Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Torrential rain had battered her window panes for an hour before the storm had finally claimed her lights. Olivia contemplated closing up and heading home but blanched at the thought of facing her tiny apartment, reheated Chinese takeout dinner and yet another Friday evening alone. She recovered a book of matches from the desk. She set about lighting the candles strewn about the shop, chasing off the darkening shadows with a soft, sage and pumpkin scented glow. It was better to be alone here in the shop when someone...anyone....might brave the weather to dash in for a bit of a herbal remedy or last minute curio gift.
How many years had she run the place now? A decade? At least long enough to see her once charming New England fishing village slowly morph into a tourist trap destination. Every summer season the crowds advanced, taking selfies in her picture window and clambering onto the monstrous whale-watching boats that leached poison into the harbor. Olivia felt a bad mood descending. She grabbed a rag and began to pace about the store, tidying up to keep her mind occupied. She began organizing what she playfully nicknamed as the “shelf of evil”, a corner curio cabinet filled with figures and occult-themed knickknacks that the tourists seemed to love. She found some humor in that fact that most of the macabre figures had "made in China" stamped on tiny gold foil stickers affixed to their bottoms. She reached toward the back to retrieve a particularly dusty sculpture. She drew it closer into the light of the nearby candle and regarded the crude figure.
It was a novelty take on the old adage, “see/speak/hear no evil” but instead of the traditionally posed monkeys, this statue was a series of three tiny, cinnamon-colored demons. These were stereotypical characterizations of demons, complete with horns, cloven hooves and red, pointed tails. The demons sat side by side with one covering its eyes, one covering its elven-like ears and one holding both claws over its open mouth.
Olivia set it down and stared hard at the trio of demons. What had been their names? She could no longer recall. They had been a riotous and nasty bunch for sure but, at least for a time and for a young, lonely witch, they had been lively companions. The three demons had properly tempted, cajoled and guided her in her dark pursuits but they had grown insatiable. She had been unable to keep up with their demeaning demands. They grown too hard for her to control. In the end she’d had to bind them. The statue had been a bit of comical license on her part but it was oddly fitting.
Astaroth, she now recalled the name, had been a biter. She still had the white scars where he’d delivered a particularly violent bite as punishment for not casting a spell on the local woman who ran carrier pigeons. Astaroth had hated all birds but found the pigeons and their keeper particularly abhorrent. He had encouraged Olivia to craft nasty spells against her and her flock, and pretty much anyone else who crossed his path. Olivia had come to believe he'd been jealous of their wings, having been stripped of his own so long ago.
Olivia picked up the figurine, trying to remember the time when she’d spent those years learning from and tormented by the trio. Suddenly another name popped free from her memory, Baphonet. Her eyes focused on the demon covering its eyes. Baphonet’s eyes had been black, obsidian pools. He could look into her and see whatever she was coveting but also what she most feared. He had been the cruelest of the group by far. He showed her all the nasty looks people had flung at her back, showed her all the banter and teasing she managed to miss or ignore. Those black pools delivered visions that turned her soul blacker with every reveal. She remembered how long it had taken her wounds to heal and how much effort it had taken her to turn back from the darkness and change her path before it had become too late.
Mammon had been the last demon. In so many ways he had been her favorite, as well as the most destructive of the three. The “hear no evil” demon had been exceptionally skilled. Mammon had been the insidious foe whispering in her ear, the voice in her head goading and guiding her toward her own ruin. He was the cooing cajoler of her nightmares. He was the one who urged her to act on her dark impulses, to sever almost all her ties to the light. Mammon had made her an instrument, and played her to perfection. He had been her nearly constant companion, her most trusted friend. She could still hear his syrup-sweet voice in her ears, promising everything she wanted; power, acceptance, love, in exchange for being the attentive and mendable pupil. She felt a familiar tug somewhere inside her. A phantom need stirred and she heard faint whispers of a former life.
Olivia abruptly pushed the figurine away. The three demons seemed to flicker in the candlelight. She grabbed an old headscarf from a mannequin and quickly wrapped the statue up in it, breathing easier as the three demons disappeared in the folds of fabric. She placed the figure away in a box under the stairs. She hadn’t wanted to replace it on the shelf with the other items.
