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. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pot of Gold

I find myself here at my kitchen table in a mid July thunderstorm, contemplating life, mourning current and past losses, and sensing my growing disconnection to the rest of the world. My brain continually forces the question: “what now?”  My life is rich with unique, singular sometimes negative and sometimes positive experiences, yet I seem to be stuck in a cliché: Where has the time gone?  At the age of forty, the question seems debilitating. I am in a treading water stage; these days I am a pretty good swimmer, still, treading, or worse idling, but never in a state where I am comfortable. I have had a tough few weeks, and I am acutely aware that I need to bring about some change. I liken it to the earth; how it seems like it isn't moving, though is spinning around on its axis purposefully and continuously. 
  Almost a week ago I gave up  Facebook. I saw so clearly the lack of balance it brought on in my life. It brewed in me a kind of resentment that was immobilizing and toxic to my life. Yet, I regularly tolerated it. It started to feel like I was rubber necking at the scene of an accident, and I had to ask myself: “do I really want to see what is on the side of the road?” I am startled by what I can become addicted to, or dependent on. Perhaps it was the false security that arose from this constant connection. I have been a Facebook user for years, so when I deactivated my account it felt like a hard breakup with a boyfriend. It was a break-up that you knew was the right thing to do, but you have gotten used to the relationship, used to its flaws. Sometimes the relationship made you feel bad, sometimes you felt good. It served as an ego boost, and as validation. It was going to be difficult though because it meant a change in my habits, and change in my relationship, and change isn't comfortable. I found myself feeling ordinary, or worse, like a sheep in a herd, a role I have never played in my life. My Facebook experience was making everything common; the special things, private things, were being transformed into the dreaded ordinary, regular or expected. It wasn’t just about observing that rainbow stretching out over the quiet overpass late on a summer afternoon. You had to report it to others. I reflected on the pre-Facebook world where that rainbow meant something else: a personal significance. It was only meant for a few to see it, and only if you were in the right place at the right time. I have had some time to think about our new Facebook world, and the first thought that came into my head was that I wanted life to be more like it was before Facebook. I miss coincidence in my life; the simple act of bumping into someone at the grocery store and finding out then what was going on with their lives. Those experiences now lack their previous intimacy. When you run into someone who you have a Facebook affiliation with, the interaction seems lackluster. You find yourself continually thinking: “oh yeah, I saw that or I read that.” This computer connection seems to breed such a strong sense of familiarity, but not necessarily an authentic familiarity.  There was just too much of it: too much information, too many photos, and, really, who has the time? Unfortunately, I found myself making the time. I am alone much of my days and nights. I like to be alone; I value and treasure it. I lived alone for most of my adult life, unlike so many others that I know. Many people avoid begin alone no matter what the cost. I like the quiet of solitude because the world (and my mind) can be rather noisy. As I have gotten older, I have experienced more bouts of loneliness. This is me being honest. As some of you may know, I write with an honesty that borders on recklessness. I am honest to a fault, even if makes others squirm. It is not only hard to say you are lonely, but it also had a kind of stigma attached to it. Everyone can be lonely. Everyone feels alone, even in a room full of people. Rarely does anyone want to admit it. I have noticed that when I say it, people react as if they seem afraid they might catch it; it makes them uncomfortable. Over the last few of years, I began to spend more time looking at Facebook, establishing acquaintanceships, chatting with people and posting items to my Facebook page. I would share events, quotes, and, more importantly, my opinions and my beliefs .We all in our own way are waving our flags of who we are or who we want people to think we are. Facebook is the ultimate reality show. I do not think it is any big surprise that we all became Facebook friends after the onslaught of reality television. Now, in Facebook land, we are all the unpaid stars, and sometimes, unknowingly, members of the supporting cast. I think that Facebook can function as a mecca for those of us with low self-esteem, or are in need of constant validation. I often fall into those categories. I have thought to myself while scrolling through all the content: is everyone really this happy? Why don't I have what they have? Why can’t I go on vacation? Why aren’t I married? In addition, everything is taken out of its context. Where are photos of the not so great things that happened on vacation? So I needed a change and considered a few things: limiting my time on Facebook, hiding others’ posts and people and not putting up so much information about myself. I have always had an all or nothing approach to my life. When I have gotten angry at people in my life who have hurt me, I cut them out. So I got angry at Facebook, and instead of cutting down on my usage and accepting that it is a sounding board for the more superficial and vane aspects of our humanity, I decided to deactivate my account. I shut down my account despite the fact that Facebook has reconnected me to friends that live across the world, across the state, or even in my own town that I genuinely love. I want to stay connected. This blog and its link will be published through the Facebook forum.  Perhaps that is the point: it is about ultimately maintaining the balance, and recognizing what is important. It is also about knowing when I get caught up in anything that becomes too consuming, I need to take a few steps back and reassess. I have a strong desire to connect with people, to tell them what I am interested in, to be an inspiration and to be inspired. In the end, I have a desire to tell people what I have been through and what drives me. I also love to talk and write about my son and his accomplishments. Although do I need to be so public about it?
  So I sit here, laughing to myself that I am proud that I made it thru the first 72 hours of being a recovering Facebook user. I see in just a short time how I have begun to return to myself and my own thoughts, and have been more present to my son. I am engaged with the now, the then and the tomorrow. I have read the pile of magazines and books that have been begging for my attention for the last several months. Previously, I would rationalize my time on Facebook because I did not engage in TV, not recognizing that they were sort of the same thing. I want to make time for things that matter and to learn to see social media as something on the periphery, where what I don't know won't hurt me. Will I return to Facebook? Probably, but after a much needed break, and I will lay down some self-imposed ground rules and discipline. I have many friends that have given up Facebook indefinitely. I ask them how it is, as if they are newly sober, as if they are the strong ones. They are the ones going out in to the world, meeting their friends for coffee, engaging with others in the traditional way. I have found my time off from Facebook very liberating. In other words, I feel good. I feel my life is sacred again. The distractions I once thought I needed were only serving as a barricade preventing me from actually become connected with what is in my own head, and what I need to do in my life to either move forward or stand still. It has strengthened my desire to find peace and have real-time, real- life connectedness to the outside and to the friends I love. As I write, I push away the disappointment and shock I have with myself over falling prey to the Facebook world. It was more one mishap in a life filled with them, and by leaving it behind, this all-consuming behavior was brought into focus. I am thankful for that. Something doesn't feel right and I listened. I am waking up in the morning and going outside with myself and not four hundred friends. I'm listening to the birds, looking at the sky and centering myself. I am disconnecting from one thing and completely plugging into the other and no internet connection is required. 
