So. Thus far, I’ve done a stellar job at keeping this blog pretty strictly art/creative endeavor related. And I briefly considered keeping it that way. I certainly have other outlets- online journals, paper journals, friends, therapy, pages dedicated to my poetry and the internal workings of my mind on this site, even. However, some things are too big to be contained. Too large to compartmentalize. So. Let me tell you a story…
In the Fall of 1999, I took a course, Dance I. It was a loose requirement for my Speech Communication & Theatre (SCT) major, and I had danced for many years as a child. Easy A, I was thinking…who knew the direction that that silly intro to dance class would steer my life…I don’t know at what point the instructor threw out an offhand “Hey, if anyone babysits, I’m looking for a sitter!” to the class. Now…I didn’t know the professor well, or really at all, but I’d babysat since I was 11 in various capacities, I was a broke college kid who never went home on weekends, and I was apparently feeling brave enough to stay after class and shyly mention to her that I loved kids, and had some free time.
And thus, the whirlwind that is, and always will be, MM, breezed in to my life. I say whirlwind, but maybe “hurricane” is a better analogy? Because while there were certainly high winds and some damaging hail, there were also periods of peace, calm, and tranquility.
Now, I had known E, her husband and children’s’ father, for a year at that point, because he also taught in the SCT department and I was also a technical theatre minor. By the time I took Dance I, I had taken at least 2, if not 3, of his courses. I had always loved when he’d mention to the class something cute or amazing his daughter had done, but I hadn’t met her at that point. I don’t have the best brain when it comes to timelines, but at some point that semester, I got to meet her, and started babysitting pretty regularly for her.
Can I pause here to say, I’ve met more children- toddlers- than I can shake a stick at. I’ve babysat since I was old enough to be a “Mommy’s Helper”, I’ve worked at a daycare, I have at least a dozen nieces and nephews. This kid, though? My soul was hooked after about an hour. And I can’t even adequately explain it. Don’t get me wrong, I love and adore my nieces and nephews, and I’ve connected with 99.9% of the kiddos I’ve babysat or nannied for over the years. But. I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a soul so old in eyes so young. Looking back, I guess the word I would use is “captivating”?
Anyhow. Because her parents both worked in the theatre department, which was small to begin with, and her dad did all of the tech stuff at the time, if MM was the director, there were some weeks that I saw their kiddo (who I quickly dubbed my Doodlebug in my head, cuz she loved to draw and create things) more than her parents did! I think that particular semester, before their son was born, MM was directing Into the Woods and I do still laugh about the fact that I saw the first act of that show what felt like about 800 times, and the second act twice…I would take DB to the theatre to hang out so she could at least see her parents, maybe eat dinner with them, and we’d watch rehearsals. But, if you’re unfamiliar with the show…the second act is somewhat…violent? Or not entirely suitable for an almost-4 year old. Also, it just fit in to the night time routine better that we left at intermission!
It’s ironic (Maybe Alanis-ironic and not real ironic) that I spent so much time at rehearsals, but I don’t recall ever actually working on a show- which is what I was kind of going to school for. Life is weird.
Where was I? Oh. Yes. Babysitting was…my life. I spent more time with that family than almost anywhere else. And MM & I’s relationship grew. She’d come home from work, DB would be fast asleep, so we’d sit at the kitchen table and talk a bit before E got home (he was my ride sometimes, back to campus). Calm. Tranquil. (Cherished)
Well, MM got increasingly pregnant, and eventually, this amazing, blonde-headed (well, not at first, but eventually) little boy, who I lovingly referred to as “Random Boy” or RB, due to his penchant for coming up with some of the most random shit ever, once he started to talk. My favorite is when he would run over to me, super excited (and which I sometimes mistook as “has to go to the bathroom super quick!”) and bouncy and be like “GUESS WHAAT?!” “What?? Do you have to use the potty?!” “Nooooo!” “Ok, What?!” *pause.pause.pause* “TRUCKS!” And then he would dissolve in to peals of laughter, because it was apparently the best joke EVER. So random. So awesome. I can say with complete honesty, there are not many boys out there who have captured my heart, but I fell in love with him on day 1. (Well, it may have been his 2nd day out?!)
