map of sorts and I like to think that’s exactly what they were. A road map of her life, her experiences, but most importantly her undying faith. And as I reached for the tiny gold cross that had become a symbol of comfort in my young eyes, I realized that it was so much more than that. Seeing it now through the eyes of a woman, I understood what it meant to my grandmother and in my times of doubt, during moments of desperation, I find myself holding the tiny cross that sits close to my own heart. I can’t help but pray that in the end my life’s road map is as beautifully etched as hers.
They came to this country with only the clothes on their back and a light of hope in their hearts that the strongest gust of wind couldn’t extinguish. They walked away from all they knew for the promise of freedom. They left it all behind for visions of a better future for themselves, but more importantly for their children. Those brave souls made huge sacrifices for myself and my siblings, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for them…my parents. As with anything or anyone we leave behind, no longer accessible to us, we don’t fully bid farewell. We still carry with us a little something that will remind us of times we will never again experience.
My parents may have bid farewell to their homes, their families and friends, and the island they called home, but they held on to their language, clothing themselves in it like a well-worn pair of jeans, slipping into it and feeling the comfort of the fabric as it wrapped them in the many memories of their history and home. While my parents learned the English language of their new country, in our home, we were encouraged to speak our native language. Around the dinner table, we slipped into it easily without even realizing it. At family gatherings, children and grown ups alike easily conversed in the Spanish sounds of a faraway land.
I may not have understood my parents adamant rules on embracing our native language, but nowadays I see things clearly. Being fully bilingual has opened doors for me in many areas of my life from career opportunities to lifelong friendships. I can easily slip from English to Spanish and back again in the blink of an eye, often amazing those around me with the ease in which I do so and begging the question, “Do you think in the language you speak or do you think in one language and translate in your mind before speaking?” To answer the question, I think in Spanish when I speak in Spanish. I think in English when I speak in English. There’s no rhyme or reason to my language of choice. I prefer to read in English rather than Spanish. I more often dream in English than I do in Spanish. However, when I pray I find I slip easily into a Spanish conversation with God…possibly because I was taught to pray in Spanish. My conversations with my mom are conducted in Spanish more often than English.
An article titled, How Speaking Two Languages Can Improve Your Brain, at About.com discusses this in further detail. According to a growing body of research, not only does speaking two languages not confuse people or slow their learning in other areas, it may actually improve your brain—carrying benefits that go far beyond communication. According to Ellen Bialystok, an internationally known psychologist and distinguished research professor at York University in Toronto, there is overwhelming evidence that being truly bilingual—speaking two languages and using them regularly—will improve your brain. For bilingual people, both languages are “always on,” always active in their brains, no matter which language they are speaking at the moment.
All scientific research aside, I am grateful my parents encouraged me to embrace our native language. I have personally witnessed those who believe everyone should speak English as it is the universal language, and frown upon those who don’t. I have personally experienced people being offended when they do not understand a conversation being conducted near them, in a language they do not understand. Thanks to my parents, when I am around someone speaking their native language, I keep in mind that those words may be the only familiar thing they still carry with them. It may be the only remnant of their homeland, helping them keep their history alive while they make a new home and create a new history in a foreign land. And, I remember what it feels like to slip into my favorite pair of well-worn jeans, the comfort they provide, each tear a memory that no amount of fading can completely erase.
If you are bilingual, do you think in one language and translate to another
or do you think in the language you speak?
Happy 12th Birthday, Olivia!
Dear Olivia Rose,
Twelve years ago you entered the world and as I held you in my arms and looked into your eyes, I once again voiced the many promises I had been whispering for months as I gently rubbed my growing belly. I promised to always love you with all my heart. I promised you would never be alone in this great big, complicated world of ours. I promised to love you unconditionally, and I promised to guide you on your life’s journey in the best way I know how.