Last Sunday I sat in the local coffee shop with my son. The air was heavy and humid. Late afternoon thunderstorms passed overhead. We looked out the window, scanning the sky. I have been on the search for a rainbow all summer. I have an affinity with rainbows; I always have. I like the way they are short-lived and nag for your full attention. They make me pause and see life, the world, the beauty in-between the chaos. They are the perfection of the calm after the storm, the unexpected peace. Finally, I saw the colors popping through the dark gray sky; a double rainbow clearly came into sight. I went outside. I saw a man smoking a cigarette under an umbrella. I ran under it with him with my phone raised above my head. He looked a bit surprised. I said to him: “Oh, I have to get a picture. This is the first rainbow I saw this year.” As I held the phone up, I looked at him and said: “I am off Facebook, so this picture is just for me.” I repeated: “I am taking this picture for me.” As the words came out of my mouth, I slowly lowered my phone staring at the colors bursting in the sky above. The moment was real, the connection was undeniable, and the fragile beauty of my life was unfolding. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I've got a bike you can ride it if you'd like.

I rode my third century ride yesterday. A century ride, for those who are not familiar, is a hundred mile bicycling ride. In this case, it was a local, sponsored event that also included other shorter length rides of 25, 55 and 75 miles. The longest distance was slightly over the century mark: it was 104 miles. Yesterday’s ride was trying for me, more mentally than physically. I have to hand it to the area cyclists for continually confronting the highly underrated but menacing New England hills and the even more frightening Connecticut drivers. They pass you at such a high rate of speed, and seem infuriated by any cyclist’s mere existence. You sense their total disregard for human life as you clutch your bike in fear. The Connecticut roads are rough and torn up all over from several seasons of snowplow damage. Unfortunately, my experience yesterday contained all of these experiences. I kept cycling though, with a constant awareness that I was uncertain why exactly I was riding these miles. From moment to moment I would glimpse at the makings of a pleasant ride, and would try to tap into a more relaxed attitude. Then it would get difficult again, and I would try to tap into some deeply recessed New England toughness. I thought back to my history with riding bicycles. I tried to get a better understanding of why I had such conflicted feelings. My first memory of riding, or rather of someone else riding was when I was just under nine years old. I lived in a lake community. There were six of us. I remember running after my brother Rob while he rode fearlessly around the neighborhood, the way boys do, dashing over speed bumps and around corners. He went around a corner too quickly and hit a patch of sand. He fell off his bike and cut his entire chin open. Of course, this was another era where you could just go to a neighbor’s house and she would sew up your chin right at the kitchen table (she was a nurse). That is exactly what my brother and I did. His accident shook me though. Every time I rode by that corner, I would most likely cringe. I am sure if I did it today I would have the same reaction. I remember walking past the corner on my way back from the bus stop, observing the blood spots from my brother’s chin fade into the pavement. 
We lived in a perfect neighborhood to ride bikes. Unfortunately, I was always the little one in my family, and among the kids in the neighborhood. The bigger kids were always reluctant to let me tag along, doubting that I would be able to keep up. I recreated this scenario today on the ride. I sensed that I was pushing too hard, frantically, not riding, just trying to keep up. The Century ride was frustrating me; it felt like I was furiously going nowhere.
We eventually moved out of the Lakeside neighborhood and closer to town. Inevitably, I started riding farther and on busier roads. Although that particular sleepy lake community had a few busy months, the rest of the year the town shut down after 5pm and was asleep all Sunday. When I was about 12 years old, I acquired a pink Huffy bike. I rode it in parades. I was never entirely comfortable with a pink bike. It was very girly and I felt that it somehow hindered my riding or at least my young credibility. When I say pink I mean that everything was pink: the rubber handle bars grips, the wide hot pink seat, and the tires and body of the bike were different shades of pink, each brighter than the one before. Each handlebar grip had pink glittery tassels that came out the ends. My grandfather found employment for my siblings and me delivering newspapers, and each of us would take off in a different direction early every morning, before school and early Saturday and Sunday mornings, as well. It became a dreaded thing to do, and none of it was worth the few dollars a week we each obtained. My newspaper route took me up a road called Colonial Drive. I lived on a dirt road that was across the way from a large hidden pond hidden behind overgrowth. There were dirt trails carved thru the landscape. Local teenagers would ride their dirt bikes through these trails. There would be remnants of teenage partying at every corner. Early in the morning I would set out carrying a few dozen newspapers in my backpack. A few pesky flies would buzz around my ear. Colonial drive was a modern suburban street. It was over a mile long, and was a straight-up hill. I remember those mornings where you could see the air. You could feel and hear that sound of the dull, persistent heavy air and the beginnings of an excruciatingly hot day. Around half way up the hill I would get off my bike and start to push it, adding to the misery of this already challenging task. As I would crest the top of the hill tossing out my last paper, I knew that I would be rewarded with the opportunity to ride back down that steep and fast hill, back into the swampy pond area and eventually into my driveway. I would cruise down the hill with my empty newspaper bag fluttering in the wind only to be reminded of that vision of my brother’s bloody chin as I greeted the pesky flies crossing over the dirt trails. I would never fully be able to let go and enjoy that downhill ride. Even today, I feel some anxiety cycling down some long and winding hill. Soon after these paper route tribulations, I took a long hiatus from the world of riding bikes. My family moved from the area, and we left behind the quiet winter streets where perhaps one or two cars would pass you by in an hour on your bicycle. I stopped trying to keep up with my brother and sisters in more ways than one, and then I took a path that took me far away from any bicycle ride.
I finally got back on a bike while living in Eugene, Oregon. I bought a heavy bike for a couple of dollars at a tag sale. Eugene is a prefect place to ride a bike with its countless bike paths and lanes. In Eugene, people used their bikes for more than recreation; it was an alternative mode of transportation.  I would often find myself doing errands on my bicycle, as it was much faster than driving. Though it was a short-lived time in my life, I have so many fond memories of cruising along at slow speeds. Many reasons took me away from Oregon and back east. 
When I quit smoking I tried to my hand at running. I have told this story before. Yet prior to this, there is another story that I frequently neglect to mention. After quitting smoking and moving back to a less than desirable living situation, I was constantly energized. I had too much pent-up, chaotic energy that desperately needed to be trimmed away. I decided to buy a real road bike. I had forgotten about how this part of the country is not very cyclist friendly. It was certainly no Eugene, Oregon.  I feared for my life at each turn on the busy suburban roads. So after a few times in the saddle, I went back to exploring running. Cycling would have to wait for another day. Then I developed an interest in triathlons. I would need to get my bike out to train. I knew I had to get out and ride, at least for a few miles. This became a regular frustration for me. I would load my bike on the car to drive somewhere away from my own neighborhood to ride on safer roads.
