Equal to the love you make

[FB post from yesterday, 8/27]

This morning at 5:04 AM I got an email via my yelp account from a recently-homeless woman who wanted to get a quote on how much it would be for me to board her two “beautiful” adult cats in my home.

It was already a weird morning because my friend Graham sent me a link to my old Garfield house which is now for sale again and seeing the interior sterility and the back yard–which the summer after James moved in 2007 was the site of a “healing through manual labor and sunburn”–with its huge tree gone and most everything I planted looking dead really put the punctuation on the end of that chapter in my life. It was the punctuation you typically see after “you stupid fucking idiots; what the actual fuck.” 

And so it was that I started my day. Sunday. An easy work day before the madness starts up tomorrow and moves well past Labor Day; my life not yet recovered from the July 24th madness, and my sick dog, and bug treatment, last foster kitten/group, etc., to where all the madness has started melding while laundry mounds to dangerous proportions, and every text is an agony over whether I should accept or decline more work or accept or decline the next group of foster kittens, etc. when I’m sleeping on the couch in my clothes because it’s easier to rouse myself to another workday when I don’t let myself get too comfortable.  

And as I drive in the darkness towards Capitol Hill–the ever-so-slight tension in my body already existing as I imagine Stella’s upcoming glucose test, and what if I don’t get a prick of blood the first time, and what if her values are really low or really high, and what if she doesn’t eat, and what if something happened to her in the night, etc–I’m thinking about this email. 

Because yes I struggle; yes I’m overworked and exhausted. But she’s living in her two-door car with her two kitties and it’s gotten “extremely difficult and she’s worried.” And while one part of me still holds the visceral memory of getting to the tipping point upon which I had to either start caring for myself properly or die, another part of me doesn’t know where that point is anymore. For as you live and grow, you get stronger, and as I’ve cared for myself over these last few years, I’ve become more capable, and while I know it’s not my responsibility to superhero all of life’s shit away so that no one else has to feel pain, at what point does non-action in the face of suffering actually become cruelty? At what point does saying no become me living a life of fearful, self-indulgent, privileged hoarding? There’s no glucose strip for this; there’s no manual.  

As the thoughts paraded, I drove west on 13th south and when I neared the freeway, something dashed across the street in front of my car. There was really no one else on the road so for a second I thought it might’ve been a wild animal but it wasn’t. It was a lost dog, a pitbull who looked scared. So I pulled my car to the side of the road and rolled down my window to talk to it, wrestling with myself. Because the desire to lure it into the safety of my car conflicted with the knowledge that Stella had to have her test and shot spaced almost exactly 8 hours apart, which was just a few minutes away, and as the dog slunk away–pausing and glancing over at me, unsure of itself–my heart broke in grief just a very little bit before falling into acceptance.  

For as the damned thing looked back at me with eyes like it would’ve gotten in my car, I thought of how in just the eight months of 2017 I’ve earned as much as for all of 2016–making a one year pay increase of $21,000–and how I was going to make another catio for my cats anyways, and dictated into my phone a response telling her that I don’t board animals but have a catio in the back of my house she can put her kitties in during the day. knowing she might abandon them, knowing she might be addicted to drugs or otherwise unstable. Knowing that this improbable situation may work out to be a total Garfield House.  

Because I get something from a world in which someone like me would still be willing to offer what they could to help someone like this lady. I get something. WE get something. And sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I make things all about the other person or all about compassion or all about an animal when really it’s about all of us. For I get something from this. 

And even in the darkness at the end of the night, I didn’t get to see that scared dog move into the safety of my car but I did get to see it look back at me, and even in its fear, curiously wonder about the love and concern for it held within a human heart.

And I guess that’s enough.

Bringers 

Going to meet a new (pet sitting) client two weeks ago, I walked up to her apartment to have her tell me I just missed the police escorting her ex-boyfriend and his cardboard boxes of life out of their once-shared apartment.