The former witch breathed deeply of the healing sage-scented air. Those three demons had been part of her old life, one filled with compromises and broken promises, darkness and devotion to an evil that delivered her only to pain and despair. In a last ditch effort to save her soul, she had bound the trio and turned toward the light. What she had lost in the bargain had been substantial, her strongest powers and her immortality. Still, she knew she had chosen well even if sometimes it seemed as if she had traded one type of loneliness for another. The demons slept and while they did, the witch had become a healer. Today, the counsel she listened to, the visions she saw, the actions she took were all exclusively her own. She lived in the light and acted for the good. Olivia had made her home a community that respected and appreciated her. She lived a simple life, alone but not isolated or exiled.
The lights in the shop suddenly flicked on with a snap, bathing everything in fluorescent light. Olivia saw that the rain had stopped and bodies where once again moving about on the street outside. She heard the jingle jangle of the shop door opening. The Healer felt a smile spread across her face as she stepped forward to greet her customer.
Monday, September 23, 2019
The hours are quickly passing before I have to make my business trip. As much as I worry about leaving, I also recognize how badly I need to get away and gain some perception. Over the last few weeks I have felt my footing slipping, my will to do anything, draining away. It all feels like too much effort to force myself into an existence when I feel so overwhelmingly invisible.
I feel the need to slip into someplace where I don't expect to be seen or paid attention too. I crave a world where I have no expectations of my loved ones, my career or my ability to be heard and noticed. It is the expectations that crush me. If I did not set expectations, then I would not have to register the disappointments. I need a crash course in how to live life without expectations, for myself or for anyone else.
I'm grateful for what I have in this life. I wish that felt like enough all the time. I wish my many blessings were enough to make me feel full and complete and successful at this stage in my life. Some days though, they are not. Some days all I see are the failings, all I feel is the loneliness and the tide of darkness slowly creeping up on me. Some days my accomplishments feel far too few and insubstantial and whatever ambitions I may have, seem to be overreaching. Some days I wish I had someone I knew would pick up on the other end of a late night phone call or be the voice that asks me, "am I okay?". Some days I wish I it wasn't so hard to feel seen.
It is crazy that someone who feels so alone is somehow looking forward to spending time actually being alone. It is crazy that I actually find comfort in knowing I'm going some place where I will be actively ignored. Maybe its because for once, my expectations about people and situations will prove true and I won't be disappointed. For once, for the next few days, things will be exactly as I expect them to be.
I think I might be in the middle of a mid-life depression or something. Maybe I have felt some of the losses this past year more acutely then I thought. I don't know. I just know I feel vacant, like a placeholder, not a real person some days. I feel robotic and pedestrian. I oscillate between rage and an acquiescing numbness. I feel like I want to shine but can only manage the weakest flicker, like some dying candle losing its battle with the dark. At least I am not manic, wildly swinging from joy to despair, but rather I'm stuck in the middle of the grays...all the shadowed hues. My days of vivid color are too few and far between. I tell myself this will pass, this stage of my life is just some mediocre plateau and eventually I will wake up. I will wake up to me, to the woman in the mirror. I see her at least. She isn't invisible to me. I think she's just lost.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
The love we do not intend is sometimes the love that saves us. This phrase popped into my head as I was clearing out my emails and contemplating writing for one of the many prompts littering my inbox. These days my muse is a bit of a fickle bitch, so the fact that these words suddenly came to me wasn't something I felt I should ignore. A writer who is not actively writing needs to pay extra attention to such divine inspirations after all.
In many ways, as I think about it, this statement is one of my great truths. I might not have intended to fall in love with my future husband, but I did. At that time in my life, I can honestly say that it was the love that saved me. My heart and faith had been mortally wounded, dealt a death blow by back to back relationships that had worn me down and left me feeling desolate.
Then, unexpectedly and when I wasn't even looking, he entered stage left and restored my hope. In many ways I felt "saved" from taking up a permanent residence in all my familiar dark places.