You are turning into an amazing young girl full of wonder and imagination, full of compassion and love, full of hopes and dreams. In all the promises I’ve made to you, the one thing I couldn’t promise – I can’t promise – is to shield you from the doubts and fears the world will create in you.
When we take our long walks on the beach, both in awe of the amazing untouched beauty that surrounds us, I often wish I could keep you in this protective bubble of endless sea, a world in which human nature and life experiences can’t dull your spirit.
However, if I did that there is so much you would miss out on, so I shall continue to walk by your side through all that is in store for you – walking ahead when you need guidance and falling behind when you need to face the world on your own. I do promise to always remain present on your walk, understanding it is your walk and your walk alone, and all I can do is offer my love and my wisdom.
As you continue to grow and mature, my hope is that you walk through life the way you walk along the shores, eagerly searching for sea glass. I hope you never lose your sense of adventure, always imagining possibilities beyond anyone’s expectations or jaded views. I hope you comb the earth for hidden treasures and view the world as a vessel of sea glass waiting to be discovered. Each person you cross paths with a treasure, whether they’ve been smoothly polished from tumbling around or a bit rough around the edges. Each has something to offer you. Do not be quick to discard them.
As you travel, I hope you embrace the many colors you will encounter on your walk and understand the world isn’t always black and white. I hope you learn the lesson intended for you when you expectantly reach for a piece only to be hurt by its sharp point. Learn the lesson and move on. Do not let it stop you from continuing to search for the beauty that lies in wait. Never give up hope. Sometimes the most beautiful pieces are buried a bit under a layer of sand. Do not be afraid to dig a little deeper. There will be times when facing your fear of what lies down the path you are on is the bravest thing you will do. The reward will be great and the experience the greatest treasure you will ever uncover.
As I walk a few steps behind you, I can’t help but hope that you will always see yourself through my eyes because I see a beautiful young girl both inside and out with so much to offer this world. I see an intelligent young girl who is practical and wise beyond her years, but also one who refuses to close her mind to a carefree world of imagination and possibility.
My hope for you is that you never let the obstacles that lay in your path change you, but mostly that you take your time and treasure your walk one step at a time.
And, whenever you find yourself needing company, know that I’m always up for a walk.
It was the summer of 1970 when a little boy was born to a young couple in Atlanta, Georgia. His name was chosen to honor another young boy who gave his life for our country. On that day, as one boy came into the world to parents filled with hopes and dreams for his life, another young boy’s parents had already laid their little boy to rest as a Vietnam Veteran…burying their own hopes and dreams.
Neither ever got to meet the other, yet that little boy grew to become one of the most patriotic men I know. His love for our country and his passion for our history make me proud to stand by his side as we instill the same passion and love for the United States of America in our own children and continue to honor the boy he was named after.
In honoring his name, we honor all those who chose to fight for our freedom. In honoring his name, we honor all those who suited up before him and entered the battlefield. In honoring his name, we honor all those who walked before him, those who protect us today, and those who will choose to follow in their footsteps. Each and every one of these young men and women may not share the same name on their birth certificate or their dog tags, but they do share a name we should never fail to honor…Soldier.
May you each enjoy your Memorial Day and thank a soldier this weekend!
This is the post that made me dance and scream around the living room last week when I received the email that I had been selected as a 2014 BlogHer VOTY. California here I come! I am honored to be among some amazing talent and will be counting down the days until the conference in July. Scroll down for more VOTY posts worth your time!
History Of The World Part 2
It was the kind of day when the weather suggests you enjoy the outdoors, warm enough to ditch the heavy coats of winter and the restrictions they provide. Yet as I walked down the streets of Washington, DC, I held tight to a light sweater as I felt a cool breeze in the air. It really was one of those perfect days to sit under a tree, blanket spread with picnic regalia in all its splendor, and a good book in hand. I, however, lost all thoughts of the outdoors and the call of nature, as I stepped through the doors to the dome-shaped building which encapsulates the yesterdays and the tomorrows of our nation’s history.