  Over the last several weeks since I started writing this entry, I have been training hard for my upcoming Half Ironman event this weekend. The race contains a fifty-six mile ride, so I have been on my bicycle quite a bit. I rode several 50 plus mile rides alone on the local rail trail. It provided me with plenty of time to think. I contemplated my relationship with the aluminum frame and race wheels underneath me. I tried different postures, different fuel, and, most importantly, a different mindset. I cursed at chipmunks darting in front of me.  Then something happened that I hope will, from this point on, change my riding.
My son, Elijah, has had his eye on my older road bike that I retired when I bought my new Cannondale. Elijah has an entirely different relationship with bikes. He skipped training wheels completely and has been a competent no-hands cyclist since the age of four. He is also now riding a unicycle. Finally, after much persistence from my son, I put air in the tires of my old road bike and took him out in an abandoned parking lot. He excitedly strapped his helmet on, got on the bike and began to pedal. He smiled as he zoomed past me, his hair blowing down his back in the wind. He was not racing, but was simply riding, effortlessly and freely. His young mind filled with euphoria as he spoke to me about how awesome it was, and how fast he could go. As I reached mile forty on my ride last week, I thought of Elijah. I often miss him while I am training. I thought of his soft giggle, his exuberance, and his enthusiasm. I sat up straighter on the bicycle and felt the wind against my face. I felt the glide of the wheels beneath me carrying me past trees and along side birds in the warm June sun. In that moment, I lost my fears of riding and of keeping up with everyone else. I finally enjoyed riding a bike. I was riding to escape, to go fast, and to feel good. I noticed how the wind was so loud that I could not hear my own thoughts. I had glimpses of this on the century ride. I was trying the see the positive in riding. I was putting my fear of the road aside and feeling the things I saw Elijah feel. He rode in the moment; he rode for the sake of riding.
  As I set out this morning on my last ride before my big race, I heard one of my favorite sounds of summer. I was riding up a gentle hill in the middle of the day under a hot summer sun. I heard the quiet buzzing from nearby. It was a rhythmic hum from the over grown side of the road that was full of wild flowers and pretty weeds. It pushed me on. I pedaled faster and relaxed my shoulders. I looked ahead and saw nothing but a winding suburban road ahead of me. I thought of my race, of that feeling of being on that pink Huffy when I wanted to jump off my bike and kick it to the side of the road. Then I remembered Elijah, his ease at pedaling the bike. I thought of his contentment, his comfort in the solitude of riding, in the simple act of pushing two wheels around powered only by his legs. I will still cringe at the cars coming up too fast behind me, at the potholes and the piles of soft, slippery sand. I will, however, ride from here on out with the gratitude of a young child. I will try to stop racing all the time, on a bicycle and everywhere else in my life as well, caught up in doing more, having more, being more. It is not always about pushing through the difficult things, the unpredictable things. It is also about surrendering to a life where we do not know what is around the corner; it is about enjoying the ride, while we can.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Swimming in January

This week marks the three year anniversary of my first triathlon. The year was 2009. Since that first race, I have completed dozens of triathlons, and I am now preparing for my first half Ironman distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 miles bike and 13.1 mile run). In the time prior to that first triathlon, I had run several 5k races, and had even worked my way up to a number of longer distance events. I found racing buddies. We all drove to the races together, sometimes wearing matching shirts. We found camaraderie at finish line festivities and our post-race coffee. We convinced each other to try new distances, new events, and pushed each other past our fears. I credit part of my success today to these three people for believing in me and encouraging me. Steve, his wife, Kim, and her sister, Stephanie, are fantastic people and great athletes, as well. After countless 5k races, Steve suggested that we needed something else, something that took us to a different fitness level, and something that gave us more of a challenge. On New Year’s Day of 2009, I received a call from him while I was grocery shopping in the local market. I heard his excited voice on the other end: “Heath, listen: we are signing up for a triathlon. They are going to sell out and I will sign you up now, but I need to know right now.”
 I stood there in the cereal aisle listening to him. I tried to speak: “but Steve, I don't swim like that.” He interrupted me: “Heather, man, you just have to know how to doggie paddle. You know that- right? I mean, come on Heath, you grew up on a lake. You can do it. This is nothing.” Steve continued to try to persuade me. I reluctantly agreed and told him what would become the familiar information of race registration: age on race day, emergency contact name and phone number, shirt size, waiver agreement signature and all the associated fees. Instantly, my world of triathlons began.
I grew up next to a lake and loved to swim. I stayed in the water all day long. I would come home after a long hot day at the beach and still fixate on swimming. I would imagine the streets being filled with water so that I could swim to school. I loved to be in water though I never swam competitively. My brother, sisters and I would dive down to find the old stonewalls on the bottom of the man- made lake that spread out over five area towns. We would swim on a private beach at my grandparents’ home. My sisters and I found the public beach across the lake much more appealing because it had many more boys on it. We would swim clear across the lake to the other, more populated beach. My grandmother would yell over to us from the doorway of her sliding glass doors. At times, she even sent my grandfather out to retrieve us via a row boat. Suddenly, thirty something years later, I found myself standing in a dressing room under a fluorescent light in the swim shop trying on swimsuits. It was the middle of January. My skin color was a whiter shade of New England winter. 
I felt my intimidation grow as I walked into the warm pool area. I sat with my legs dangling in the pool in front of the life guards. As I watched swimmers in a steady stream go quickly up and down the lanes, my self-doubt grew. I slowly immersed myself into the cool water. I flailed around the water, my arms fatiguing quickly and grew out of breath after only swimming one length of the pool. One of the lifeguards was an older woman. She sat silently in her chair. She was rigid in her body language and her tone. I regarded this outward appearance as her dislike of me, but then I reconsidered, and conjectured that she held her own life's hurt so clearly in her posture and manner. She was in a kind of self-protection mode brought on by a painful life, but there was most likely a soft heart under her armor. I looked to her and enthusiastically told her I was doing the triathlon. She glared at me for what seemed like several minutes. In an animated manner, I continued to tell her that if she wanted to give me some tips, I was open to it. She then turned her head and said with a faded southern twang: “Well, you're going to drown.” I looked at the guard. Her name was Bonnie. I said: “maybe so, but I am a very determined woman.”
Bonnie continued to watch me get into the pool every day. She reluctantly and gruffly would shoot tips at me as she walked past my lane for the next several months. “Put your head down! Stop flailing! Keep your legs together!  Kick! Point your hands down!” One afternoon, a few months later, she saw my frustration and came over to the side of the pool where I was resting. She spoke softly. She told me to imagine an oval ring in front of my face and that each time I go to put my hand into the water I had to put it evenly through the ring. She said to relax, and that my body would naturally know what to do; just to let it. In the end, Bonnie not only helped me become a stronger swimmer, she often pointed to me as an example for other swimmers. She would point to me in the pool to new swimmers, some of them training for their first triathlon: “You should have seen her when she first came in.” I like to believe that my own determination wore off on Bonnie. Over the last few years, Bonnie has shed over fifty pounds and has incorporated an exercise program into her life. I may have helped her as much as she helped me.