She is a fully-woke, always-present, powerful “feminist” (in quotes because I really hate labels) heart surgeon fellow with the financial and emotional support of both the University of Utah and her family and friends, and is happily-here in white-male centric Utah in a patriarchy-infused specialty standing strong against XY superiors telling her not to become friendly with the nurses, yet found herself in a situation where her relationship had devolved to the point where her Wednesday break from the hospital was spent with cops because the restraining order against her boyfriend for abusing her meant that the man she once trusted and made a life with couldn’t legally be near her without a law enforcement officer. 

And as she relayed the story of how she was denied legal help in filing the order of protection–“They wouldn’t take it because I didn’t have any bruises”–she was reflective and kind and talked about it as if she was living fully in the now rather than in the realm of unanswered “whys”.  

And again, somehow I meet the most remarkable people in my work, and I’m grateful to be allowed into their story.
For as she talked about how no one would take her case, she lamented her own privilege–financial/emotional support, the ability and resources to write her own legal documents–and a mere 30 minutes after her abuser had walked out with cops, spoke not of her own trials but of the wider insult of systemic injustice wherein a series of thinking errors has led to a culture in which women are basically forced to evacuate from their own lives, forgotten by a society that condemns them to their fate, then blames them for not being strong enough to leave.

And in looking at her, knowing that this terribly stressful thing had just happened in her life, watching her finesse her painful experience into a teaching moment beneficial to our entire society, it was as if she was integrating all the stories of our world so that she could hear the bigger sound.   

Because we all have trauma, but the internal recitation of the world’s crimes against us is an energetic trap and, in the end, we’re all responsible for what we bring to the story of our world.   

FB Memory Share/Thoughts 

(For people who don’t know me irl, I somehow very circuitously became a pet sitter–someone who takes care of animals in their homes while they’re family is away–as my primary occupation. This post is about one of the families I tended for and that is me in the photos above).

I had to stop sitting for these guys because they had moved to Sandy (I’m strictly Salt Lake City) but if I ever write a book, I’m going to contact Luna’s human to include her story.  

I don’t know what motivates some people to nurture what is not easily nurtured.
Her new owner didn’t know if Luna could be rehabilitated–didn’t know what would happen, was unsure what would come of her effort–but Luna’s story pulled her into a situation wherein, at once, she was faced with the daily acceptance of knowing Luna’s ugly story at the same time as she realized that making a life with Luna would be extra work and no guaranteed outcome.  
And it’s remarkable.

People often want “easy” for whatever reason. Maybe they think easy will make life easier or something; that makes some sense, I guess.  

But really I think the truth is that striving to always make things easy doesn’t always make things easier. Because in always shaping our lives into “easy” we don’t challenge ourselves to rise to anything, and it’s in the rising to things that you hone the ability to stay calm when shit goes down. For you don’t learn to conquer emotional foes by sitting on the sidelines, and there’s emotional power in forging willingly and lovingly ahead through uncertainty.

Spots of Light

[Revised and updated, 8/25/2016]

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Me in 1988, during the trip to Yosemite with my mom and Mary

 

My mom was the impetus behind A.v.A.—my weed-smoking boyfriend–coming to live with us.  The year was 1987—I was eighteen–and A.v.A. was an injured bird—motherless, practically fatherless, and a senior in high school—so, when his dad finally went MIA, my mom dove into action so as to prevent him from having the life of a high school drop out.

My mom’s best friend—Mary—donated her damaged yellow Toyota Celica to him (aptly dubbed the “Deerslayer” after an unfortunate incident the year before on a winding, forest road) so that he could drive from our house in the Santa Cruz (CA) Mountains to his job as a busboy in Soquel, and logistics managed, mom opened with some obvious rules:  no canoodling, no breaking curfew, no doing anything that might cause my nosy little sister to tattle and, above all:  No spending money on weed.  He could smoke it (like if friends offered) but spending his money on it wasn’t allowed.