And lately, there has been another unintended love that has supported that statement.
Recently various cosmic forces, and one determined little sister, combined to result in us getting a horse for our budding equestrian of a daughter. Roo is 12 year old, sorrel and white painted quarter horse cross that stands about 15.2 hands high. He has a sweet disposition and will be able to grow with my daughter, they are about the same "age" experience-wise overall. When the opportunity presented itself, I knew relatively nothing about horsemanship. I was just starting to get the hang of being a horse-mom though, toting her gear and fetching her tack and using all the right jargon. I enjoyed our times at the barn and her weekly riding lesson was something I had grown to love and look forward too with the same enthusiasm as my daughter. Admittedly though, I hadn't considered ever owning a horse of our own despite the lure of empty and available stalls at my sister's recently purchased horse farm.
Yet, the opportunity arrived. I told myself I would be practical. I told myself that while it might be inevitable given my sister's agenda, it didn't need to be now and it didn't need to be this horse.
Then, it happened. My daughter fell in love with Roo. Unexpectedly however, so did I... the very first instant he nuzzled my shoulder with his big head and turned those big brown eyes in my direction. Roo's owner is good people and she was committed to finding him a "soft place to land". I think she knew he would be my daughter's "heart horse", she might have even expected he'd also become mine too.
For the first time in my life, I came to understand my sister's connection to the animals that had always been part of her life. There is something soulful about horses, some primitive connection that resides in human beings, brought to life by soft nickering and their sweet, grass-scented breath. There is something powerful about an animal who can so easily dominate you, but is simultaneously so willing to try to please you. There is a serenity and grace in these animals and something that borders on the almost mystical.
Roo will always be my daughter's horse and she is very blessed and lucky to have him. He will be a good companion, they will make a good team. He is also however, the second unintended love in my life. He has, in many ways, saved me...albeit in a smaller and more humble way than my husband's love did.
Roo has become the balm on an irritating day and the stream of sudden sunshine on a cloudy one. He is the inspiration to spending special, companionable time with my daughter and my sister, doing barn chores or training. These are hours passed simply and without thought of anxiety, stress or strain. Roo inspires me to think outside my rigid boxes and harness bravery when I feel out of my depth. Roo provides the unique opportunity to see my daughter developing confidence and responsibility because he challenges her to believe in herself, to push herself and to aspire to be stronger.
I tried to explain it all recently to my husband, who to be fair, has not fallen in love with Roo or the idea of having this new 900 lb family member to care for. After a long-winded explanation, I simply ended with, "he makes me happy." And, honestly, that is really just it. Whenever we walk up on his paddock and he flicks his ears and turns in our direction, the worries and concerns of the day just disappear. When I watch my daughter plant kisses on his soft white nose, I feel grateful and blessed. My heart is happy for her and also for him, to know the boundless, unconditional love of a child. My heart is joyful to watch him run, moving with such freedom and grace, but also to see him working with Jaden, seeking that shared conversation between horse and rider. Whenever I take a moment out of grooming him to step in close and lay my head against his neck, breathing in the smell of him, I am content and happy in this simple moment of shared affection. I can see my reflection in his quiet, big brown eyes and it brings me a special peace.
These days, when the crush of daily existence and the pressure of life gets to me, that special peace is what saves me; saves me from rage, from discouragement, from doubt, from the rut of routine. Roo reminds me that my life isn't just about work and bills and responsibilities, but also about things that bring my soul joy. Roo reminds me to take the moment to find happiness and peace in my life - even if I find them in the most unexpected places.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
The knowledge that I haven't actually written anything all summer long looms like a shadow over me. I suspect my absence from the world of electronic testimony isn't solely due to a lack of free time. I suspect it also may stem from fearing what would come out if I flung open my personal "Pandora's box", releasing words and sentiments that might be too toxic or too dark to process properly in a single blog entry. While I have experienced great moments of joy in the last few months, I have also had my share of doubt, rage, disillusion and disappointments...and given my predication of writing without self-censorship or apology...I thought it best to abstain until I had a better perspective overall. Or, and this is probably the most true reason, the drive to write something became as unbearable to ignore as my worry of offending some people with what I had to say.