With each step I took upon the tiled floors, tiny squares of intricate designs, I couldn’t help but think of all those whose footsteps graced these halls since 1793. How many men and women eagerly entered this meeting place of the nation’s legislature, with hopes of not only leaving their footprints on these tiles but their imprint on our country? If I listened closely, I could almost hear the intellectual and political discussions, words floating up and around the painted dome with its mythological and historical impressions, secrets being whispered among the collection of American art gracing the walls.
For hundreds of years life changing decisions have been made amid the half circle of desks in the Senate gallery and throughout this building, behind closed doors and in the presence of those whose job it is to record it for our history books. The circular theme of the building a constant reminder of how history repeats itself no matter how hard we try to avoid it, coming back full circle in another attempt to teach us the lessons we didn’t grasp the first time. There is a reason buildings such as this one are preserved at all costs. They hold our history and they hold our future.
I felt honored to walk the same path as these leaders who have shaped our nation, to sit in the very seats they sat in, to admire the artistic details on walls and ceilings and look out the windows at the same panoramic views their eyes have also seen, to stand in awe of the majestic statues of American Presidents stoically keeping watch on the history they once created.
I also couldn’t help but feel small and insignificant in this magnificent rotunda, the symbol of the American people and our government. And yet, as I looked through my camera lens at my family, positioned in the exact center of this magnanimous building something else came into focus. I saw my history and my future in their smiles. I saw my husband and I in our first home shortly after being handed the keys, slow dancing in our socks in the living room to the music in our hearts. I saw my children’s peaceful looks as I rocked them back to sleep in their nurseries night after night. I saw us teaching our children to read, to ride a bike, to tie their shoes, to love, and to live. The truth is, life changing decisions occur in our homes every day. Lessons are taught and history is written. Our homes hold our history and hold our future. Each lesson we pass down to our children, each kind word we utter to our family, each impression we make upon someone else is a step in shaping their future, our future, and ultimately our nation’s future. As I headed out past the towering statues of George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, and the many others who have shaped our present, I couldn’t help but be reminded that each of their stories began at home.
My fellow Honorees In the Exploration category:
Amy Mcvay Abbott from The Broad Side for Leaning Ugly
Africadayz for For Ian: An Ordinary Saturday
Angelle Bonnecarrere from She Drives a Vegetable Car for Once Upon a Time in New York
Yuvika Chaube from My Musings for A Letter to the Previous Owner of My Mobile Number
Chris from Campfires and Cleats for Always Hope: The Soldier in the Snapshot
Debra Cole from Urban Moo Cow for Introduction to Eating Disorders
Dalene from hecKtic travels for Death Camp
Natalie DeYoung from The Cat Lady Sings for The Art of Holding Back
Shannon Duffy from Deepest Worth for Shining Through
Cheryl Dumesnil from VillageQ for “I Just Want to Be Like Everyone Else”
Anita Finlay from Anita Finlay for WW II Female War Heroes Deserve to Have Their Stories Told
Gretchen from Second Blooming for Spin Cycle: Haunted Hollywood
Rachel Haas from Dramatic Elegance for To the Men from a Jesus Feminist
Christine Harkin from Naptime Writing for Is That Manic or Depressive?
Kinnary from The Mango Cage for Sunday 29th December
Kylie from The Life of Kylie for When You Were My Age
Elora Nicole from Elora Nicole for Let’s Be Writers
Grayson Queen from Posting Tuesdays for Portrait of a Diabeti
Rara Queen from Rarasaur for I Was Small
Jess Severson from Don’t Mind the Mess for Women, Infants and Children
Kristi Campbell from Finding Ninee receives the People’s Choice Award for Exploration for Sometimes, I’m Maybe Not Myself. By My Maybe Autistic Son.
A few more honorees, you should definitely check out!
Michelle Lewson from They Call Me Mummy for The Ugliest Doll in the Shop
Vikki Claflin from Laugh Lines for Doctor, Can You Give Me a Lift?