For some, it might take a monumental, Herculean shift in cultural awareness to understand why that last rule was not, in fact, the epitome of “lax,” for in standard American culture in 1987 explaining the subtleties of conscientious weed-smoking to a 17 year old kid wasn’t a thing yet but, in Santa Cruz in 1987–where even the cops smoked weed (they’d take your stash and smoke it themselves)–the resignation of the futility of fighting it had already occurred, and boundaries had to be moved accordingly.  Like out. Way way out.  Like to where a parent might find themselves not wondering very long about where their bong and rolling papers went, at which point they chuckle softly and go back to watching Cheers.  Way. TheHell. Out.

The first time I smelled pot smoke coming from the downstairs bathroom, I knew he’d bought some (because it doesn’t matter how awesome your friends are, they’re not going to be sending you home with a goody bag filled with their weed) and I lectured him on disrespect, and lack of gratitude, lack of consideration, the importance of following my parents’ rules and how it seemed he was flouting the opportunity that my mom was giving him.  What was wrong with him, I wondered, that he didn’t obey the rules; what was wrong with him that he wasn’t afraid of disappointing her?  He didn’t get it at all, what she was trying to do, and why she was trying to help, and I was confounded by his shitheadedness.

Months later after I got back from a family trip to Cancun in 1988, I found out that he and my brother had snuck onto a neighbors’s property, stolen some of their mature pot plants, and hid them in the gully that ran along Hazel Dell Road to dry, at which point I knew that the writing was on the wall.   He’d have to move out.

But it was sad.  And it hurt.

For I had been rooting for him, hoping the experience with an intact family might spur something; and there was intelligence and kindness and humor and potential inside him, and I knew that, and could feel the truth in how it’s often the wounded birds among us who tend to come off as jerks simply because their whole life has been one long self-fulfilling prophecy of uncaring, the end result of which is that they actually have no idea how NOT to self-destruct.

But I knew I couldn’t save him, and when he moved out, it was into a leap too big for both him and us, and I broke up with him soon after.

Two months after breaking up–late summer of ’88–my mom, her Celica-donating best friend—Mary—and I set out on a girls’ trip to Yosemite.  We had rented a cabin, and planned on going hiking, and doing some bonding right before I left home to attend the University of California, Davis.

In a deserted cliff-walled section of Tioga Road, our Jeep Wagoneer broke down and—over the course of 3 minutes–we had exhausted our entire automobile troubleshooting repertoire save for sex appeal, at which point–after another 15—we found ourselves giggling silently when a guy with even less auto-knowledge stopped his studmuffin sports car to offer roadside assistance to us three stranded dames.

The nearest house he dropped us at ended up being a refuge.  The family that lived there—dad, mom, older teen son—were familiar with cars, and the father and son went to retrieve the car part we needed from the nearest town.  The car place was closed for the night but—with beer and KFC purchased by my mom and Mary–we passed the evening with this little family, chatting with one another as if catching up after a long absence.

It was surreal.  To be helped out of a jam by good-hearted, gentle people who we just happened to come upon.

We spent the night in a small, enclosed wooden shelter (no electricity, no plumbing) on their property, and the next morning—new part in place–said our very grateful goodbyes.

Continuing on to Yosemite, Mary relayed a weird thing that had happened to her in our shelter that night.

She said that during the night she saw three spots of light, darting about the darkened room.  She said at first they seemed white but, as she watched them, they changed color.  Light colors, green, purple, then back to white.   She watched them as they flitted, knowing they weren’t normal, but was completely unafraid.

She said she thought that one of those lights might be her mother—who had recently passed—letting her know that she was okay.

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Alphons–A.v.A. in the above–found my (first incarnation of this) blog about two years ago, made a nice comment on my site–in  which he agreed with my reference to him as “wounded bird”)–and since then, we periodically email and text.  I asked him if my blog was true to what happened all those years ago and, in an act of blatant and gorgeous honesty, he said yes.  His life didn’t get that much easier after we broke up; his much-younger sister–who he’d been in foster care with when they were little–ended up being killed when his dad made the decision that it was okay to send her to live in Baton Rouge with their mentally-ill mom; she died as a result of being the passenger in the car of a drunk driver.  She was 16.