I continued to train, trying to shake off the horror stories told to me about being kicked in the face during the swim part of triathlon, and about the excessive amount of chaotic and intense energy at these events. I thought this kind of energy would place it right up my alley; however, it was the dread of this controlled disorder that almost deterred me from continuing to do races recently. I was feeling burned out, tired and not sure why I why I continued to put myself through these anxiety inducing events. On the other hand, I was hooked on them and was uncertain where this compulsion came from.
As January rolled around this year, I continued to search for my own personal answer. The registration window came and went to participate in that tri event that had been my very first one back in 2009. I found myself training with Sue, who has now become a friend and training guru, that has competed in the Ironman triathlon event, a race that consists of a 2.2 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride and concluded by a 26.2 full marathon distance. I found myself vicariously experiencing these Ironman races and triathlons through her accounts of them. I listened with amazement, contemplating my own future in participating in one of these Ironman events. A few weeks ago, I finally contacted the race director and asked if I could have a spot in the local triathlon, the one that started me off. I was still unable to answer the question of why exactly I continued to participate in these events, and why, more importantly, I allowed myself to succumb to doubt and pressure that preventing me from even trying.
I stopped writing this blog last week because of training, work and life, as well as my own paranoia. I began writing the answer to the above question and about my love of competing in triathlons while my head simultaneously worked against me. I envisioned dramatic conclusions to the race where I would be dead due to some tragic misfortune. Despite these obsessive thoughts, I actually became excited about the event a few days before the race. As I rode with a friend through the cycling part of the course, I informed him of the small details: where the hills are, where they had recently repaved the roads, where the transition area is. I excitedly relived the feeling of coming around the corner to see the stop light right before the descent that is the quarter mile remaining to the finish. This is where the crowds of people gather to cheer on the participants. As I relayed my own triathlon stories, I remembered the tension and thrill in the air, that we, as a group of amateur athletes, were doing something that pushed us out of our comfort zones. We were striving to get more out of life, at a time of day before most people were even awake on a Sunday morning. I thought of the sun coming up over the pond, the fog lifting over the trees, uncovering the day. I thought about the cold sand between my toes as I lined up to enter the water. The swim is probably the most difficult and anxiety- provoking part of a triathlon. I thought of hearing passing comments, some of them filled with doubt, others were a mutual swapping of encouragement. I felt the camaraderie. I thought of where I was seven years ago, smoking over two packs a day, barely being able to chase my then toddler around the playground.
I pushed through the triathlon, taking two full minutes off of my previous time. I heard my name at every corner. Over the years, I have taken pride in how I have established my own relationships within this particular small town community.  The site of the swim of the triathlon is also the place where my son’s father had his first manic episode, and this always provokes a sense of dread when I visit that place. This history was before my son was born, but it still stays with me and how I think of this community. Over the years, I have reconfigured my identity to this town. I took the scary and difficult memories, and turned them into strength. 
I had my usual post-race thoughts to do better, of wanting to immediately push myself harder, to be stronger and faster. After the race, I was talking with some friends, and found myself speaking to an acquaintance of one of these friends. I believe her name was Michelle. She was as small, fit woman who exuded warmth. She was charged to have just competed in her first triathlon. As we spoke, she commented on my necklace, a small silver ring shape tied to a piece of leather that had engraved on it the words swim bike run. She said how much she liked it. I looked at her and, in unrestrained moment, asked her if she wanted the necklace, as I untied the damp knot from behind my neck. I handed her the necklace, explaining that I wanted her to have it. She protested as I placed the necklace in her hand. I said to her: “this is what life is about- right?” She then gave me a big hug. I walked away from her knowing I had indeed won, won so much than a race.

Friday, May 18, 2012

There's No Place Like Home

This past weekend I participated in the Redding Road race Run for the Cows. The race took place at New Pond Farm, but I will get to that shortly. I have had a love for cows since I was a small child. It began when my family moved to a new house. The new house was located across the small lake from our previous home. It was a typical New England town and there was field at the end of our dirt road where several cows would graze. I was a shy child. I often dreamt away the days in my own little world, and was slightly disconnected from the world. I felt that I did not fit in and did not have a place in the bustling world. I created my own reality. I would walk to the end of the road and stop at the cows, giving them each names, and enjoying the recognition they started to give me as I spoke softly to them. These cows brought my attention into focus. It helped to bring into focus what interested me and what inspired me. I liked the cows. I found out what they liked to eat, and would give them parts of my carefully packed lunch. I would hand over my apple and they would, in one swoop swoosh it around in their mouths, eating everything but the core. They enjoyed brownies, and, amazingly, anything with wheat germ, which my mother regularly added to our apple butter and banana sandwiches. I watched them with their huge brown eyes observe me approach the fence. I would often miss the bus to my mother’s disbelief as I had more than ample time to walk to the end of the road. I frequently mention my love for cows and other animals to people, and find myself saying: Have you ever seen a cow’s eyelashes? They are the most amazing things. 
As I think back to those observations I made back then, it reminds me of my own son and his remarkable attention to the smallest detail even at a very young age. My compassion towards animals brought me to become a vegetarian at the age of fifteen. That was twenty-five years ago. I learned about vegetarianism, and this in turn made me question what exactly I was eating, where it came from, and what name it was disguised under. Around the same time I was exposed to a horrific movie at a friend’s sleepover called The Faces of Death. The movie depicted slaughterhouses and animal testing. It so disturbed and revolted me that I never ate an animal again. I did learn over the years to rein in my radical and passionate views, particularly those about vegetarianism, animal rights and many environmental issues. I have learned to avoid them in discussion with those with departing views from mine. As I have gotten older, I find that the practice of living by example is far more beneficial to myself and to others: to speak your truth, live your truth, and never judge. As my son grew older this became crucial to me. He too is a devote vegetarian. When he was a baby and then a small child, I received several unwanted opinions about his diet, but the only opinion I listened to was that of my son’s pediatrician, aptly named Dr. Garcia. He said that Elijah was growing fine, and as long as he continued to thrive on a non-meat diet, he could continue with that life choice. I taught Elijah not to impose his values on others. I explained him that he needed to respect other peoples’ choices. At ten years old, Elijah continues to thrive in all ways. He has a deep compassion for animals. This mutual love and consideration we share leads me to the farm.