Marcia Kester Doyle from Menopausal Mother for 10 Reasons Why I Love Menopause
Linda Roy from Elleroy Was Here for While the Iron’s Hot
Aussa Lorens from Hacker.Ninja.Hooker.Spy for 7 Ways Your Life Is Like High School
Darcy Perdu from So Then … Stories for My SECRET Accomplishment
Stephanie Sprenger from Mommy, for Real for My Beautiful Girls: Raising Feminist Daughters
The last few weeks this true story has come up on more than one occasion, so I thought I would dust it off and share it once more. Enjoy!
The sound of the waves, the sand beneath his feet, the warm ocean breeze were all a part of him, ingrained into his very soul. He was a true island boy, climbing palm trees in the blink of an eye to retrieve a coconut, catching fish with his homemade spear in the most primitive manner. It was the only manner he had ever learned…not from his father, as he had never met the man who had given him life. His mother never spoke of him. He carried his questions in his little heart, the one place they couldn’t cause the fleeting glimpse of pain he sometimes saw in her eyes…the pain she thought she hid so well.
He studied the only photo of his father he possessed, memorizing every detail. Even when he closed his eyes he could still see the way his father looked in his uniform, the way he slightly leaned into his military jeep as though someone had caught him on his way somewhere. Where was he going? Who held the camera that provided the only piece of the puzzle that was his life, his story? He held the tiny black and white photo, yet held not a single memory of this man…a stranger to him.
It came as no surprise when the little island boy grew to be a soldier as well. He and his mother moved to the United States so he could join the army at the age of eighteen. It wasn’t long before the island boy fell in love, married and had a family of his own. His young bride, wanting to know everything about him would ask him to tell her about his father. She wanted to know if he ever thought of him, if he ever wondered what became of him, if he was ever curious to meet him. His response never wavered. He had a good life, a loving family, and no need for anything or anyone else. After years of seeing the hint of pain in his eyes, she stopped asking him. Many years would come and go before she would tentatively broach the subject once more.
It was the age of computers now, when the internet was becoming all the rage and she had embraced the technology. She loved being able to communicate with all the friends she made during their numerous military relocations. And, she had become interested in a genealogy website where she could build a family tree. Once again, she asked her husband about his father. This time, he handed her the tiny black and white photo his own mother had placed in his small hand a lifetime ago. She scanned it, placed it on the site and listed her husband’s name as someone looking for his father. Neither one of them thought anything would really come of it. Yet, life has a funny way of making connections so intricately weaved, they leave us mere mortals astounded.
Across the ocean, a secretary at a military base happened on that very website. She gasped when she saw the photo and immediately printed it. Her boss arrived shortly after, and headed straight to his office. The first thing his eyes landed upon was a printout of a tiny black and white photo of a man in military uniform. There was no mistaking it was his father. He immediately took the contact information his secretary provided, and made the call that would forever change the life of a little island boy. He never doubted for a moment this man was his brother. Their father had shared a story with him, and the time had finally come to share it with his brother.
Their father had been stationed on a small island and had fallen in love with a young girl. He had returned home at the end of his assignment, but headed back to the island during the first military leave he had only to find that young girl gone. He questioned friends, family, neighbors to no avail. In the end, he found one person willing to talk. The news he was given was heartbreaking. The young girl died giving birth to a baby boy who also didn’t live.
Their father had refused to believe it. In the following years, he made several more attempts to find what his heart believed to be true, but all attempts ended the same. With a heavy heart, he returned home, went on with his life, married and had children, never returning to that island.
Somehow his heart knew what no one was willing to tell him when he sought answers so many years ago. His son lived, and one day he would know their story. He had hoped to look in his son’s eyes, and share this history with him, hug him and let him know he had gone back for them. While on his death-bed, coming to terms with the fact he would never get that opportunity, he shared this story with his youngest son. Their father requested when the brothers finally found each other, the story be shared with the son he never met.