Last year, on July 28, 2015, Alphons texted me because he’d been following the disappearance of 8 year old Maddy Middleton–hoping initially that her disappearance was due to a nasty parental custody issue–and had just found out that she’d actually been killed by a teen in her housing complex.  He was very emotional, saying that there was something about the fact that Maddy had been out that day riding her new scooter that was really wrecking him and that the minute he heard the news that she’d been killed, he couldn’t stop crying.

His compassion was so strong and his feelings so deep, it was easy to picture it had been triggered by his time in foster care, when–out of love and loyalty–he took on the task of protecting and caring for the younger sister whose life would one day be forfeit by the uncaring act of his father.

I urged him to go to Maddy’s vigil that night, for I thought he should be around others also grieving, and he did, reporting the next day that he lit one up and passed it around, as the news vans congregated in Westcliff to record people’s grief.

My wounded bird still blazing (pun intended) his own trail in whatever way he can through his very difficult life.

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There is so much goodness in this world.  And my fellow human beings are my heroes, wounded birds–at times—and overpowered by battles with demons both real and imagined but, they inspire me–as I move through life–with feats of generosity and love, both small and large.

Because, in this existence full of pain and hardship where walls are readily built to fortress our natural vulnerability, we allegorically lie in the unfamiliarity of a darkened shelter, and–in so doing–exist perhaps beyond all measure and reason for one another like beacons of hope in a world of shadows; like little spots of flitting light, pushing forth together as we carry on towards a life of unity bound by shared truth and collective wisdom.

And there is beauty and comfort in being willing to traverse a rough road together.  So be at peace, fellow travelers, that there exist the wounded birds of this world to reveal our soul’s softness and reflect back to us how beautiful we are when we stop the world and take time to light the shadows for one another.

Zoe

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So I’m sobbing by the side of the street just west of her house, remembering

that late night I drove her home and we saw the streets and businesses flood.  The windshield was submerged and the world inundated, and we all leaned forward in our seats to better view the spectacle, and there was a sweetness in the car.  The two older girls–Zoe and my daughter, Julia—laughed about work stuff, and my younger daughter fangirled over Zoe’s husky voice and vibrant kindness, and as Nature humbled us together, we lived in this weird moment of an impeccable Now—weary-travelers united, safe and warm; almost grateful for the storm’s ferocity–and when we get to her house, she dashed out of the car and I watched her retreat, and could see exhilaration as she ran through the squall towards her front door.  Like she was a kid again.

And I know pain and desperation, so, most days when I pass their house, I utter a blessing for them, because she’s 16, in high school, and rides her bike (in all weather)—2 miles to school, 1 to work, then 2 back home—to a full-time job because her mom struggles with alcoholism and often needs money for rent, and her deadbeat dad yells at her for being irresponsible and she can barely keep up with her schoolwork, and the thing that makes her totally freak out was the time her mom couldn’t pay court costs and she feared her little brother would be taken away because the thing that makes Zoe the happiest in the world is when her little brother runs and jumps into her arms when she comes home for the night.

And most days I feel hopeless to help them, so I say the blessing (my wish) as I quickly pass, hoping to the God or the Universe or whatever freaking energy is out there that they succeed, and that their hardship can be eased and lessons learned quickly, and strength acquired and anxieties culled, because I want to protect this little family, and would give anything to make it so that their struggle can subside long enough for them to craft something beautiful.

Most times I pass quickly because pain is so palpable.   But not this night.

This night,

I see the white lights of their Christmas tree sparkling through the window. And there is something there, inside me, as I pass, that makes me slow and consider my own little family’s razors edge–depression and suicide, cruelty and betrayal—culminating now in my youngest still happy and alive, and with me no longer afraid of hardship, and, all at once, I’m stopped on the street and I can’t hold it in and my breath catches in short gasps.

Because pushed up to the front window, curtains parted, white lights perfectly spaced and sparkling was that tree saying, “Come home to me,” and I could almost see her little brother run into her arms, and feel her mother fighting the good fight, and sense Zoe’s strength and humor, and even hear her palpable kindness as she generously chatted in the car with Julia’s younger sister.