I could go on about the kids for days. They were such a HUGE part of my life for so long. They are still a huge part of my life, actually, internally at least. My heart rejoices when I see them. And they, maybe even more than MM, can take at least partial credit for my presence in the world today. After college, I was without roots…my childhood home had been sold, my family was scattered. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. So, I moved in with MM and E, and was the kids’ nanny for a while. That summer…was a hurricane. Externally, sunshine and roses, internally, shit was brewing. Certainly with me and, looking back, probably with MM & E as well. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… In between caring for two intelligent, funny, kind, beautiful kids, I was fighting (running from) demons I hadn’t even begun to really identify.
It was…bad. I was on a path of self destruction, which I had been on already for a few years, but…it was bad. I struggled with self-harming behaviors, razors being my weapon of choice in the assault against my self. But out of respect for the family and the sheer fear of one of the kids somehow walking in on me in the act, I tried to limit when and where I did it. This resulted in many, many late night/early morning walks through the town cemetery, where I had actually gone so far as to tape a packet of blades to the underside of a certain stone bench. It was a good bench. I remember so vividly, laying down on the top of level of it, feeling the chill of concrete through my flannel/whatever long-sleeved shirt I was wearing, staring at the stars. If I angled just right, there were no lamp lights or trees in my view, just the sky. I would stay long after the red beads had congealed on my skin. I would stay until I was physically numb from the early morning chill. Or until a patrol car happened to circle through, at which point I would make a stealthy exit so as to not have to explain why I was there after hours. heh.
I learned to love Law & Order in that house. Tasted my first gin & tonic (which is still one of the only mixed drinks I ever order). Had hot toddy’s in front of the fire, even though I hated butter (and possibly rum?). Red wine at the kitchen table, back when I could still drink red. Spent countless days sitting in the shade of the back porch while DB did cartwheels and RB scared me half to death with his antics on the swing set, and the dogs lounged in the yard.
The dogs. Pitch and Topaz. Such gentle creatures- never so much as a growl when RB would crawl on them like they were a jungle gym, or use them to help himself stand up. Just woeful looks like “Uhm. Please help? He’s sticky and I know I’m not allowed to bite him, but I’m also kinda old and not, in fact, a jungle gym…” I remember when MM got the call that Pitch, the escape artist, had been hit by a car, even before anyone realized he was out of the fence. MM was heartbroken. But said “At least he was doing what he loved…running the town and chasing cars!” There are rainbows with even the hardest of storms…(right?)
I remember sitting/standing/pacing on the front porch…I had searched for my birth mother, had found her, and was at the point of contacting her. But didn’t want to be the first one on the phone, in case she didn’t want anything to do with me, didn’t want to be found…I like to always give people an out…and also, we were 90% sure it was her number, but not 100…so, I think MM had one phone and I had another (back in the days of cordless house phones…) and I’m not sure I breathed while it rang. But when she answered, and MM asked about my birthday, and if the date meant anything to her…and I swear we could hear a thud and then sobbing. And MM went with me to meet her for the first time (cuz I’m bad at new people, but MM’s the opposite)
I seem to have lost my point. Except. No. My point was that I had a lot of words in me that needed to come out. (They’re still coming. Sorry not sorry)
Over the years, MM and I grew so close. She went from professor to employer to friend to BFF to confidant (sp?). I eventually moved out (directly across the street from where they lived!) but still spent as much time with them as I could. And E, too, went from Prof to Not-an-awful-man (I’m bad at people. Worse at boy people over the age of…12?) to one of the best father figures I’ve ever met.