There was silence on the other end of the phone line as a lifetime of questions were finally answered. The island boy, whom my husband calls Dad and my children call Pappa, found a family he never knew he had and a story he never believed could be his own.
The nightmare took over. It came to me night after night, tiptoeing into my peaceful sleep and curling up beside me like a longtime lover. Quietly climbing into my bed, slowly inching over my body, not near enough to touch, but close enough to hover over my warm skin, its breath upon me. Beginning with a gentle caress, it traveled over me, inch by inch, plying my body to its will, allowing no resistance until the moment arrived when it entered me in my weakened state of slumber. At first came only a moan, barely audible, but enough for my brain to register it was happening. In denial, I ignored it and settled deeper into the mattress, rolling over, the universal sign for “not tonight, please…I’m tired” but with its one track mind it seemed to draw strength from my unwillingness to participate. The more I resisted the louder the moans came, until…
MOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!
They were the screams of my daughter and they came from down the hall. The nightmares were hers, this routine one I was all too familiar with and one I was sure I could not physically keep up with much longer. While she had always been one of those children who didn’t require a lot of sleep thus never slept through the night, through the years her lack of sleep was taking a toll on my own. I like sleep. I need sleep.
Yet, every night after an exhausting bedtime routine of prayers, stories, and night lights, kisses and hugs, questions and comforting answers, more kisses, more hugs, more night lights, I dreaded allowing myself to fall into a deep sleep knowing it wouldn’t last. The nightmares would arrive, the fear would take over and the screams would begin.
I tried everything – night lights, prayers, staying with her until she fell asleep, each night putting a bit of distance from her until I sat in a chair right outside her door – Dr. Phil recommended it, claiming it helped to progressively reassure the child you were still there. Obviously, Dr. Phil had never met my kid!
As our daughter got older, my husband introduced her to one of his passions, Superheroes. He started telling her stories about his favorite Superheroes and eventually started watching some of the movies with her. He explained that in his dreams, whenever something bad was about to happen, he pretended he was a Superhero and changed the course of the dream, fighting off evil and sending villains back where they came from.
One thing we never did was discuss her nightmares in the middle of the night, believing she needed comforting more than we needed a play by play in that moment. Thus, many a conversation over breakfast consisted of our dreams, nightmares, and ways we could control them. My husband insisted our brains could be trained to control our dreams as he described his often becoming quite animated. He depicted scenes in which he picked up a villain, dropped him on his head, and his cartoon teeth flew out. My daughter soaked it all up like a little sponge, but the sleepless nights continued.
One morning, I woke to the smell of toast and the realization that I had slept through the night. Not sure if I was in dream state or reality, I shuffled my way to the kitchen to find my daughter and husband laughing and hugging over breakfast. When she sensed my presence, she rushed over to me. “Mommy! Guess what?! I had the best dream last night!”
To me, sweeter words had never been spoken. Words tumbled out of her mouth as she described a dream in which terrible, scary things were starting to occur, fear tried to envelope her and she almost succumbed to it. “Instead, I became a superhero and flew above it all! They couldn’t reach me up in the sky and once I realized that, I flew around the city. You should see the view from up there!”
In dreams we set aside the rules of real life. We are in control and can be anything we want to be. Believing in superheroes cured my daughter’s nightmares. What tools have you used to control your dreams?
He called the other day. He doesn’t have a phone or at least not one from which he can make long distance calls. The Assisted Living Facility frowns upon that, and I guess it makes sense, but I can’t help but wonder then how all those people living away from family members reach out to someone in that moment. You know the moment don’t you?
I know it.