This summer has provided many opportunities to discover things about myself and about the people in my life and its given me a lot of unexpected highs and, unfortunately some pretty big fucking lows too. I have felt uncharacteristically isolated and lonely, but have also found incredible joy and comfort in the re-discovery of old friendships. I have felt the support and connection to some family, but also battled with rejection and abandonment from others. It has been a summer of a hard learning curve, one that has often brought me stress and frustration, but also given me brilliant moments of feeling accomplished and refreshed. At times I have felt both like the Phoenix, as well as the smoldering pile of ash.
This morning, as I let the dogs out, I felt the promise of Autumn in the cool predawn air. I felt myself beginning to write in my head, found my mind going through the mental dance of matching phrasing to feeling. I'd held the words at bay too long and now they were coming, rushing forward like the end of summer. So, here I sit, wondering where to I should begin to start catching myself up.
I supposed I should start with what is at the surface, the arsenal I have at the ready. As it frequently tends to be, the top emotion in my mental totem these days is frustration. I am frustrated with my middle-aged body and its inability to do the things I ask it too. I am often too tired, too sweaty, too unmotivated to do even one of those HITT workouts that I so desperately need. I am frustrated by my 22+ year career which seems to be going exactly nowhere very quickly. I am frustrated by my limitations and even more so, the doubts I have about being a good mom, a better wife.
My level of frustration these days is matched only by my anger. I think I give in to rage more than I should. I think some days I get up and put on a "rage coat", and it feels too heavy for my personal climate. I know I should shuck the rage, toss it off and enjoy life more but some days it feels like its in my bloodstream, coursing beneath my skin, leaving me hot and fevered. I find inspiration in anger. I have written so many letters this summer in fits of rage. They are beautifully rabid works, overflowing with toxic righteousness and resilience. I sometimes love the "enraged and wounded" version of me best, as she writes with a firestarter vengeance that both scares and excites me. I haven't sent those letters. As angry as I have been, I haven't decided to torch all my lost cities to the ground yet.
It hasn't been all been about anger and frustration this summer though. I've reached really far outside my comfort zones and felt rewarded for the effort. I shed an old role or two and taken on some new responsibilities. In a decision that some still consider highly controversial, I became a horse owner. I am discovering, rather simultaneously, that I know next to nothing about owning a horse and also that owning a horse has gifted me with such unexpected peace and joy. It is a wonderfully perplexing dichotomy.
It is hard, so hard, to learn the basics about something so foreign to me. I struggle, a lot. I'm terrified more often than I care admit to myself. I sometimes laugh out loud about how clueless I am...but I also have those moments when I do something right on my own for the first time and I feel like a total rock star. Truth is, I love how hard I have to work at it and when I feel like I've learned something, the sense of accomplishment is something my life has been sorely missing for a long time. I am filled with gratitude for the people who give so freely of their time and knowledge to be our patient teachers and guides on our journey of horsemanship. The truth is that while we got Roo for my daughter, our painted pony has captured so much of my own heart too. The time I spend with Roo and my daughter is like balm on all my sad and wounded places. I imagine in many ways, he will become a special kind of muse for me in the years to come.
Lastly, for I'm nearly at the end of my blogging time allotment today... joy has also been a consistent feature of this summer. Watching my daughter blossom into a fierce and funny beauty under the blue skies and sunshine, has been my greatest blessing. She is coming into herself in delightful ways from making new friends at camps to discovering her own tastes and styles. She has shunned dresses and headbands in favor of shorts and anything sporty. She loathes anything pink. She frequently hijacks my playlist to blast Queen or Imagine Dragons and spends her free time face-timing her friends and snuggling with her dog. My daughter still holds my hand, still wants to fall asleep between her father and I whenever we allow it, and doesn't pull away when I reach to hug her or mess with her hair. She believes in "armless" hugs for everyone but Gramma Boop and her Dad, but most of the time still manages to remember her manners in most situations. In her long legs and sea green eyes , I get hints of the astoundingly beautiful a woman she will be one day. In her boundless laugh and quirky smile, I see the fun and lively teenager she will soon become. I am, as I have been since her birth, incredibly amazed by all that she is and all I know she will do in this life.