And it was all just so fucking beautiful.

And, alone in my car, in the dark stillness of winter, the air smelling of snow, parked to the side of the road, I covered my face with my hands and sobbed, and felt so much joy.

Because hardship is potent and obvious and feels as if it will never end, but that night, next to their wood-frame house in Marmalade—reliving a moment of ironic gratitude for a rainstorm’s ferocity–I felt maybe my wish had come true, because as I sobbed in the car, my breath heaving, we all became weary-travelers, humbled together, and there was nothing more triumphant and beautiful than seeing us all try so hard to make a better life for one another.

 

 

Yellowstoned

And it was a shapeless voyage.  Underplanned; underfunded.  Like that time in my twenties when my boyfriend and I camped up and down the California coast.  Freezing; complaining.  Our next step always unknown, and our misery purposeful and a small price to pay to feel free and unencumbered.

And the original Yellowstone plan had been scrapped because of that June blizzard, but somehow we’re there and it’s morning when we’re stopped at the side of the road watching the grizzly bear eat the baby elk.  Gray fur blowing in imperceptible breeze, floating and aloft then at rest as gravity and kinetics sooth their differences, the bear hunching over the carcass that was certainly still warm and Livy’s sobbing—“I bet the mommy elk is looking for her baby right now!”—lamenting the cruelty of Nature, and truths that need not be said about how unfair this world is and how little hope there could ever possibly be for the vulnerable.

Because on that day—June 15, 2008, Father’s Day—my daughters and I were the mother elk, living still in a haze of unresolved grief where daddy had left and emotional abandonment stirred archetypal pain, and life had stagnated and become rooted to trauma, continually guiding us to revisit the same point in time as if walking beside the ghost shadow of ourselves.

And I briefly joined Livy in wondering, “How will she find the strength to go on?”

Because as the baby’s blood and muscle and sinew nourished a guiltless beast’s continued domination, we stood together in timeless solidarity with that mother elk who was now tasked with carrying on in spite of the extreme emotional burdens of the living.

And I just didn’t know how it was possible that she could avoid the temptation to give up.   Why doesn’t she just lay down and stop trying?

How do we all find the strength to survive this world?

Then 7 years passes.

And the question is not answered but asked, instead, over and over, during a million little deaths and an excess of losses, and I say “I can’t do this.  It’s too much” and mean it, and the edge is so close until hardship is the new normal and there was that night—that random nothing night–when Livy was still in danger and mom called to say I wasn’t a good daughter and I’m on the stairs in the dark and it just wasn’t possible to feel more alone and something happened in the deep inner knowing of the atoms I share with that mother elk (and the entire Universe) and somehow I knew that beauty and pain must coexist, and in fact we can’t have one without the other, because daddy left but came back, and Livy’s depression fuels social activism, and her self-inflicted scars are counterbalance to her limitless empathy, and I look at her, alive and wonderful with scars and pain, and I have joy—and it’s a miracle, with love enough for the whole world’s pain—that makes me weep in thanks for the misery that made it all possible, and for the pain that taught me how to let all the unimportant things fall away.  That emptied me out only to be refilled again, replaced with a boundless joy and happiness that wells up and bubbles forth simply from seeing her sitting next to me on the stupid fucking couch.

And Time, standing still on one point, pivots and catches.  Like the earth with the sun; in a state of perfect be-ing and dynamic balance.  Wherein every second, Earth avoids annihilation by the Sun’s gravitational pull because of an equivalent counterforce, forever balancing and afloat, in a constant state of falling and missing.

And on that day in Yellowstone—Father’s Day 2008—with the grief and the bear and the mother and the baby, standing within earshot of strangers, and languages, and motor homes, and tripods, and park rangers directing traffic, and an art project of a world masquerading as a tree-filled meadow of green under our effortlessly-generous sun, Nature showed me the patience we all must have to feel that joy.

Because not every second will reveal the logic of hardship.   But Nature erases a lifetime of forgetting, anchoring us to Earth, as it eternally balances, falling into the sun but forever missing.