But. The problem is, I have/had no sense of self…no idea of healthy boundaries. I am a people pleaser. I will drop everything to help someone in need if they ask. Bonus if I offer assistance before they ask. It’s just my nature. I like to make people happy. I like to do good things. I’ve been a brown noser all of my life- in school, at work…I don’t even do it to get ahead, really. I just…have a severe fear of ever disappointing anyone, ever. That manifests itself in several ways, of course. The most noticeable being, I will run myself ragged doing for others before I even think about doing for myself. Maybe that’s just part of being a woman (ha). Maybe it’s from an over inflated sense of guilt for…hell, I don’t even KNOW what for. For existing. For more time than I care to admit, I felt completely untouchable. Because I was afraid that anyone who touched me would get the awful on them. Kids were allowed, because (I thought…hoped…) they were immune? And because somehow my brain worked it out that denying them hugs, kisses, my body as their personal jungle gym- would hurt them more than the awful slime covering me. I can’t really explain it, the rules, looking back, were arbitrary and illogical. But. Anyhow.
At one point, maybe 13 years ago, give or take a year, I was again (or still) at an awful point in my life. I was commuting 40 minutes one way at least 3, sometimes more, days a week to accomplish nothing more than failing nursing school, failing my 2 year relationship with my girlfriend, barely speaking to my family, trying to go to school full time while working a part time night shift job, as well as working a work-study job through the university. Being evicted from my apartment (I exceeded the cat-limit. And had been struggling financially, so rent hadn’t always been on time). I was going from school to work to school to work to bed, where I slept if I was lucky. Self care…simple things like eating, sleeping, remembering to breathe…I’ve never been so good at those things. Negative self talk, however, I am an effing PRO at! So. I was failing at, essentially, everything, and beating myself up for it. And then my car broke down, or maybe I got in an accident…I don’t recall the details, but I was borrowing MM’s car…and she had promised to help me move my mattresses on a specified day and time. Well. Something came up, and she couldn’t help and…I broke. I lost it. I broke up with my gf, returned MM’s car to her driveway, walked up the highway to work in the middle of the night for my 11-7 shift. I’m sure I called names, and accused her of being selfish and never doing anything for me, when all I did was bend over backwards to do everything for her at the drop of a hat. (I’m sure because I have the emails to prove it. I briefly skimmed one while looking for something else the other day. Oh how I wish I could burn whatever internet space is made of…)
And. For a long time…too long of a time, I was whatever my version of angry is. (I don’t do anger. Or didn’t. I’m working on it.) I kept up with the kids’ lives, in the peripherals, because whatever I was feeling towards MM had nothing to do with them, of course.
There aren’t enough adjective to explain how much I regret that whole part of our history. How when I realize how much time I missed out on with her because of my stupid insecurities…I can’t actually even get too close to it, that realization. It makes my head and heart shift towards a dark place that I can not afford to go to. I used to feel super, super guilty about it, actually, until several months ago, when MM’s hopefully soon-to-be ex husband made his exit…I reached out to her, I let her know, in no uncertain terms, that our “breakup” had so much more to do with me than to do with her. And we talked, some, about things. Patched some things, started working our way back towards each other again. (This is where I scream about the unfairness of this reality. The reality that I can apparently only skirt around?)
The reality that. She’s gone. I can’t stomach that. I can’t accept never feeling her hug me. Never hearing that laugh that filled an auditorium. Never having those eyes pierce in to me. It wasn’t her eyes, though, that got me to spill my soul. It was that damn eyebrow arch that crinkled her whole forehead. That said “You say you’re fine, but I don’t believe you…”
I tried to explain to her, once, in the early years, how…alone…I felt. I don’t even know what else was said, just that I admitted some pretty dark shit and she just…fucking pulled me in to her lap like I was her 5 year old and squeezed until the tears came and didn’t let go. Her legs must’ve surely been numb by the time I wore myself out and could exhale without a sob escaping. I’ve got you…
I know my near-constant depression was maddening to her, because she didn’t understand it and I couldn’t explain it cuz I didn’t understand it either, and we both felt helpless, sometimes, I think. Or frustrated, at least. It’s an awfully difficult thing, to watch the people that you love suffering. But she, and E and those kids…that family…they were one of the few threads that held me tethered and together.
So much of my world is infused with her. She’s been a part of my heart for half of my life. Even when I threw my fit and threw her out of my life (I’m sorry.), I never stopped loving her.
And now. And now. Every time I see a certain length and color of hair in town, I do a double take (even though I don’t even recall when hers was actually that color or length). All of those beautiful memories…I don’t want them to, but they sting. And I don’t know how to make them not sting. I’ve never been good at getting my brain to do a particular thing. I try to soothe myself with music…nothing in particular…but then a song will come on that throws me in a whole different not-good headspace. Or my brain picks which particularly poignant line to hear and the tears start. (There was a time when I couldn’t cry no matter how hard I tried, years ago. I’m definitely not in that place now.)
And. So. I allow myself to cry. I still get up in the morning and brush my teeth and shower and go to work. But my current job is such that I have a fair amount of alone-time (travelling between clients, time between appointments when clients cancel, etc) And. Every day, it’s harder to maintain focus. Harder to get out of bed. Harder to walk away from that black hole that I’m all too familiar with.
So I try to reach out, fill my schedule, cuddle my dogs, take pictures, walk around town. All the things on my list of “things to do when times are tough” but. This pain? It is unlike anything I’ve known. It’s mental, for sure, but. Physical in a way I’ve never experienced? I’ve gotten queasy from nerves and anxiety before. I have never vomited after a particularly intense memory popped in to my head before. In the last week, it’s happened on several occasions. To the point where I’m afraid to have food in my stomach because I don’t have any warning when the memories will surface.
When it’s real, it’s so very painfully real. But the rest of the time? It can’t possibly be real. I’m just stuck in one of those weird semi-lucid dream loops. Or a night terror that I haven’t woken from yet.
And the worst part? I can’t even really type about it. But I can sum it up: I went to my doctor’s office today. She talked to me for 45 minutes, at least, and let me cry and asked me questions and made sure I was safe, etc. And as we were wrapping up, she said “I wish I could take your pain away” and my response was “You take mine, and then I’ll take DB & RB’s”
As much as my heart hurts for me (which is a change, I usually shove that aside and don’t acknowledge it. This is too big to ignore, though)…I would live out my days feeling this awful mix of sorrow, confusion, rage and hurt if I just knew how to stick together the pieces of DB’s heart that I watched shatter on the hospital room floor….
Except. MM & E raised her, and RB, right. Maybe they got a lot wrong with each other…but those kids, they tried to do the best by them and…if I had even a smidgen of the grace and strength DB has shown through this, despite how her world has been turned on end…
RB…he’s…a teenage boy who just lost his mother. I don’t have an effing clue how to read him. I just hope with everything I have that when he wants or is able to reach out, that he does so. Everyone handles grief differently, obviously.
They are so loved. I am just one of, literally, hundreds. Not everyone appreciates a good storm, but there are very few people who look at the rainbow it creates with disdain. They are both beautiful, beautiful people- inside and out. I’m not one to understand prayer, but. I do know that there is so much love and warmth being sent through the cosmos towards them and I just so hope that it will help them through the darker times, somehow, however that all works.
Well. Maybe 3 1/2K words is enough for tonight?
(Turns out, I only got a B in that Dance class, btw. Now that’s kinda funny…)
One thought on “Not Quite Later, Yet”
This is very moving, Holly. This is a beautiful tribute to the family and to the friendship you have had with them up to this point. I expect your relationship will continue and you will find the courage to offer the much needed support that Emily and Marshall will need in the future. We all have regrets in our life and unfortunately there are no take backs. But it seems clear that, even with the regrets you have now, the experience was worth the heartbreak. I can’t think the friend you describe here, would disagree.