There have been many times this summer that I have wandered out onto the back deck and watched my husband mowing the lush green yard. His legs are wrapped around his tractor and he looks lost in his task and in the music in his headphones. He looks like a man in his element and watching him, I've felt wonderfully blessed with him and with our home. I have sat in the twilight of a July evening and watched the bats flying circuits among the high, swaying trees, and felt humbled and grateful in my soul. I have walked the acres of my sister's farm as the sun was setting, felt its retreating warmth on my back, listened to her donkey braying for his dinner and thought to myself....how life could be so simply and so perfectly beautiful in some moments.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Days like this I wonder if our wounded places ever really heal? We tell ourselves that we have overcome, we have risen above the trespasses against us. We have constructed a life we live in truth and we can no longer be dragged under the pain of our past. Then, you find out its all still inside you, like something insidious crouching in the corners of your soul. In that moment, you understand that damage can never be undone, only built upon. It will always be with you, forever weakening your foundation.
I spent a lot of time traveling in Mexico when I was younger. I visited all the typical tourist places and a few that were decidedly more off the beaten path. It was the churches that made the most impact on me. I learned that many of Mexico's churches, from the extravagant, gold-trimmed cathedrals to the rustic village chapels, were built on top of indigenous temple and ruins. When missionaries moved across Mexico and began to convert the native tribes and nations, it was common for the new churches to be built directly on top of the tribal holy sites. It was as if these missionaries felt they could best eradicate the old deities and pagan beliefs by driving them into the ground. They thought that by burying them under the shiny new promises of their christian churches and their new, benevolent God, they would cease to exist for the people.
It always struck me these missionaries, bent on converting the people to the new faith, failed to see what they were really doing. Instead of re-writing the narrative, maybe they were instead, forever trapping the past in the foundations of the future. In one place, far off the typical tour, one old church's foundation had begun to crumble and the earth had begun yield to the corners of the old pyramid lying underneath. In one section of the church, the ancient bricks had even been driven up through the floorboards. It struck me that those ruins were not gone, those gods and beliefs, not forgotten. It was all still there, residing under the feet of the believers. The old gods might all just be waiting, bidding their time to be excavated and brought back again.
It is days like these that I think about those old ruins. I feel like that sometimes, like that church. I feel like my shiny life with all its promises and personal gains and achievements, might have just been built on an old temple of wounds. I wonder if it is there still, just waiting, and slowly poisoning my foundation one tiny, black crack at a time.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
As a parent, there are a few of those milestone moments you know are coming down the pike. Some of them are terrifying to contemplate, like the onset of puberty and all those awkward talks you just know are waiting in the wings. Then there are those moments you look forward to with sweet contentment, like the day the training wheels come off their bike and they learn to ride.
You think you know how it will go. There will be a few bumps and bruises but they will turn their little faces to you, ready to sop up all your sage advice and guidance. You will encourage and empower them and they will be determined and grateful. Then comes the reward, watching them glide away from you, the wind at their backs and their gleeful voices singing your praises for delivering them to this amazing new world. You have been their guide, their teacher, their hero. It will have been an amazing parenting win.
When I pulled my daughter's bike out of the garage, I fully expected the experience to live up to my expectations. I eagerly waited for her to don her helmet and knee pads. I was so sure that this would be the Rockwell-esque version of the milestone I had dreamt about.
Here is how it actually went down...
As it turns out, my daughter would have been content to operate her bike with training wheels until she was ready to trade it in for a car. Needless to say, she took to the task of learning with barely contained resentment, barking at me each time she wobbled or got banged on the knee by the pedals. If I tried holding her seat, I was doing it wrong. If I tried giving her advice or encouragement, she frowned and snapped at me. Several times she broke into frustrated tears and more than once, I had to walk away from her as she bristled with child rage and hit me with a litany of excuses. The seat was too high, too hard, too crooked. I was holding her wrong. The driveway was to uneven. We finally decided to take a break. She abandoned the bike and her helmet in a heap by the garage and I went inside to nurse my disappointment.
It was several weeks later before we tried again. The day was the perfect harbinger of an early Spring with a cloudless cerulean sky above our heads and a warming sun on our backs. This time I had reinforcements, my husband took a break from the yard work to lend a hand. I warned him she was liable to be difficult, even a little mean as she struggled hard to master something she believed she should just "get right out of the box". Even with my warnings, he was surprised at the level of open hostility she directed toward the lesson, and us, as her repeated attempts to gain her balance met failure again and again. I could see the collapse of her confidence in her bowed head and welling eyes. My requests for "one more try", were met with deep frowns and groans but we knew we could not let her quit. As everything threatened to collapse, we decided to try another approach.
This time we took it to the street, at least the straight strip of pavement consisting of 100 feet between our neighbor's mailboxes. The roadway was level and the path open wide in front of her, no turns or inclines. We told her to get her feet in position and just get moving forward. We encouraged her to keep going, even if she had to take her foot off the pedal once or twice along the way.
After a few wobbly attempts, she managed to stay upright and pedal for about seven feet. I saw the first smile break at the corners of her mouth and the glimmer in her sea change eyes that signaled the return of a little of her confidence. She had done it, just for a few seconds, but it had been enough. I watched her rally then, engaging all her young grit and determination. She immediately dropped the attitude and began to really listen to our advice and encouragement. After a few moments, she was managing to go almost the full span between mailboxes, pedaling and maintain her balance and at last, she was really smiling.
The last pass she made she cheekily told me to "watch out" in case she ran me down. Then, just like I told her she would, she was doing it, riding a bike on her own. Just as suddenly, we were those celebrating parents from a Hallmark movie or sappy commercial, bouncing on our toes and clapping in the middle of our street. Watching her riding away from me, the wind at her back, knowing she was smiling under that helmet and feeling accomplished... I had my milestone moment at last. It might not have come to me the way I imagined but when it came it was no less sweet.
Thursday, February 14, 2019
What of the ordinary, everyday love? Does it have a place in the Hallmark-tainted landscape of Valentine’s Day?
If you are like me, you can spend literally hours pouring over glossy, glitter embossed cards that drip with romantic musings and passionate declarations that seem overdone and impractically over the top. Truth is, this is a holiday that seems to be more for the young and newly minted kind of love, that “first three months of can’t get enough of each other” kind of love.
I get it though…that kind of love is sexy and passionate, all red and pulsing with promise. That kind of love moves some serious chocolate. That kind of love fuels lingerie sales and fancy, overpriced plated dinners.
Still…every day, 365 days of the year, all over the world, there are people quiet living in other kinds of love that don’t get the attention worthy of a glitzy holiday. Where are the cards that represent the kind of love that settles in after years spent together, after raising children? The kind of love that binds partners and knits families together to weather all that life asks us to bear? I need cards that celebrate the everyday, mundane things that show me I am loved and appreciated. I need words that express my devotion despite disappointment and my simple joy in sharing life with someone that I love and, frankly, that I tolerate above any other human being on the planet. I need a Hallmark card that says, “Yup I would absolutely still choose you, choose this messy beautiful life with you, over and over again.”
Admittedly, that does not sound romantic. It would not make most people swoon. It would not fill even one red and pink stained aisle at Target. But, that is the truth. It is sincere and it is heartfelt. It is practical and it is sustainable. It is the lifeblood of any solid marriage or long term relationship and the foundation for any family that endures.
I would love to have spontaneity and passion all the time, but I am also blissfully happy to find out someone else has changed the toilet paper roll or done the dishes to surprise me. I would enjoy date nights out under the stars but I also crave those quiet nights by the fire, when we are all tangled together under blankets watching a movie. Sometimes it is the moments when he randomly laces his fingers through mine while we are driving, or takes a few more minutes to cover me with the comforter before he leaves for work that move me so much more deeply than those heated moments of our youth. I love that he loves me when things are good, and loves me harder and more fiercely when they are not. It may not make for a flashy card but it a blessing I am thankful for each and every day.