I’ll be going about my day, some times all is routine, nothing new, and some times as the day progresses and Murphy’s Law seems to be in full effect, I think of how nice it would be to pick up that phone and call a friend. How quickly my day can get turned around with a simple phone call. At times, it’s just about laughing out loud at something and as I listen to the sound of my laughter almost echo in the empty kitchen, I feel the need to share it with someone, hear their laughter too as they smile on the other end of the line. That need to connect with someone instantly must be one that people have experienced for years. Otherwise, why would Alexander Graham Bell have found it necessary to progress from letter writing and long roads travelled to connect with a loved one, to being able to dial them up in that moment when the sound of their voice is something we crave.
And then, there are those other moments.
Through the years, I’ve answered many phone calls from him. Some were filled with grandiose plans of how he would one day rule the world, and as he described his dreams in the utmost detail for me I couldn’t help but wonder if given his intelligence those dreams may have become a reality if not for the fact that the brain filled with such promise was the same one who betrayed him on a regular basis. Maybe his big plans weren’t so much about taking over the world, but more about taking over his mind, allowing him some sense of control of his brain, his thoughts, his life.
I don’t know.
I’m not Bipolar or Depressed or whatever label the mental illness experts have come up with for him. I’ve never stayed awake for nights on end too afraid to close my eyes for even an instant, needing to keep watch lest my own mind betray me in the dead of night, giving life to my darkest of thoughts. I’ve never had to pick up the phone and dial someone’s number because I knew my survival depended on it.
Those particular calls are ingrained in me forever. The times he called because he had lost all sense of control and needed the sound of my voice to drown out the voices in his own mind. At times simply hearing me breathe on the other end of the line gave him a sense of calm. Seconds would turn into minutes as I was equally soothed by the sound of his breathing as he was by mine.
Then, there were the calls when he knew he needed more than my voice to soothe him and the call was simply a prompt for me to jump out of bed, throw on some clothes and go find him…get him somewhere that would provide the help I so desperately wished I could give him, but knew in my heart I couldn’t. Those were the times when I experienced my own sense of betrayal. How could I not help the person before me, the little brother only eleven months younger than myself, the baby who shared a crib with me? What did my own brain have that his needed? And, why couldn’t I find a way to share it with him much the same way I shared my bottle of milk? What was I missing?
Many a calendar page has been turned since I’ve received one of those phone calls and I’m thankful for it. I am on my knees with gratitude kind of thankful. My brother is doing well, on the right meds, in therapy, living a normal life with assistance. He hasn’t had a “crisis” in years and his phone call recently (from my mom’s phone) wasn’t out of fear or desperation.
Instead, he had an idea his therapist had suggested during their last session and he wanted to tell me all about it. It was the first time in a long time I heard true excitement in his voice. I had almost forgotten what he sounded like when he was so pumped about something that he couldn’t wait to share it with me. His therapist suggested he work with me on a book about his life journey with mental illness. I can see why the therapist thought it might be a good idea.
My first book, Red Circle Days, is about those moments in our lives that are imprinted into our very soul. Moments that don’t require a photo album or memory book for us to revisit them time and time again. Some may bring to life the very feelings of sheer happiness they brought the day we experienced them. Others bring the heart wrenching sorrow we spend years trying to erase. These are moments that don’t need a reminder or a red circle on a calendar date, our hearts wrapping around them much like the tiny box on a calendar, keeping them contained only to bring them to the surface each year.
He even threw out a title, Blue Circle Days, and immediately many a calendar day flashed before me… hospital stays, doctor’s offices, the nights the phone woke me in the middle of the night, and the nights it didn’t ring.
As my brother’s excitement travelled across an ocean to me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I am up for that challenge? Is he up for that challenge?
He says he believes his stories will help others out there, and I believe sharing them alongside the perspective of someone who loves him and shared in the journey would likely help many families who have stood where we’ve stood, afraid to take another step for fear of what comes next, knowing at times the only comfort comes from listening to each other breathe.
And yet, as I wrap up this post if not my thoughts, I can’t seem to catch my breath.
Also in Mental Illness by Little Miss Wordy: