Saturday, January 24, 2015

Writing what for across the morning sky

     As I scoured for available hotel rooms in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend, I can't help fighting off pangs of emptiness. The news was all over social media, as well as a full color page spread in the New York Times: the remaining Grateful Dead members were pairing up with Phish front man Trey Anastasio to perform three “fare thee well” shows at Soldier’s Field stadium in Chicago.  The announcement resulted in many tried and true deadheads feeling ambivalence, and at the same time frantically budgeting in thousands of dollars for a four-day weekend. There were concerns regarding the anticipation of tickets sales, or rather, the lack of tickets and the potential market for scalpers. Many deadheads may need more than a miracle to get a ticket.  For those of you who are not aware of what a miracle means in the Grateful Dead family, it is defined as: 1. a free ticket given to a deadhead randomly, or 2. a ticket offered at face value. Many tickets were given away on the lots. Hundreds would walk back and fourth in front of the venues with their finger up in the air. Deadheads would walk up and down the lanes of traffic of concert goers coming into the show holding large, colorful signs that read: I need a miracle, or Whose got my miracle? or cash for your extras. Many of us fear it will take an extra large trust fund to even get close to being in the show. 
Then there is the way the show has been billed.  The wording left an empty space in may deadhead hearts. Fare thee well? Many of us immediately responded. Didn't we say fare well in 1995, when our beloved leader passed into the transitive nightfall of diamond? The words perform together one last time rings like an outdated infomercial that accentuates the urgency of limited time- get it while supplies last. This is a band that is well aware of who and what Deadheads are. Reading the “Fare thee well” with our mascot of a skull adorned in roses feels like an exploitation of our very dedication that helped make the Grateful Dead who they are. Many of us over the last two decades have gone to see the band members perform solo, and have heard them play different versions of our anthems. We supported them and continue to at small venues, expensive NYC theaters and music festivals. So why do these Soldier Field shows have a faint feeling of an unrequited love? I understand the baby boomer rock stars need for reunion performance to extend their fame and their legacy. Yet these Chicago shows invoke an unfortunate metaphor of trading in the cosmic bus that the Grateful Dead has been driving us around in for fifty years for a hybrid mini van. 

The most contentious issue regarding these anniversary fare thee well shows has been the selection of Trey to perform with original members of the band. This shocked many Dead fans. Phish is a much younger band with a similar marketing strategy of the Grateful Dead. Phish followers became a steady Dead scene presence in the 90’s, and the resulting influx of younger, oblivious trustafarians with synthetic drugs did not contribute well to all already deteriorating Grateful Dead "family values" scene.  Yet Trey’s appearance at these Chicago shows makes sound financial sense. By adding some younger fans to the middle aged, borderline-geriatric crowd, the concerts will have more mass appeal.  The only other band that has a fan base close to the Grateful dead is Phish. Yet why does this feel like a well thought-out merger?  Former Grateful Dead songwriter John Perry Barlow said: “resist ideology and encourage belief. Ideology is something that works in your head; belief is something that happens in your heart.” Hence the lyrics: “believe it if you need it or leave it if you dare.” The Grateful Dead has led us by our hearts for many years. This feels like an abrupt pull of our dedicated heartstrings, a manipulation to all the fans who will feel that they must attend an over-packed stadium in the middle of the country for three short nights.  

The labeling of these shows as the final performances ever seems to follow ongoing speculation and rumor of the sourness between band members, namely Phil and Bob, Jerry’s infamous band of brothers. Their discord seems at odds with the lyrics of their song: “forgiveness is the key to every door.”  We really won't know for sure if the band is genuinely giving us back something, loving us back, is dedicated to us, or they are simply  hoping to create more footage for the Martin Scorsese Grateful Dead documentary that is about to go into production. With the recent conferences about the phenomenon of the Grateful Dead subculture, one can only assume this was a well thought-out event with a goal in mind. 

For many of us, despite the above conflicts of heart and mind, there is no question that we will make the pilgrimage to Chicago. We are the Deadheads; we have to go. We are the ones that followed the band around the country for thousands of miles, city after city, show after show, searching for the intricate sound they played. We were moved and driven by each guitar note and song lyric. We established a way of life: we were a traveling family often times full of the normal family dysfunction.  We were validated by the band’s music; we were living "no particular way but our own," with thousand of others doing the same. This way of life was not always an easy one. We made our craft months in advance, and for the core of us on tour, we would often leave right after a show to get driving to the next town, tour buses passing us on the freeways at three in the morning waving us along. Sometimes, towns and cities welcomed us. Other times we would be robbed or threatened or intentionally singled-out, pulled over and all of our belongings tossed out of the car, piled to the side of the road. We went hungry to get a ticket for the show. We sewed and made jewelry until our fingers hurt. We were a caravan of gypsies that sold burritos, stickers, drugs and homemade patchwork dresses. Many of those same people will go to Chicago and stay in hotels, or camp out, putting fingers in the air and asking the universe for miracles. Then, over sixty thousand of us will hear the first few bass lines of Shakedown Street and dance together as one. We will dance with our brothers and sisters, twirling in the hallways like in days past. We will be reminded of Bob Weir singing in Saint of Circumstance: “if this ain’t the real thing, then its close enough to pretend.”  We will hear music that we all hold so dearly in our hearts. We will love the men on the stage and each other, and ultimately, when we hear them sing “would you hear my voice come through the music? Would you hold it near as it were your own?” the answer will be yes.  We will chant to them that "our love will not fade away," and then one last time, they will take us home.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

If I knew the way, I would take you home

    Yesterday was my forty second birthday; I spent most of it in solitude, reflecting on my past birthday celebrations. I thought of the pain my life has brought to me, both physically and mentally, over many challenging years. I thought of my ninetieth birthday, in particular, as I have on each birthday since that birthday twenty three years ago. I was a heroin addict, on the brink of total submersion into a dark world of heavy addiction. My mother met me at a local diner, one we used to go to when I was a little girl. She placed a single chocolate cupcake with white frosting in front of me. I stared down at a thin green candle, the wax piling onto the little doily on top of a cream white plate.
     My mom then asked me how I wanted my funeral.
     She spoke to me through tears, and quietly told me the story of my second birthday. This story was significant for her to share with me that day because back then, when I was two, she could still fix my pain. She could comfort me and know that what she was doing was eventually going to make me better. Now she was sitting across from her detached, drug addicted youngest daughter, and couldnt fix anything. Her daughter was still in pain, but it was a different sort. On my second birthday, I broke my leg in several places. How I broke my leg no one really knows. It was, however, necessary to keep my legs hanging in traction for thirty long days rather than risk a disability of having one leg shorter than the other. The injury occurred on the only day in my entire life that I was ever left at a daycare center. They told my mom that I tripped out of a sandbox. The doctors claimed it would have been an impossible feat to break the femur bone by tripping on anything.
   My life has been comprised of a multitude of episodes of intense physical pain. I have broken many bones, suffered migraines, survived freak accidents, as well as life-threatening illnesses. Along the way, I have acquired not only a tolerance to pain, but also have developed many coping mechanisms to get through that pain. In my forty two years, I have learned to dig deep and find my inner strength, and to stay connected to myself. I am grateful to be able to see and hear that voice in me, when many other voices are muffled by my own insecurities.
   Today I ran a slow jog in the April rain, feeling the cold against my face. I felt sadness and apprehension from the usual culprits. I drove to the local coffee shop after deciding to go out into the universe and look for a bit for inspiration and gratitude. While ordering coffee I received a call from the nurse from the school where my son attends. She was panicking, reporting that my son, Elijah, had smashed his finger at his play practice. Elijah is in his middle school production of Willy Wonka. He was cast as an Oompa Loompa. The play has required commitment since early October. After weeks and weeks of late night practices, this was the day of the first dress rehearsal. When I arrived at the school I was buzzed in and walked down the long hallway that smelled of hot lunches and sterilization. I saw Elijah and at first was startled at his face, clad in full costume make-up. He was upset, though I wasn’t sure how much was fear-based. To me, his finger didn't look any worse than the many times I had seen my own father smash his fingers with a hammer when I was a kid. Despite Elijahs sometimes risky circus arts activities, he has been fortunate to come out of the last twelve years of his life unscathed. I often find myself telling my son in the face of minor injuries to toughen up, and then relay my own stories of injury.
   On the advice of the nurse, we headed to the urgent care office across the street from the school. I tried to decipher what was really going on with Elijah. He smashed his finger so badly that the doctor had to place several small needles into the top of his nail to alleviate the pressure. It was a tough scene as I watched him in intense physical pain. He lay on the examination table wincing, tears streaming down his face. His eyes were glossy and red, swollen with tears. His green eyes were piercing out from behind a face that was a bright orange Oompa Loompa color with white painted eye brows and red lips. As he lay there, I felt him becoming unreachable. At that moment, I saw him as a separate person from me, starting his own journey of life; his own passage into love and the unknown, into places of pain and fear. I felt his hurt deep in my gut, but I had the awareness that it will be worse at many times in his life. I tried to calm him down and remind him that he would be okay. I sensed that fear was making the physical pain so much worse. He tightened up and shut down. So I yelled to him, my face barely hovering an inch from his, looking deep into his frightened little body. I told him to go inside of himself and to find the comfort only he could ever really give himself at this moment, and all the moments to come. He closed his eyes tightly. Sweat beads sat on his upper lip, as he pursed them tightly together. He started to take fast, deep breaths. Then with each exhale, he started to slow his breathing and un-crease his brow. I felt him find his strength without me.   Several more minutes went by before the doctor was finished. Elijah made it through and while I may have been standing there above him, he made it through those moments alone.
   We left the doctors’ office, exhausted by what had just happened, heading towards the safety of our home. I washed the thick orange paint off of his face. I told him how proud I was of him. He apologized for freaking out. He explained to me how much it hurt, and that he had never felt pain like that before. I sat down close to him, gently touching the side of his face. I told him that no matter what pain came to him and that no matter how bad it hurt physically and mentally, he should never lose sight of himself. I looked deep in his eyes and told him through my own tears that he was so much stronger than he could know. He apologized for this happening on my birthday. I hugged him tightly, and I told him that birthdays are about growth and it was more than clear that we both have grown a year older.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bird Song


    My transformation began with a tragedy. I have known my friend Marge for over twenty years. Marge is a tall, pretty woman, with huge brown eyes and flawless skin. She just turned fifty years old. Her short dark hair is always in place and she has perfectly applied makeup. She is a put-together woman who is often dressed in a black ensemble with a neatly tied scarf that adds a splash of color. I first met her when she worked at the local insurance agency. It was called the Auto Wizard. In the store front window, there was a nearly six foot tall dusty plastic wizard, holding a giant crystal ball that was equally dusty. It was quite a display amid the dying downtown Main Street. I first visited the store when I returned to the area after being on the road for months. I was an irresponsible twenty year old. Marge and I were from different worlds. I remember her long nails gleaming with red polish and the shine of her expensive jewelry glimmering as she sorted through my paperwork mess. I stood there in my patchouli and pot smoke soaked clothes. I wore fringe ripped jeans and a long flowing shirt. She gave me a slight and subtle roll of her eyes each time I came in and pleaded to have my auto insurance reinstated immediately. She was stern, but helped me out every time without a lecture.
     Years later, our paths would cross again. She was a regular at the Sesame Seed, the restaurant that I have worked at on and off over the years. Marge was a local girl who had been coming to the restaurant since she went to the catholic school around the corner. Marge is thick-skinned like many of us, and she has a genuine quality that allows her to see through any phoniness, almost to an uncomfortable level. She has loyalty to her friends and calls them out when she picks up on their negativity and self-doubt. Our friendship solidified, and over time Marge became a person that my son Elijah and I trusted. She was on a short list of people that I could count on. She would help me with Elijah, and provide him with rides to places. At the restaurant, She would pull me away from trying to help Elijah with homework at the start of my shift. Seeing my impatience growing, she would do what no one else had done for me in my single parenting life. She would say :"Heather, I got this. I will help him. Take a breath. Go outside. It's okay."
     Over the years, Marge also has maintained a tradition with Elijah that has such significance to me because we have so few rituals in our lives. Every year for the past five years, she has picked Elijah up before his birthday. She takes him to the toy store and lets him pick out whatever he wants. Elijah has never had this from anyone else.  It is not the act of her buying something for him so much as the commitment she has to him. It is the way she has established herself  not only as a regular at the  restaurant, but also as a stable constant in our lives. This is a rarity. Marge puts everyone else ahead of her, often to a fault. I believe our trust is mutual. Marge and I do not have the typical relationship. We have rarely gone out or gotten together outside of the restaurant. Yet she is always there, helping out when needed, lending her support in the often chaotic environment to not just to me, but to all of us.      
     We all knew that Marge cared deeply for her parents. She is a single woman who lives alone. She added to her own daily grind by caring for her aging parents in the next town over. There were times that it took a toll on her, but she was devoted to them. She organized them, helped them with tasks like doctors appointments, insurance, mailing things out, and caring for their home.  Her parents were well known in their community, and were politically and socially active. They were so much of her life.
      On a Tuesday morning in January, the couple was driving home at eleven o'clock. It was a frigid day with bright sun reflecting on the snow leading them down a road they had travelled thousands of times before. In a spilt second, they were hit twice by another car. They died together, within ten minutes apart.
     Over the years I have developed an overpowering fear of driving. It began years ago on the day I was pinned between two cars in a freakish accident. For years, I would not drive. I relied on others to drive me. I think this fear may be why I stayed with certain boyfriends as long as I did. I sheltered myself from news reports about accidents because these stories would immobilize me for several days. They would trigger a state of post-traumatic stress, fueled by the text and pictures from each news story. It would take days for this horrific residue to leave me. I longed to be desensitized, and to carry on like the rest of the world does. Then I would deal with a few bad driving days, flinching at thoughts of the sound of crunching metal, and the accompanying sadness and fear. This time it was  different; this incident put me on a terrifying, spiraling descent. I came to the realization that what happened to my dear friend was my worst fear come true . It was not only the dying in a horrific and random accident a half of mile from my house, but it was that Marge's world had changed, every single part of it, in one breath, and forever.  In the first few weeks after the accident, I spun in an internal circle. I realized when I drove to therapy less than a mile from my home, and pictured dying over and over again, that the post traumatic stress disorder was overtaking me. I burst into the office and laid it out to my therapist. I tried to unravel the tight knot that was choking me. I exposed my obsessive thoughts, my fear-driven anxieties, the darkest bloodiest ones. I slowly tried over the next few weeks to piece it together and to come to terms with what was gripping me. I was short-tempered, angry and fearful. In the last few years, these emotions were nothing new to me, but now they were becoming unmanageable. It felt as though I was on the edge of my own existence or worse: being buried alive. I hit an emotional bottom, and relived it over and over again. I had no ammunition to fight back.
So I reached out for help. I spoke to several people and put my ego aside. I revealed what I was dealing with and that I could not escape the torturous thoughts that were consuming me. I was trying to put out a raging fire with a dixie cup full of water. It helped me to admit that I was powerless. It was indeed a rough few weeks. I was soul searching and fighting off the demons that kicked me when I was already down. They cackled from the side of the road, the road that I had  traveled so many times before. 
 Then something happened. On one afternoon, in the thick of one of the worst and coldest winters in memory, Elijah and I pulled into the driveway, preparing for our evening. We gathered our things from the car, and simultaneously noticed a large crow peering down on us from a very low hanging cable wire in our driveway.  We looked up at the crow who was silent and still against the stark gray sky. We walked into the house, glancing over our shoulders. The crow was eyeing us as well.  . Later that afternoon, we noticed the circling of crows in the back yard. They were noisy and disruptive. I thought that it made sense that the crows were there, they reflected on the crow moon, and the cawing signifying death of winter and the growth of spring. We sat in the window and watched them. An hour later, Elijah came into the kitchen with tears in his eyes. He stumbled on the words, telling me a crow was on the back porch, and that he thought it was dead. I took his hand and walked out onto the porch. Under the chair that was covered in frozen snow and debris was a crow sitting peacefully and still. We knew that life had just left his body. Elijah was upset, but I felt a chill of connection, a sense of catharsis. For the first time in a while, things began to make sense, and I was open to listen. My fear, and my cast of personal demons were holding me back, and filling me with dread and debilitating anxiety. They also fed my co-dependence. I saw in that death of that crow something else. Nothing would prepare me for death, but I needed to accept it, and  perhaps it would be the realest and most peaceful parts of my existence. 
I see Marge every day, and know that while there is sadness in her eyes, she is working through her journey, her life, her love, and all that she has to give to the world. The robins have begun to show up in the yard, working fast and furiously in preparation for a new season, for rebirth and for a new life. The crows circle the sky on my morning run, cawing with deliberation and intensity. I watch them fly high into the trees. They invoke those feelings again.  I think about the uncertainty of life and mourn those who have passed. I pause for a moment, like that crow on that afternoon. I think about how sad Elijah was that day, and also how there is as much beauty in life as there is in death. I keep feeling like I am waiting for something, and I am.  I am waiting for the realness of death, and sweetness of life, and like the crow, I will soar with spirit into the light as well as into the the dark.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dogs in a Pile

He was violently thrust onto the six lane highway. The men laughed while grasping Coors Light cans partially crushed in their rough, scaly hands. Their beaten down, rusty blue truck teetered in and out of traffic; garbage from the bed of the truck circled above. He was a full-breed five month old Akita and he bolted across the highway as soon as he hit the ground. 
  Sean and I were on route to see the Grateful Dead who were playing a few night run at RFK stadium in Washington DC. The air was filled with a collective screeching sound of braking cars. We pulled over to the  shoulder of the highway. The dog escaped to the safety of the grass median. He stood, shaking, bleeding, and snarling in front of us. His head hung low and and his body crouched, but his eyes were raised to meet ours. We trembled with adrenaline from the last few minutes and the possibility of the dog attacking . The wind from the cars and trucks continued to  hiss and blow around us. Sean grabbed a rope from the back of his truck and in one swoop got it around the dog’s neck. I was quietly and forcefully insisting to Sean that the dog could be dangerous. He ignored my pleas and managed to pull the dog back to the truck. The dog reluctantly succumbed to the  lure of granola bars, cookies and some fruit, though he was still frightened and continued to snarl . 
We drove a few more exits to the stadium and began walking the dog around on a steamy July afternoon. The parking lot sizzled from black overheated asphalt, adding to the dog’s discomfort. We needed to take respite in the rare shaded areas of the lot. As the hours went by, we questioned people if they had ever seen the dog. Many concert goers offered to take the dog, but Sean was skeptical. In the end, he came home with us. 
We tied him on a long rope to a tree in the large yard that belonged to Sean’s parents. We fed him and talked softly too him. His growls still continued but were less frequent. We brought the dog to the veterinarian. We were told that Akitas were an aggressive breed. The veterinarian used the term “time bomb” repeatedly. Sean bought the book How to be Your Dog’s best friend written by The New Skeet Monks. He scoured the book from front to back several times, determined to keep the dog. Although many approaches from this book were too extreme for us, we did practice the technique of  treating the dog as the animal that he was.  The dog was never given table food, and  therefore never begged. This maintained the true nature of the dog as a pack animal. The dog came from a world of abuse and dog fighting. This was his reality before we found him. He was  living on mice and rats and was severely malnourished and full of worms. His fur was matted down and patches of his skin were exposed and raw. 
   The weeks went by and Sean and the dog bonded. His fur grew back in, full, soft and healthy. He looked more like a wolf. He conveyed with his posture and stance that he was superior, and his strength out did any other. This would prove to be a life saving trait for us. Sean decided to name him Japhy Ryder after a character from Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. Sean and I shared an admiration of Kerouac. We both harbored a  desire to emulate Kerouac’s ideas. Kerouac’s books drew us together with a shared affection for  his stream of consciousness narratives, and his heightened awareness of the world beyond the superficial. The dog we found that weekday afternoon would go on to live his next seventeen years on the road as a best friend, a warrior, a traveler, and a protector. He was a dog well worthy of the moniker of a Jack Kerouac character.
Sean was attached to Japhy in ways that I have seen others be attached to their pets. Some people have this immense amount of love and care to give, and they direct it towards their animals. This emotional transaction feeds their own needs. It is an attachment that is easier or perhaps safer to have with a pet, than with another human being.
  Japhy was neurotic, but at the same time protective. He kept us safe more times than I can remember. The Akita is a quiet breed that was originally raised for babysitting and bear hunting in Japan. He would stand guard over the 1978 purple and green VW bus that was our home. He saw the Volkswagen as his own territory, and we were his pack. At rest areas on the road, Japhy and I would wait outside of the facilities, never waiting at the bus. When a man would walk past me, Japhy would lean into my body and let out his deep, drooling snarl. He would lock his eyes on the potential perpetrator.  
On the tour of 1993, two women who followed the Grateful Dead were brutally murdered. They were last seen at a rest area in Alabama. Their bodies were found tattered, beaten and raped a few miles from that rest area. Flyers overtook the Dead community, warning of the increased risks to personal safety from the outside world-the real world. Sean and I were already aware of the dangers involving life on the road. People were scared of Japhy,  and in fact, Japhy was scary, at times. He was also smart and remarkably gentle. He had an uncanny ability to use his vocal chords. Sean taught him to say hello. He would wag his curled tail, and bark a very intelligible hello in order to get a dog treat. We often found ourselves being questioned by inquisitive middle america folks. We were an unusual sight for many to see at their local grocery store parking lot. Sean would be repairing the bus and I would be making coffee on a camp stove.  The conversation would begin regarding our Connecticut license plate. Then we would give a brief synopsis of our road travails to these wide-eyed, bewildered small town folk. We would blow their minds even more by revealing that “our dog can say hello.” “Watch.”  Every time they would respond with a full belly southern-tinged laugh of amazement. It instantly connected us to people from different walks of life.  
Sean insisted on never leaving Japhy behind. He would cleverly find ways to bring Japhy into places that a dog would not ordinarily be allowed to go. We brought him on airplanes, into stores, hotels and into concerts. We found that if you acted with authority people would defer to you. We did this in all aspects of traveling, our resourcefulness ultimately ensured that we could stay on the road with special privileges, and always with our dog in tow.
  When our son Elijah was born this introduced a new challenge in the care taking of Japhy. We took all the appropriate steps in introducing Elijah to Japhy. I remember walking into the house with Elijah for the first time, and setting him on the floor in his car seat with the anticipation of Japhy’s response. At first, Japhy did not pay much attention to the baby. Then we received out first visitor  a few days later. It was someone Japhy knew very well. Our friend opened the door and approached Elijah who I was rocking in his baby seat. Japhy leaped up and defended the car seat. He snarled the way he did so many times for me in scary, dark places. Japhy had accepted Elijah as part of the family, and he was gentle with him. Elijah would walk past his giant dog, taking the side of his cheek and rubbing it against the inches deep sheep-like fur. Japhy would stop and quietly acknowledge  this bond, standing beside him, patiently waiting for Elijah to be finished.
   After Elijah was born we slowly left behind the road life. In the next years, Sean would change and would start to suffer from a debilitating mental illness. This led Elijah and I to pull away from our pack and leave behind Sean and Japhy. It was in the weeks leading up to my 39th birthday, that Sean began to exhibit powerfully visible signs of deterioration. Japhy’s health started to fail as well. Sean had for months been carrying the dog around in a trailer, pulling him by bike and pushing him. Japhy staggered along, his once bright eyes glossed over with thick signs of cataracts. He leaned to one side, suffering from chronic ear infections that affected his equilibrium. He was mostly deaf. His spirit still there, but less and less visible. On the evening of my birthday Sean suffered his worst psychotic break. He  displayed ritualistic behaviors: quoting from the bible, reciting cryptic song lyrics, and exhibiting destructive behavior of his personal property. His hands were covered in cuts, blisters and blood. His fingertips were stained yellow from cigarettes. His clothes were ripped and dirty. I sat on the couch that evening while he called over and over.  He left disturbing voice mail messages. He chanted bible quotes, saying he would be forgiven for doing such horrible things, for killing, and for releasing me into freedom from the chained life I lived. We would all be taken, including the dog. He made mention that because Elijah was the prophet, he would be left standing. Each message was worse than the last one. I had already obtained a restraining order against Sean, and I knew if I contacted the police again, Sean would go to jail. I never wanted this to happen to my son’s father. I also had a fear of Sean’s parents. I wanted to hold on to the hope that he would somehow get better.
That night I was speaking with a friend three thousand miles away who knew the situation, and had also been a target of Sean’s mania. He pleaded with me to call the police.  Then my phone died. My friend Justin panicked and called the local police department immediately. Fifteen minutes later, I had a forceful loud knock at the door. I sat in my living room at almost two in the morning facing the reality of the police officer who had responded to the emergency call. I could feel the warm spring air come through the half opened door as I sat in my pajamas clutching my phone. I told him that it was my birthday. I  assured him that everything was fine, and that my friend was overreacting. I began doing my own denial dance, telling him that Sean was just having a bad moment, minimizing the risks, and attributing them to his temporary mental issues. There was another knock on the door, and more police officers arrived. In an instant, there were five more officers standing in my tiny living room. I felt nervous, jittery and slightly annoyed. I continued to downplay the severity of the situation, making jokes and desperately trying to deflect. The largest of the police officers leaned towards me, his piercing green eyes glared inches from my face. I felt the warmth of his breath against me, and the intensity of his stare through the entirety of my being. He said: “mental illness is a very serious thing.” I looked away as he demanded my full attention. He continued, raising his voice: “Miss Roles, let me tell you, we scrape women like you off the floor all the time. He is a very dangerous person, a danger to you and to that little baby. You are endangering that child, as well as yourself by not allowing us to go pick him up right now.” I sat there, stunned and fully aware of the truth.
I was scared that the hospital would not keep Sean, and would release him. They rarely kept him more than a few days. I was afraid I would be in more danger after he was released. Once things quieted down, Sean’s parents would inevitably get him released or bailed out. The cadre of police officers assured me that they would take full note of the situation. They would request full protection. I gave them the okay to go get Sean. They pulled quietly into his parents’ driveway, and busted open the door of the small cottage we used to share. Sean had been caring for the barely alive dog. He was cleansing him with swabs of cloth in a ritualistic manner. He was combing his fur and swaddling him in clothing and blankets. When the dog took his last breath Sean pumped on his chest for over an hour, trying to breath air back into the lifeless dog. He stood over the dog sobbing, speaking in tongues in some warped made-up dialect.  He told the responding police officers that he was the lamb of God, that he was the healer, and the God of Gods sent to fight against the Anti-Christ. They took him into custody, and loaded him in the back of a police car. Then they brought him to the hospital. Within twelve hours he was released. His mania was still in full-swing. Elijah and I were in full-survival preparation.
   What happened the next forty-eight hours continues to linger within the depths of me, deep in my subconscious, and at the core of my being. In telling this story, I am attempting to purge some of it away. It was a very clear turning point in my life, and a place of turning away from Sean. Sean’s father, who worked as a prominent attorney in town, was instrumental in getting his release. The morning after Sean’s arrest, he was picked up by his parents. That morning I told Elijah about his dog dying. It was the first time as a parent that I saw my child cry out of profound sadness. I sat consoling him; his deep sobs were ones of real loss. The cries came from a place of longing for a part of life we could not change or even hardly understand. Elijah’s heart was broken. He was unconsolable. He cried for the animal that he loved and that had been part of his family in his young life. In his child’s mind, he thought that Japhy would be around indefinitely. All the while that Elijah was coping with this loss, I was fiercely protecting him from the reality of his father.
  Sean walked to the veterinarian’s office where the dog had been transferred, and told them that he was going to bury him in his parents’ back yard. The vet had known the family for years and was skeptical of releasing the dog, but felt cornered. Sean stuffed the dog in his frame pack, swaddling the dead dog in clothes and pages from the bible. He set out on a sweltering, hot April day and headed north. He was delusional, but still managed to get a few rides from unsuspecting drivers who were unaware of the dog carcass in his backpack. The vet called Sean’s parents and informed them of Sean’s outlandish behavior. They in turn called me. The anger they had towards me was subsumed by their need of my help. This was the normal yet dysfunctional pattern we maintained. Sean may have been inaccessible at any level, but I continued to have a way of getting to him that eluded his aging parents.  Several days passed. I received regular phone calls from Sean. He would not disclose where he was. He obtained a shopping cart and made it as far as Springfield, Massachusetts. I called the Springfield police department and asked them to go find him. They tracked him down in a park and told me that while his condition may be irregular or even aberrant, there was nothing they could do. Sean explained to the police officers that he was bringing his dead dog around in a shopping cart because he was in route to bury the dog at the ocean. I sat in my house unsettled by all of this, with the churning memories of Sean and Japhy bouncing around in my mind.  I could not fathom how someone could lose touch with the world so entirely. I felt alone and scared for all of us. I thought of how Sean used to be so uneasy about even a bad paper cut, and now he was a person transformed. I wondered how he was managing to carry a dead dog, a ninety pound dog in sweltering heat. The carcass would be decaying quickly. I imagined him maneuvering this animal around in a shopping cart and inside of his backpack. The backpack’s zipper had broken and fur was slightly visible, in its limp and decomposing state.
  Sean’s parents and I were working together to get Sean and the dog back; we were all afraid of what he was capable of doing, especially under such emotional stress. From a place of unconditional love, I helped them. I helped them because they had a sick child. Over the years, I  have tried to see Sean’s parents as separate entities from their son. This enabled me to give them support and love in spite of the hurt or pain they may have caused me or my son. We are defined not by the easy moments in our lives, but how we respond to the most difficult and trying people and situations. I am compassionate because that is the hard thing. It is the one thing I can control.
  Sean’s elderly parents arrived in Springfield and drove aimlessly around in search of him. They drove to the park where the police had previously discovered him. They found him, but he refused to get in their car. So I intervened, and bought him a bus ticket. I called the Springfield bus station and explained the situation to one of the bus company employees. I excluded the information about what was exactly in his backpack. I was able to convince Sean to go to the bus station, but when he arrived for his bus, they would not let him board. They said that his stench was unbearable. They said he was not allowed on the bus with the dead animal.
As I wrote these words  I am struck about how I have not revisited this memory in a long time. It is only now that I can partially grasp the reality of my last several years; the reality of my son’s other parent. In the end, Sean was brought back to his parents’ home and he buried the dog. He took over twenty-four hours to dig the hole and carry out his self-mandated rituals, blessing each pile of dirt. Then he was placed in the hospital for several weeks. I think back to my time with the dog, and at my own attachment to animals.  In death as well as life, I am always dealing with those tenuous moments that make up every second of our days. This is something I work on every day. From early on in our relationship, I knew Sean did not have capacity for dealing with death. He was so sensitive.  It wasn't merely the pain he felt or his devotion to a dog; it was how something ordinary took him someplace else. 
People die. Animals die. These processes are not only part of our lives, but there is also a certain beauty in them. It is the realest thing that can happen to us, to our loved ones, and to our lives. It forces us to process a place that we never want to be in. That process is life's undeniable circle of all things connecting. I knew this time that Sean was different from me, and different from Elijah. He had crossed lines that were never meant to be crossed. Elijah and I snuck onto his parents’ property while Sean was in the hospital. Elijah drew on a rock while we were there. He wrote: “I love you Japhy. The best dog ever.” We placed it on the rocks that Sean had intricately placed over the freshly dug hole that was Japhy’s grave. We sat there cross-legged in the damp grass, holding hands. I gripped my child's hand relieved that these days were over, relieved that we were temporarily safe from Sean. We slowly walked off the property and climbed over the fence that separated the yard from the church next door where we parked. Simultaneously Elijah and I glanced back, looking back over the vision of the grave site, of our former little cottage, and of the broken down VW bus.  We had clear thoughts of Sean, of Japhy, and of our life as it used to be. In that moment, in that slightly overcast, cool late spring day, we stood in  trickling rain and I  let out a heavy sigh. I knew then that Sean was gone and nothing was going to bring him back.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Saint of Circumstance

I am going to tell a story about darkness and redemption, about being thrust into this dark world as a na├»ve, sheltered fifteen year-old child of divorced parents, and living as a homeless, heroin addict.  I am going to tell a story about transformation, and about how the Grateful Dead changed my life.
I became an addict during my teenage years, and was ordered to numerous facilities. I occasionally checked myself in to a one of these places as a last resort or respite from the harsh New England elements, but then would always find a way out. I mastered the art of manipulation and used it for survival; it became my way of life. This manipulation eventually became a lasso circling around me and pulling my own feet out from under me. I was surrounded by horrible people, the kind that would walk right over you when you were flat on the ground, on the verge of a drug induced coma or a fatal over dose. They would kick you over and steal your wallet to get another fix. I was one of those people: I stole, I deceived and I cheated. At the same time, I never lost that barely visible glimpse of who I really was. There was a line I would not cross for I knew if I did, I would lose sight of myself forever. I held onto the vestiges of my old self, and at times I would see that person within me. 
One of the turning points during that time in my life took place one night in a squalid Danbury apartment complex. There were heroin, cocaine, pills, and guns. I had met a man who brought me back to this apartment, and got me high for days. I thought that this was what people did. I was a junkie that needed a fix, and these people had plenty of drugs. I did not realize I would have to pay-one way or the other. When that time came, he wanted me to travel with him to another city and work. Looking back, I am uncertain what he meant by work; it could have been prostitution, stripping or selling drugs. Whatever it meant doesn't really matter anymore. What does matter is that this would be the first of many times where the act of preserving myself saved my life. I wanted out.
I traveled with all of my belongings in two backpacks. One brown pack contained a leather coat, a bit of money and a few other things of value. The other backpack was black and contained a stuffed bunny that my mother had given me when I was fifteen for Easter. I stuffed the bunny deep in the midst of clothes and toiletries. His one ear was often flopping out of the blackened, dingy bag that sat on numerous apartment floors, dirty sidewalks and public restrooms. After the days long drug binge and after realizing what this man wanted of me, I knew I had no choice but to get away. The woman I was traveling with, Diane, chased me down the hall of the musty, cheap apartment complex. She caught me and grabbed my face, slamming my head against the wall. The tips of her fingers pressed into my cheekbones, pulling at the skin under my eyes. 
She said, “You ain't going anywhere, whore. We have to pay for this. He gave us drugs. How fucking stupid are you to think he would give us this dope for free?”
 In a frantic moment, I slid violently away from her grip and ran down the three flights of stairs, pushing open the large industrial metal door onto the sun-filled sidewalk. I discovered that I was across the street from a restaurant called the Old Oak. I knew the place because I would go there with my family back in another lifetime. I stared at the sign, longing for my life, the short eighteen years I had known. I then looked to the window three stories up. I stood on the street while the man and Diane yelled to me from the third floor. They asked in a mocking tone where I was headed as they dangling my two backpacks out the broken screened window. The exposed insulation and bare mattresses were visible from the sidewalk. I felt angry. I wanted my stuff. They never told me this was part of the deal. I yelled that I would call the police.  He responded with a cutting laugh, telling me that I was a junkie on the street, and that “they were my only hope.” 
I threatened them, my voice growing louder. I was causing a scene. The man told me to shut up or he would come down to the sidewalk and kill me. I knew he would. I saw the guns. I saw the other shifty people in the building. I am not sure why he relented or decided I was not worth the hassle, but he made the following offer. He said: “You can have one bag.” In an instant I told him that I wanted the black bag. I knew that part of my old life and my family was in that bag; it was that glimpse of my old self. He threw the bag down from the third floor window. The bag hit the sidewalk and the contents scattered on the road. I quickly retrieved the items, and yelled to him: “we are even. The leather coat is worth money. Just leave me alone.”
I ran down the street in the middle of that summer afternoon, and away from that man, that apartment and those threats. Years later, I run this same street as I train for my next marathon, and it is a rare moment that I do not replay these moments that I just described. Even today I  long for my dwindling family life. After I walked away from that horrible scene, I carried that dirty backpack on my shoulder, with a rabbit ear swaying out from the top. I chained smoked cigarettes and observed the cars rolling past me. They were filled with normal lives and families and other teenage girls. Later on I found a safe place in at the local cemetery to fall asleep for a bit. I decided that I should stay awake all night for safety and that I should make a plan, a plan out of nothing.
Several months past, and I slept in a few different cemeteries on those warm summer days. Occasionally I would stay with an acquaintance. I found a few shelters that were much scarier than being alone. I was still getting high when I could. I would bring myself to the emergency room if things got rough or if I needed a few hours of respite. My father would not let me back into his home due to my heavy drug use, but he and my grandparents would buy me a few packs of cigarettes from time to time. I think back to that time, and recognize that many of my recollections are a bit fuzzy. This may be the result of the substance abuse during those years, or it may simply be that my brain won’t let me go there, operating in a kind of self-preservation mode. What I do remember is my first Grateful Dead show, and how The Grateful Dead changed me. When I found the Dead, I found a home. I found myself and my soul.  They restored my faith in humanity. I remember being in a large stadium, the lights flickering and the sounds melting into a distant echo. I felt as though I was the only one in the room. I had been in complete darkness, and now suddenly every note the band played began to expose color, bursts of color, sparkling, flailing color, the color that was deep inside of me all along.
I started going to shows as a new kind of addiction, one which my mother and several other people in my life even today do not understand. The music made me see the universe, it made me feel that the glimpse I had of myself that sunny afternoon was a reality, and that it was something worth digging deep for. I credit the music for bringing about the connectedness I felt to myself as well as to others. The Grateful Dead community provided me something that I had always craved. There it was, right there under the sky, in the blazing sun in a parking lot in Las Vegas, or on a grass field, or in a stadium or on a car radio driving through the middle of the country. I immediately learned the ropes, the lifestyle and how to sustain myself within this community. I craved the music. It was like a drug. In fact, I would never get high during the show. I changed my drug habits as well, opting for mind-altering hallucinogens and home-grown marijuana. It was a far better world than the white cellophane bags with a very different skull and crossbones stamped on the outside. The deadheads took care of each other: we were all in communion, dancing, feeling, singing, cheering for more. We would be out on the road, driving for more, traveling in caravans down the highway to the next show. I began selling my own creativity, making life on the road work. I wanted the Grateful Dead to become my life, and it did. 
I found a traveling companion in Sean. He was a road-worthy individual that supplied us with constant tapes and facts about shows, noting what year a particular show was played and how they played any given song. He would notice the slightest difference in the way that Jerry Garcia sung a particular verse or how a band member would play eight beats instead of nine. We travelled thousands of miles in my Volkswagen bus. Sean was a wealth of information, and it was information that I wanted to know. I have countless travel stories from those years. They are stories of our time with the band, meeting them personally, and how they provided an endless source of inspiration and drive for us to be better people. Today I am chronicling a different story, one about my full circle path of the music of the Grateful Dead, of my long hiatus from their songs, and how at the age of forty-one, I returned to their music, and was changed again.
Years after Jerry Garcia died Sean began his battle with mental illness. I was 6 weeks pregnant with our child when he began having regular manic episodes. Each episode would be scarier than the last. He would fixate on the Grateful Dead and Jesus. He used his sharp intellect to manipulate, embarrass and harass. He became so delusional that his illness made him somewhat notorious among the inner circle of the band.  He frightened others the way he frightened me. During these early episodes, I spoke with many people associated with the band who had known Sean for years. We were a presence backstage and at the time we were working to start a non-profit organization inspired by humanity that was such a part of the Grateful Dead subculture. Sean was a photographer and would obtain press passes for large venues like Madison Square Garden. As Sean descended into worse and worse behavior, I would insist to Sean and to others that he just needed medication. At the same time, those who knew him would push me to run, to get the hell away from Sean and to get help. His behavior and his obsession with the Grateful Dead ebbed and flowed, but it began to signify to me and Sean’s family and anyone else that knew the situation that Sean was beginning another round of mania. He would make no mention of the Grateful Dead for months.  He would even become embarrassed of his previous harassment and delusional conduct. Then with every change of season he would make a slight mention of the band or perhaps quote from the bible and we would all know what would come next. 
Things got worse, and as new mother, I lived in a state of fear for me and my child. This, in turn, made me take a huge step back from anything related to the Grateful Dead. I was still trying to help Sean through his struggles at this point, but I was also in maternal protection mode. I would make no mention of the band in his presence. I still longed for sound and the feeling of what I had found. My life was about protecting my child, and he needed every ounce of me to do that. I missed the music, and would sometimes drive my sleeping baby down the road, listening to a Dead tape I had snuck out of the house. I would roll the windows down and reminisce about being in a dark venue, the clouds of smoke rising, the lights going dim, the bass guitar belting out one deep note and the air filling with diamonds. I would listen to “Space," a song that the band played in the middle of each show. This music would bring us to the edge, to a deep psychedelic place. Then it would toss us over that edge and swoop us up in midair. It all made sense to me, and not just to me, but also to the fifty-thousand others that danced with no inhibition, with so much feeling and love for every note, and so much love for being there.
Now, I had a very young child to focus on, and leaving Sean made my long break and detachment from the Grateful Dead much easier. I left Sean because of my fear and concerns of safety for my son and I. Yet it was something else too. I found myself on that sidewalk again in the afternoon sun. Only this time, instead of a stuffed bunny, I had a beautiful little boy in tow. I left with nothing. The man and the music I had loved were becoming a fleeting glimpse, a vision like the one I had years ago of myself. The music left my life as quickly as it came into it.
In the following years, I did maintain a connection with a friend from that inner circle of the band. He was someone who made himself accessible to the general public, to deadheads, and, ultimately, to Sean. After I left Sean, his illness continued to worsen. I had my ways of knowing when the onslaught of mania would take hold. This would at times result in restraining orders. I would get regular phone calls from that friend. He often gave me the validation that I needed in my own denial. He would relay to me how ill Sean had become, and catalog all the entirely bizarre things he would say and write. I longed for Sean to return to the way he used to be. We would commiserate how awful it was, trying to come to terms with the potential risk to our safety by continuing contact with Sean. I danced a very different dance, one not just of fear, but also of guilt and worry. Sean had been a best friend. We once shared a life and a love of something so intense. It was hard to reconcile those feelings with the ones I felt as I lay in bed, worried that he was going to come and kill me. In those days, I would bring my son, Elijah, into my old, squeaking twin bed with mismatched sheets, clutching him tightly through the hours of the dark. This gave me some sense of security, thinking that if Sean did break in, he would see Elijah first, and then rethink his manic, delusional thoughts. I often tell this story to others in order to give weight to the reality of what a scary place I was in. It was my regular reality that someone I loved so much and trusted went far, far away, yet still stood there in front of me. As much as I wanted to believe that nothing would happen to me or my son, my gut told me something else. There had been too many episodes of erratic behavior for me not to expect the worst.
In recent years I have ventured out to a few shows to see the remnants of the band perform.  I had put my life back together and felt like I was in a safe place. I was glad to be out, trying desperately to resurrect what I had previously felt. The band felt different, and I sensed they were working out their own kinks. I would leave the show with my cup only partially full, partly because I had such sadness for Sean. Certain songs reminded me of him but how separate we had become. The music made me feel sad for him and what he lost and continues to lose. 
 Recently, I decided to subscribe to satellite radio to put music back in my life, especially to check out the Grateful Dead channel. The first few weeks took me to another world, a world I had left so far behind. I heard the excitement of the live shows, and the conversations from talk shows featuring deadheads like me. They were still out there and still craved the music. The band was performing for nine nights at a nearby small theatre. I knew several friends who were going and decided to take the leap away from my chronic isolation and join them for a several night run. The first show was mind blowing from the first note. I felt like I was channeling a side of me that I had previously thought had forever left me. I lay in my bed that evening in a blissful stupor and questioned why I felt so fantastic. Was it all the music, was it the company of familiar types of people and friends, the energy of all of it or was it the feeling of so desperately needing a break of the daily struggles of my life? Those struggles continue, with the father of my son and other loved ones in my life. I was driven to get to shows, like the old days. I took a night off from work, knowing it would be money I had to spend and not squirrel away, the way I constantly do. I was ready, or at least more ready than usual to face the aching that the music potentially could provoke in me, reminding me of losing my best friend. I heard the songs he loved, songs that we had loved together and songs that I had loved alone.
 I attended the last night of the series of concerts at this local theatre. I knew there was anticipation. When the Grateful Dead would finish a long tour, the last show was always a tough ticket to get. It was all about the potential of saving the best for last. This particular night, I sensed something wasn't right from the minute the band went on stage. This would not be the first time that I have had that dreaded sense that the very ones I idolized, would begin spiraling down from the pedestal I put them on. Bob Weir staggered and collapsed on stage. He appeared to be intoxicated or under the influence of something. It was a hard moment. I questioned that transformative magic. I felt like the energy was lost. I witnessed this band that I loved, this band that had save my life, crumble ever so slightly before my eyes. Perhaps this was the real reason that I was there. I got on the bus, and then it got a flat. It was certainly fixable, but in that moment I was once again on my own, walking down the street with packed bag in hand.
I woke up the next morning sad; sad for the band and music I love so dearly and sad for the thought of when the band would no longer exist. I was mostly sad for being denied the escape from my reality, an escape to a place that was such a big part of my history. I went for a run and started to work through these thoughts. I peeled back the layers and struggled to figure out why I was hurting, what the shows and the music really meant to me. I wanted to feel what had changed. At the same time, I wanted to discern the full circle of this music, and how I had come back to the place I started.
That evening I bought tickets for several of the upcoming local summer shows. I decided that I needed to experience firsthand this music that did indeed continue to feed my soul. The band member who had collapsed on stage ended up being fine. I spoke to that friend from the band who put things in perspective, drawing out how we each battle these less dignified traits of denial, stubbornness and, ultimately, of being a frail and imperfect human. The past two weeks have been eye-opening. I sensed what was beyond the current dynamics of my life. It was the music. It was the affection of the crowd, the mutual love we all have. It was the promise of an evening spent out there in the universe, of the unknown, of a beginning and letting go of the past.  I could see what it did to me, how it enabled me to rise above and look at things from a different perspective. Then, several days later, I realized that indeed it wasn't just the music, it wasn't just the dancing free, and the connections to the other people around me.  It was finally seeing empty pages to be written, it was feeling a spark of longing for a place of spontaneity and freedom. It was the constant and steady pull that has never left me, that pulled me towards the light on the sidewalk years before or to the light at a show just last week. The light that signifies the deep desire to feel alive.
Every moment, everyday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Turn turn turn

I began my run this morning through colored leaves, breathing in the distinct New England smell in the air. The crisp chill gently pierced through my long sleeved top. I put my face to the sun, the sun that is noticeably further away. The autumn season seems to come about more quickly than the others. When the calendar reads September first, summer vanishes away. I round the corner in front of my house and stop at the fence around my humble yard. Just a few weeks prior the fence was adorned with hundreds of purple morning glories. Now they lean heavily against the fence, their once bursting purple color a monotone of dark, brittle, dried-out leaves; the stems already rotting and hollowed through. These lifeless flowers are clutching for life, resisting inevitable change. I immediately start to remove them, pulling hard on the roots and the massively intertwined stems wrapped fiercely around each fence post. A woman walks by. She is an old woman who I see spending much of her time in her garden that is adjacent to my yard. She stops and watches as I add to my large pile of dead flowers and brush. She says: "It's bittersweet, isn't it?" I nod politely and continue my task. As she walks away I hear her words settle inside of me. Fall is indeed a transitional time. For me this time of year has always sparked thoughts of sadness, of death, and of change, as well as restarting, rest and reflection. The change is so prevalent in my surroundings. The once lush grass now has a slight tint of brown. Flowers in bloom now hang towards the dry, used-up soil. There is a chill in the air in the mornings and the windows are covered with a fine fog. The last crickets make their presence known in a distant forlorn chant. All that change coincides with the changing of the leaves, their remarkable colors beckoning you to stare into the tall trees, taking your breath away. Something about knowing that the beauty is temporary makes me want to savor every second. The change seems particularly strong this year, especially as I become more aware of my own transitioning. I continue tugging at the stems that have taken months to wrap tightly and embed themselves in. I pull at one and get frustrated. I try to work faster, only to be faced with the intricate weaving of the long, strong stems. Each weave is slightly different from the one before. Each one is equally trying. 
In my writing, I have mentioned my discontent- never quite sure if this is just a feeling that I, as a human being, am supposed to tolerate, deny or just ignore. I love my job for the community it brings me; yet I often stand alone among a busy restaurant. The white noise feeds my deep thoughts and I begin to think that there is something more for me. I think of the older man that helped me at Home Depot last week. He was a man in his late seventies, with blue eyes, that stood out sharply underneath his grey, bearded face. His voice was pronounced. He was friendly, helpful and one of those people you feel like you were meant to share a brief connection with. He told me that he was with a company for 30 years and got laid off. He now works part-time for this large corporate chain. I thought I sensed a sadness from him, but then I came to realize that the sadness I perceived was, in fact, my own. I knew he had the wisdom I wished for. I am sure he at times experienced the my same thoughts of wanting more or feeling like there must be more. The wisdom he seemed to have was this: it was not necessarily a better life we needed, it was being content in the lives we have. I left the store glancing at the fall mums in front, thinking of the tangled pile left in my driveway. I ruminated in the grueling process of self-discovery and, most importantly, self-acceptance, knowing this was the most difficult of all.  
I have always been in survival mode. I have the nagging feeling the rug will be pulled out from me, and that in an instant I will lose everything I know. I see how many times this has happened in my life. I do not suffer from the actual events as much as from the constant anticipation. The constant drive of always squandering things away and always having a plan B has created a feeling of never being content. This drive, however, has served as beneficial in my life and has led me to become a resourceful and self-sufficient person. The desperation and fear no longer serves a purpose to my life. I look at my life right now and see the ball of entwined stems, the deep layers, some of them that took years to get there. The thought of digging deep is overwhelming.  Facing those embedded patterns and cutting away the unhealthy layers means that I will have to trust that there will be something left after I am done. However scary this task is, I know it is something I need to do to move forward. I want to desperately to break free from the false sense of security of the familiar life I have and really live the life I am meant to live.
I venture out on another run the following day. As I try to piece things together in my head, I watch magnificent orange and red leaves rapidly fall to the ground. I see the bare trees exposed. I pause a moment knowing that the most challenging phases of life, of change, are the stark, gray moments. These are sometimes lifeless moments, like the tree will have in the winter months to come. The cold darkness brings about a void that immediately I feel an urgency to fill. I will remind myself to embrace the process of life, of nature and growth that I know will lead me to slow down. I want to sit with that stark bare tree and somehow find content moments. I need to accept that the cycle and circle of life will always continue to go around. I want to let the fleeting feelings of seasons changing to symbolize real life and real existence and feel empowered by that, rather than feel powerless. This October afternoon I surrender to the turn of the wind. I see in all the colors spinning around me that life is what you make out of every situation, every moment, especially the darkest ones.