Several years ago, Elijah and I did not have a home and were living out of the car. We often found ourselves at New Pond Farm. The property is over one hundred acres with farm animals, trails and open fields with streams glistening through the gentle rolling hills. We went there for peace and respite, and it became familiar, like a home. It was an ideal place to keep a small child connected to the outside world .It provided us with easy hikes in nature and a pause from the constant motion of being homeless. The farm deepened our love for animals. This was our shared experience. The farm requires a small fee for membership per year, and, of course, Elijah and I were not members. We would quietly drive in and gently walk among the grounds, trying to stay under the radar. One afternoon we pulled into the farm with our car filled with all of our possessions, and road life wearing us down. We stood outside of the car, greeting the animals we had come to give names. We stood there, exuding sadness, a lost stare over the fields, when a woman approached us. I thought to myself: here it is, they have noticed us all along. They are going to tell us to leave, or pay, or something. During this time, I had encountered the delicate question by concerned doctors and others who crossed our paths. They would inquire if we needed a place to stay. We were often directed to shelters. Most of those who inquired were unaware that we were not allowed in the shelters because Elijah’s father was considered dangerous, and therefore we posed a threat to the others who were staying there. 
The woman came towards us with an inquisitive and concerned look. She softly yet clearly spoke to us and asked if we needed help finding something. I looked to her with faint tears in my tired and worn eyes. I said: “No. We were just looking and sitting for a while.” As I spoke, I motioned to my little child, who looked to her in that moment. She put her hand upon my shoulder as I began to speak again, nervously looking for the right words. She cut me off, saying: “It's okay. Stay as long as you would like and come back anytime. It was in those moments when she turned away from us and walked back to her caretaker’s house that I felt even greater love for the farm. I felt safe and relieved. Those few intervals of feeling that way in my harsh, every day reality were so precious. They kept me going. They gave me hope, strength and the determination to be home, somewhere.
Years went by and Elijah and I continued to visit the farm. We saw our animal friends and explored the farm in depth. Several months back I was looking through a list of the local running races, and I stumbled upon a race billed as the inaugural “Run for the cows” race. I looked over the website, and saw that it was indeed a race to raise money for the farm. I registered immediately and then emailed the director, John, a brief note, telling him that my son and I felt a special a connection to the farm. I told him that if there was anything I could do to help support the race or to drum up runners, I would be willing and able. Soon after I received an email back from him welcoming me to the race. He was enthusiastic. He informed me that this was as much my race as his, and he would love the help. Over the course of the next few months, I helped recruit sponsors, as well as, numerous friends to join me in the Run For the Cows half marathon or ten kilometers distance. I found myself recounting a brief version of my story about the farm to others as part of my explanation of the mission of the farm towards education and land preservation. 
It was a long few months, and at times my own life overshadowed my self-imposed dedication and volunteering to the race. John was very patient, easy going and became a friend for life. The local support together with the support among my running community was present from the beginning. As we all stood at the start line discussing the possible terrain, I felt connected to the farm and to my fellow runners. The first loop took us out around the farm. It was over the same grass hill that Elijah and I would look for four leaf clovers on, and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We ran past the cows. I whispered a soft hello to the land that my son and I still take comfort in. The race was difficult with steep long hills and short rolling ones. The town of Redding still looks like a typical New England town, and has evaded the pretentious atmosphere of many of the other area towns. The yards were managed with the land, and not against. Many of the old houses look weathered, and lived in. I saw no McMansions, and no perfectly manicured, pesticide-doused lawns. Of course, I am certain that a majority of the runners were not focused on these aspects of the course, or perhaps it was an after thought for some of them. The finish brought us back to the farm, through the dairy barn and down a dirt road. I had an elated feeling at the finish of feeling like a part of New Pond farm. I had paid the farm back in a little way, helped to raise money and bring attention to them. John pulled off an excellent race. We all sat in the grass laughing, taking pictures and collecting awards. Elijah and I then loaded up the car with all the leftover food to bring to Dorothy Day soup kitchen in a nearby town. This is where my story of the farm comes full circle, as things often do in life if you are fortunate enough to live through them and, of course, be aware of the circle.
We drove down a road in a rough neighborhood; it was rough even in the early afternoon sun. As we approached the drop off, we saw many homeless people standing outside. I sensed that Elijah was becoming acutely aware of these unique surroundings. He stood up straight as he waited at the back of the car for me to hand him boxes of pizza. A man of around forty years old came over to help us. He was tall with long black hair. He was dirty, had rough hands, and smelled of cigarette smoke. He looked tired and a little sad. It was a kind of sad that Elijah and I knew and understood. He then reached into the car and grabbed a box of sodas. He looked remarkably similar to Elijah’s father; it was as if I could hear my son’s thoughts as he followed the man into the soup kitchen. Patrons of the kitchen watched Elijah, and said things like: “hmm pizza, thank you boy.” Elijah stated that he was glad that for a change it seemed that everyone knew right away that he was a boy. We made several trips to the car. Elijah thanked the man for helping us carry the food. We said our goodbyes and walked to the car. I watched Elijah, and in that moment, he seemed years older. I quietly said to him: “That man was nice. He reminded me of dad. You know, this could be dad, if his parents didn't take care of him.” He then looked at me, and paused for a minute as he took my hand. He said: “Yes Mom. You know, this could be any of us.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Been very busy with various projects and training for a half Ironman on July 1st. Next post up by Thursday...It's a good one!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Birds of Prey

 I have had a long and twisted relationship with cars. My stories demonstrate good choices and bad ones. In other cases, they are simply about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A few car stories stand out among the others. My very first car was a huge blue gas guzzling Buick Oldsmobile, and it was the embodiment of all the  strangeness and frailty to come in my life.  It also serves as marker in my tumultuous history with my grandfather. Back then, he thought it was so important for me to be able to get around on my own. Over the course of the next twenty-five years my Grandparents would witness my hard luck with multiple cars. They decided to leave me their car in their will; it was a way for them to ensure that I would have a stable, functioning automobile after they had passed. Years later, my grandfather, out of anger from a life of ninety-two years, gave his car away a few days before he died.  
When I turned sixteen, I was in no hurry to get my driver’s license. I also did not have any means to do so. I finally got my license closer to the age of eighteen. I drove a car twice before the driver’s test, and borrowed a friend’s car to use for the road test. Once I did get my license, I had nothing to drive for a few months. Then my grandfather found the Buick Oldsmobile for me. He negotiated a five hundred dollar price. Thinking back, I never really wanted this car or any car for that matter. Yet, there I was, standing in a driveway while my grandfather went over the car with me: the rules of the road, how to do oil changes, and other automobile advice and stories. Owning this car did allow me to get a job a few towns away at a Mexican restaurant. After a few months, the premise of car ownership started to grow on me. I could drive to work, or to my boyfriend’s house or to do teenage-type things, like hanging out in an empty parking lot. After a few weeks, the car began to make funny noises. It smoked and clanked. Then various pieces started to fall off as I drove. When the car went in for its first repair, I was instantly turned off from the whole process of having a car. I dreaded everything from the buying of gasoline to the prospect of breaking down. I was perfectly comfortable being a perpetual passenger. That being said, I had been working in a real restaurant and reaping the benefits. I was stowing away money for a better car, one that was a bit smaller and that did not break down. Hyundai had just started marketing their affordable line of cars, and I was saving up to make a down payment on a four door red sporty sedan. I had for the first time established credit. This would allow me to finance. I was only eighteen, so this was a huge feat. Unfortunately, this purchase would never happen.
After several repairs, the blue car died for good. The car expired one day as I drove along the highway. It started to go so I pulled over, crossing the four lanes of highway to the shoulder. It died right there in the middle of the median. I gathered up a small bag worth of belongings and simply walked away from it on the side of the highway. It would sit there  for months, causing great and regular disappointment to my grandfather.  
I was eighteen years old at the time, and dating someone who, by no fault of his, would cause much hardship in my life. While other eighteen year olds were leaving their adolescence to pursue college or family or full time employment, I was on the edge of something else. In a very short time, I would find myself immersed in a life of a hard core drug addiction. I would lose all sense of who I was and drift away from any sense of human connection. Perhaps this is why today I treasure my connections to others so much. From one moment to the next, I went from being a sheltered, naïve, shy girl from a Connecticut suburb to being a strung-out junkie that would steal, lie and manipulate. As I piece together this intense part of my life, my thoughts and words are, without a doubt, raw. They are coming from a place that I have never revisited. Those particular years of my story are not only difficult to relive, but they are rightfully a little hazy. I am telling the story from the end; the end to this particularly gritty, hard chapter of my life. I will go back and fill in the beginning eventually, piecing it all together. Back in those days, months would turn into years, and certain days seemed like a lifetime.  
After leaving my job at the Mexican restaurant, I stopped saving any money. For the next several years, I did not own or drive a vehicle. Any money I came across went to my addiction; to get a fix. The acts of working, saving, driving, and living in any normal eighteen-year old way were things that were no longer part of my world. Several times in those years I would make attempts to pick myself up and force myself out of the of the dark world I was living. Eventually, I was able to get a job as a waitress. 
This leads me to the story of my next car, the car that stands out the most in my life, the Ford Thunderbird; the car that will always be synonymous with Carlos.  I bought the car from Carlos. I met him while I was working at a local dinner during one of the attempts of getting clean. He was a solid twenty-five years older than me. He was Brazilian and stood over six feet two inches. He had dark features: a large dominant nose, a tousled jet black head of hair and dark eyes. He carried himself with confidence, and seemed to affect a prowl-like manner. He would sit at the counter in the same seat day after day. His eyes fixed on me. I was a very young, blonde waitress. I stood on the other side of the counter with a look of being lost in my eyes. I would chain smoke at the end of that greasy counter where there were little, dirty ashtrays parked under the countertop. I doodled on my waitress pad. I was dressed in traditional server attire: black pants, white buttoned down shirt and black apron. Carlos ordered a bowl of split pea soup and coffee every day at the 11:50am, just before the lunch rush. After weeks of this, he spoke to me. He mentioned that I looked tired. He preceded to hand me a tip, and underneath the dollar bill tip was a gram of pure cocaine wrapped neatly in a ball of cellophane wrap. He said it would help, and that it was “on the house.”  I was his prey. He had been discreetly watching me, and then moved in. I made it so easy. He continued to come in every day for lunch, and had the same order and left the same tip. A few weeks went by, and then one afternoon he only left me a dollar. I asked him where the other part of the tip was. He looked at me, and said: “oh, now sweetheart... You have to pay.”
I began the fast life of a cocaine addict. Speed was never my thing, being a person with a naturally high energy level. So I was an out-of-control cokehead. I declined quickly and would go with whoever would support my habit. I would stray from Carlos in the beginning, and then end up back with the heroin addicts. He would pick me up off the street and put me up in a local motel, leaving me there for days. I would wake up to the sight of some tacky framed picture lying next to me in the bed. It had been removed from the motel wall to provide a surface to snort cocaine from.  The glass frame would be covered in hundreds of white little lines. When I would be strung out, Carlos would always appear with a pill, a joint or some other safe offering. Somewhere in my head, I think I expected that one day he would eventually kill me. 
In a sense, Carlos did save me from one bad thing: he continued to get me off the street and off heroin. He pulled me away from the street life, but brought me into the bigger, richer world of cocaine. He also wanted me all to himself. He would pick me up and carry me off somewhere in his van. It was a white van with only one tinted round window in the back top corner. This vehicle would become a fixture in my world during that chapter of my life. I have many stories about those unsavory days with Carlos, but today I am limiting myself to the story of the first car I ever bought.
Carlos eventually stopped giving me cocaine. He forced me to go to a Detox center, wrenching me away from the town and people I knew. He would give me marijuana, shelter, and false security at a job at the local truck stop.  Carlos was drug lord disguised as an entrepreneur. He was in car sales and owned a mansion. Improbably, his mansion sits right behind the current home of the grandparents of my son in what seems like a lifetime later. Carlos would use his cars in an unexpected way: they were often driven across various state lines in the middle of the night, only to meet a person in the early hours of the morning. His crew would remove the lug nuts and pull off the car’s tires. They would be filled with drugs. Once the tires were removed, the car would be set ablaze. I witnessed this many times in the early morning hours in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. I had also been an unknowing participant in some of these operations, driving a car filled with drugs to one of these dark locations. He gave me a fake ID, and told me if I got pulled over while following him to hand over everything in the glove compartment and that he woud be back for me. I am certain that if I had been pulled over while driving one of these vehicles, I would still be in jail today. 
 I worked hard at waitressing, and even harder at trying to get myself out of the world that I had so abruptly plummeted into. I saved one thousand dollars and bought an old Thunderbird from Carlos.  As a former hardcore junkie, saving money serves as a remarkable test to a person who is no longer using, and no longer caught up in that world. Even after two decades, I still give myself gentle praise when I see a pile of money on my kitchen table, and when I drive to the bank to make a deposit. I slowly began to pull away from Carlos, and assert my independence. As I made my own money, I was able to have less and less use for him. This in turn angered him. I also was not entirely ready to let go of my relationship with this man who I hated, but at the same time thought I needed for my survival. He offered me the car for free, but I knew nothing was free from Carlos. I counted out each single dollar bill and insisted he take all the money. He ultimately still had all the control. I drove to my new apartment that was across from a local biker bar and the railroad tracks. I began seeing a regular guy. He worked as a cook at the truck stop. We went hiking, drank coffee, listened to Jimi Hendrix, and smoked pot together. This was one of my first of what would become many connections with “restaurant people.” The diminishing push-pull relationship between Carlos and I was starting to crumble. He was like an embarrassing family member. He would show up in his white van, and insist that I come over to talk to him while I was with my new friends. I would spy him in the van driving by on an adjacent street while I was doing an errand. He wouldn't go away, and I wouldn't leave. Unfortunately, I continue to relive this dynamic, but without the drugs, even today. 
Carlos would tantalize me with marijuana, the way he lured me in previously when I worked at a dinner, only that time it was with cocaine. I owned the Thunderbird for a few months and felt a slight feeling of normalcy, though I was working the graveyard shift from 11pm to 7am in the morning. I never could get it right. I felt the pressure of Carlos. He had given warnings, and was not happy with me. One night when my new friend was over, he went out to his car only to find that all four tires had been slashed. Other friends that I tried to make connections with grew weary of Carlos and his constant sneaky presence. I woke up one morning and walked out my driveway. The car was not there. I knew immediately that he had taken it. I ran into the house to see if the title to the car still there, knowing that Carlos would be shrewd enough to take both the car and the title. It was gone. I stood in my kitchen with a sinking feeling deep in my stomach. I dialed the phone, and Carlos answered my call after only a half of a ring. I shouted in the phone: “where is my fucking car?!!” He said to me in a loud, sarcastic but calm manner that it was down the road from my place of employment. I got a ride over to the partially abandoned roller skating rink parking lot. As I rounded the corner, I noticed black dust covering several nearby cars. I followed a line of parked cars. I found my Thunderbird. Each windshield had been shattered. The roof was caved in down to the back seat. The insides of the seats were ripped apart with large knife cuts. Foam and shattered glass shone on the blue finish of the outside if the car. Each car door was punched in with what looked like a sledge hammer. A thick black coating of burned car interior coated the parking space and covered the white lines where the car had been dumped. My personal belongings in the car lay splattered over the dashboard.  The air smelled of burnt rubber and other toxins. I stood for a moment, glaring at the pile. I took one deep breath, and reached into the shattered glass to retrieve a small rock that I had found recently on a hike. I brushed off the black soot, pushed the small stone deep in my pocket and turned around towards my ride who sat quietly in his idling car, waiting. As I looked over my shoulder one last time, I felt a weight lift off of me , floating away with the smoke that still lingered in the air. The years-long relationship with a scary and powerful man, my drug lord, my life lord, my twisted puppeteer had finally come to an end. I had finally broken free. There in the rubble was the end of Carlos, the end of my painful years as a captive, as an out-of-control drug addict. 
I walked away taking slow, deliberate steps, knowing that I would never see or speak to Carlos again.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I am the youngest of four children. I am five years younger than my oldest sibling-my sister Laurie .  My parents were a young, educated couple, and they started out in a very small house in a suburban lake community in Connecticut. I did not have my own room until I was nine years old. I shared a bedroom in increments of six months between my two older sisters, Karen and Laurie. My oldest sister, Laurie was a tomboy. She played sports, liked dirt bikes and wore jeans. Her room was adorned with blue and red paisley wallpaper, corduroy curtains, and red and blue pillows; it was a typical 1970‘s bedroom complete with a baseball glove tossed in the corner. Laurie was and still is to this day a gifted athlete. When I shared a bedroom with her it was during softball season. We discussed playing the sport, and many of her friends coached the softball team I played on. During those six months I aspired to be like Laurie: tough, beautiful, smart and a good softball player. Karen, my other sister and roommate for the second half of a year, was very feminine. Her room was lacy with pinks and purples. The mirrors were engraved with silhouettes of a woman's face and flowers. I like to believe that Karen, now the mother of seven children, had many of her future children's names picked out when she was in the sixth grade. Karen and I talked about boys, clothes and how to be pretty. Today, like then, she is very attractive. Years later she would become an amazing mother. When I enter her front door I am overwhelmed with the calm she imparts within her home. Her children are kind, smart and sensitive. She appears to carry out being a mother so effortlessly; she is so patient, or rather she knows how to disguise her frustrations much better than I do.
My brother, who my sisters and I have over the years referred to as the golden boy, was a quiet kid. He was not very athletically inclined. He was above average in intelligence, but because he was socially awkward, there was concern that he may have a learning disability.  My brother was picked on long before the current vigilance against bullying. This was a horrible thing to watch. He was a rail-thin kid with reddish hair and a large mole on the right of his nose. These features provided ammunition to those who would harass him throughout elementary school and middle school. In one summer, my brother Rob, who we then referred to as Bobby, suddenly put on a weight and shot up nearly a foot and a half. He now stands over six feet. Today he is in excellent physical shape, and is a handsome, successful man with three children. 
Then there was me, bouncing between the influences of both of my sisters.  Today I find that I have a healthy mix of both of them in me. Back then I was always in my own little world, content with simple things and being in the company of my brother and sisters. I was very sentimental, and the historian of the family because I possessed a memory unlike the others. I was also extremely shy. I would be struck with debilitating fear when I had to speak or merely be around others outside of the family. Even today I still have to work through this. Working as a waitress has helped me immensely with my shyness. It has given me a stage where I am required to speak to people, and the more I did, the easier it became. When I was nine years old, however, I had to find other outlets. I played softball at the encouragement of my older sister. In the beginning, I was awful out in left field: picking flowers and daydreaming. I was placed in a fielding position where no young girl would hit the ball. I kept at it and eventually became the pitcher and played first base. The years passed and I found that playing softball helped my self-esteem. I played on the local little league team for over seven years. I discovered my athletic, coordinated side. I had an interest I could share with others, and that in turn made talking with people easier. It would be years later when that athletic, physical part of me would become buried beneath layers of a self-medicating, survivalist persona. As I write this now, I think about how grateful I am that I have rediscovered this part of me.  
As children, Rob and I were often together and linked as “the two little ones.” Yet all four of us were certainly a clan in our own right. We organized family meetings when there was stress in the home. This happened often. We collaborated to determine which one of us would confess about a particular thing, and which one would get in the least amount of trouble. Usually, I would be coerced into this role because I was the youngest child. For a dysfunctional family immersed in alcoholism and codependency, we still managed to maintain a certain level of normalcy for at least the first dozen years of my life. We went on family trips, piling into the back of a Ford super-cab truck with the dog and cat in tow. There was a bench seat in the back and I was always in the middle. I can say that I don't think I sat next to a window in that back seat while being driven until I was a teenager. I vividly recall the smell of that truck on a hot summer day, in route to Vermont or Pennsylvania. The vinyl seats stuck to the back of my legs, and my siblings’ elbows were in my sides. The smell of the dog’s breath filled the air. We were a poor family that made the most out of what we had, so once we arrived to our destination we had each other for entertainment. My mother was extremely resourceful in stretching everything out to accommodate the six of us. She did this when we were vacationing or when we were back home with a glass of orange juice or powdered milk. She would make up holidays and give clever names for her culinary inventions. She made white bread with canned tomato soup poured over the top and called it a blushing bunny. This would transform her dishes into something far more enticing for a young child to eat.
We often did things as a family: we played cards and other games, we hiked, and ate dinner together. During mealtime we each had a designated job: one person would husk the corn, someone would cut the lettuce and someone else would set the table. After dinner, we took walks around the neighborhood. Us kids would be in our pajamas. We walked just before dark, together hand in hand. 
Then things slowly began to change. They either changed or they grew more tiresome to those involved because they did not change. Also, I became more conscious of the things around me. My parents fought often. This would always lead to a family meeting among the four children. I would often be the most upset about our parents’ fights. I would write letters to my parents asking them to stop fighting. The letters would be filled with pages and pages of “I love you.” My brother and sisters took care of me, especially in those times. We would stack our hands together, piling eight hands high in a promise that we were in it together. During those days, I am certain that my siblings sheltered me from many things. We were seventies kids with feathered-back hair. We had young parents who were caught up in their world. In some ways, it is not dissimilar to the struggles of young married couples of today, though I do think the contemporary institution of marriage has changed since those days, and I think that divorce has changed as well. 
On one late summer day when I was fifteen, my parents sat us around the table on our deck. My sisters were closing in on graduating from high school and I was beginning high school. My brother was in a new school, and was doing well and making friends.  They presented us with a question I will never forget: “We are getting divorced. Who do you want to live with?” It was a question I refused to hear. It devastated my insides. Yet, even as a young adolescent, it did not come as a surprise. My eyes fixed on a summer fly that had landed on the watermelon we had just eaten for dessert. I welled up with tears. I knew my family as I knew it would never be the same.
My mother informed us that she was moving into a two-bedroom condominium in a nearby town. My father, who had built the house we lived in, would remain there. This was our third house and we referred to as our dream house. We had all helped with the blue prints, helped stain wood every Saturday, and thought we would live there forever. My parents had been married for twenty years, had four children and decided for various reasons to end their marriage. This was not an uncommon thing for married couples in the early eighties: there are many of us who grew up in that time who are products of divorced parents. I believe my parents made the decisions they thought was best. Do I wish that some things were handled with more care? Absolutely; though I do not blame my parents for any of my own poor life choices. On a foggy early morning in fall, a U-Haul truck came to the end of our dirt road, and the reality set in. It would set in motion the anxieties of possession separation, of unwanted tag sales and of the collapse of my family unit. Those stories are for another day. I am writing today about my brother and sisters and about how our four lives once clung together out of love and fear. It was thirty years ago and now I revisit those bonds. Now as I look back and think of the four of us, the relationships we once had, and where we are today, it all takes on new meaning.
After my parents’ divorce, my older sister Laurie stayed with my dad. My father and Laurie always had a close bond, and this would sometimes provoke jealousy in me. My sister Karen moved back with my father after a short stint living with our mother. Karen and Laurie took on the role of  spouse, cooking and cleaning for our father. Eventually, Karen moved out. She moved in with the person who would become her future husband and the father of her seven children. The family house began to deteriorate, as did my relationship with my siblings. Perhaps this would have happened anyway as a natural progression of getting older, of each of us finding our own interests and ways of life, and starting families. Yet I think back to the first wedge put between the four of us, and equate our status to being like eggs in a fragile bird’s nest. We were cared for and sheltered from the world, and then suddenly it was as if some pimply, pig-nosed malevolent child shoved a lit firecracker deep in the midst of the sticks and careful building of our nest. Then, just like that, we were all flying through the air in different directions, free-falling into our individualized self-preservation modes. 
Years went by. Karen got married. My brother finished school and bought a house at a very young age. Laurie continued to care for my father, and he cared for her. The house was foreclosed on, leaving my father, and all of us, in a sense, homeless. This would be the first of many times for someone in my family to go homeless. I was at a loss, and grabbing whatever came near for dear life. As the months and years passed, some of the family dynamics between us stayed the same, and some things changed. The one constant over the years were my grandparents. They made us keep up holiday traditions that were sometimes challenging due to the discordant relationship between our parents. I would feel such guilt at family functions. My father would be alone. My mother had started a new relationship. The children were in the middle of it, getting bounced back and forth like Ping-Pong balls.  Recently, I looked through photographs that my grandparents had taken during those years. In those photos I could see evidence of how they had tried to keep us together as a family. They would take a yearly photograph during the summer at the lake house. We would all groan and make one excuse after another to avoid the family photograph. My grandfather always had the newest technology in taking pictures. I remember one of his cameras being the size of a shoebox. I have scoured over those photos in the last few days. I am so grateful to them, and I see now how important keeping tradition is, whether it be a photograph or a Christmas dinner. If they are not kept up, the tradition and all that it supports will cease to exist.
Where are we all now? That is a difficult question to answer. Each of the four children are all forty years and older. We are four people with divergent histories. We share the same parents and share many of the same good and bad traits. We also share the same pain. We came from such closeness. This past Saturday I found myself standing in my deceased grandparents’ home with my three siblings. I am not sure of the last time that the four of us were together in a room alone. It was a peculiar happenstance that we were there, dividing our grandparents’ belongings between the four of us. When my grandmother died, it was the end of any foundation of a family that remained for us. It was ripped apart rather abruptly. When that last thread unraveled, a lifetime of issues and agony beset my grandfather, and then it, in turn, spilled out onto us. Over the years, I have not been the best sister. I have certainly done my own share of causing distance and distrust between us. A friend once pointed out to me that as adults we often recreate the dynamics we had as children. I believe this to be true of my life. My brother has slowly taken on the role of my grandfather. I believe he harbors intense resentment. He has even written people out of his life. On this previous Saturday morning, he was forced to be in that room with his three sisters who shared their lives with him, and who will eventually share in putting our own parents to rest. This connection could not be denied. We had moments of laughter, and shared our collective sharp wit and sarcasm. My sisters and I have all been trying in our own ways to reconnect, to not stay in an angry place, and to accept each other for who we are, and for what our family is now. I know that at times I have felt so far away from family, so lost and bitter to be alone. Now that I have opened up and let my sisters in, things have begun to change and I believe that we each want the same thing. We so quickly forgave our brother without words for the torment and anguish he had caused us. So many things were broken when our grandparents left us. We were left with a mixed feeling of loss and broken promises. I stood there between my brother and sisters feeling the  moment years ago where we were all piling our hands on top of each other. I know that life is full of uncertainties and absurdities. This one family meeting thirty years later offered something to counter those hardships. It gave us this: a one-second-group laugh that contained within it all the hope in the world.