Monday Memoir: The Loser

 

Those of us who have been in long-term relationships and/or marriages know well the ups and downs that occur.  Some are more challenging than others.  My marriage to Jay is no different.

Jay comes from a dysfunctional family.  His Dad, a Vietnam vet (served in the 101st Airborne) who came back a changed man, became an alcoholic and abuser of his Mom (of which he witnessed several times).  They divorced by the time he was six (his younger sister Marcy was a year old); but then became mired in vicious child snatching schemes (before it was ruled illegal) that went on for a few years.  His father remarried, and Jay and Marcy went to live with him in another state, and Jay wouldn’t see his mother again for many years.

Jay’s step-mother was a drug-addict (addicted to pain meds) who was physically abusive to his sister, and vindictive towards him (at times she tried to have him arrested for stealing his own stuff).  His half-brother, Walter, was born during this time.

By the time I first met him in college, his father and step-mother was in the midst of a nasty divorce.  He wanted to help and protect his little brother, Walter, but in the end would lose and never see the kid again for a number of years when the step-mother split with more than half of his father’s earnings.

Right from the start, Jay and I had a connection even though at that time I didn’t quite understand it.  He had a girlfriend, Heather and I was dating his best friend, Shaun.  But, he and I became close friends.  When Heather suddenly broadsided him with vicious lies when he refused to sleep with her, he became depressed and well, lost.  I tried to be there for him, but in the end, he left college at the close of our freshman year to join the Navy.

The year was 1990.

I returned for my Sophomore (and final) year at that college for the fall semester.  It was either late November or early December, Jay came to the campus to visit his friends.  He stopped at my dormitory and we visited for a few minutes.  He had on his Naval uniform under a dark gray long coat.  I can remember thinking how handsome he looked.  At this time, there were rumors circulating of a possible war in the Persian Gulf, and they were anticipating high casualty counts. Knowing this, Jay wanted to see as many people as he could before heading overseas.

I wouldn’t hear from him again for the next eight years.

The training he chose while in the Navy was in the Meteorology and Oceanography field, and he was placed on an aviation crew on board a battleship. Since he also had combat training (was in the Army Reserve prior), once he reached the Gulf, he was assigned to a Marine unit that headed to land (to participate in the land assault called Operation Desert Shield/Sabre) after a period of air assaults. To this day, Jay doesn’t talk in detail about what went on during these days.  All I know was that he was with the Marines on Highway 80 (aka Highway of Death), and was responsible for calling in airstrikes on the trapped Iraqis on that road.  I also know that he went with the Marines after the airstrikes on a reconnaissance mission, and saw first hand of the carnage he had a hand in creating.

He was only 19.  Still just a kid.

 

Not too long after the end of the Persian Gulf War, Jay was sent to a Naval base on the Philippine Islands. As “luck” would have it, he experienced the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. He and along with others participated in the search and rescue efforts, and then in the recovery.  From there he went on to Guam, and then to Alaska.

In Alaska he found solace in the rugged landscape of the Aleutian Islands where the base was once located.  Now fully entrenched in his military career as a Meteorologist for the aviation crews, he felt he’d found his true calling.

In October 1993, all that changed when his sister, Marcy (at 17 years of age) was involved in a serious single car accident where she sustained major brain injury, and was in a coma near death.  For this reason, he left behind his blossoming military career and went home to help his family and to be there for his sister.

Between 1995 and 1999, he came close several times to re-enlisting in the military (Navy and Army), but certain life events always interceded.

In June of 1999, we reunited, and then in September, we were married.

I encouraged him to return to the military; but he felt that I would not be happy living a military life. So, he decided against it.

Marcy survived, but has permanent brain damage, and must live in a group home setting.

I’ve always regretted not pushing him to go back to the military as he has never truly re-acclimated to the civilian life. He was also a different man than I knew when we were freshmen in college.

More serious. Cautious

It’s no wonder though given what he’s gone through.

Also given his family background, he was always considered by certain family members (as well as old high school and college mates) as the “loser” who would never amount to anything.

Instead of allowing this and all the past dark experiences break him, he fought back.

One of the things he did was to go back to the same college where we first met, and finished what he began in 1989.  He graduated with double degrees in Psychology and Therapeutic Recreation with a GPA over 3.0 in December 1998.

He worked in the Therapeutic Rec field the first years we were married, but being a relatively young field that no one took seriously, he decided to get out of it.  After working odd jobs for a few years, he went in to the Banking industry which he hated (Corporation ideology).  From there, he was a middle school teacher teaching all things Science which he absolutely enjoyed in the beginning.  Then everything became so bureaucratic where the teachers ended up spending more time working paper works than actual teaching, plus the salary went no where, so he opted to get out.

Jay tried working at a credit union for over one year before being laid off due to the recession.

Enough was enough, he said.  He decided to go back to college, and earned another double degree in Bio-pharmaceutical and Environmental Science Technology, and graduated with high honors in 2014.

This guy never ceased to amaze me.

Everything he tried, he’d master it, and then excel.  It doesn’t matter how much he struggled, he just never gave up.  He’d had this “prove them all wrong” mentality that blows me away.  I so admired his spirit, and tenacity, and secretly wished I could be the same way.

I mean, this guy basically came from nothing, and became a someone.

He’s my inspiration to never giving up on myself.  The reason why I decided to keep trying no matter what obstacle stands in my way.

So, here we are, living up in North Dakota, on a small farmstead in a rural community full of great people.  Jay now working in the USDA, but is getting ready to make a major move to an entirely new direction that excites the heck out of me, in a direction that pulls all his past life, work, college and military experiences together in to one package.

Life works in mysterious ways.  Never count yourself out.

 

 

 

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#IWSG: The Ultimate Writing Goals

Click on the image to access this group’s official page

 

This month’s question: What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

 

Ultimately, like many other writers, I’d love to have a book published. But, fearing that I’d be penalized by Social Security (am on disability benefits for my progressive vision loss-called Usher Syndrome) I can’t earn very much so I’ve tabled that…for now.  In the meantime, I write poetry and short (as well as flash) fiction of which some are published in various zines.

Another one of my goals is to learn the playwriting craft, and attempt an one-act play.  I already have a title, just need to write it.  I then would love to see it performed through a local Council for the Arts performance group. Having moved to North Dakota back in 2015, I haven’t made too many friends yet; I figure what better way to get to know people in the community than through the local arts.

I don’t think my writing goals have changed much over the years (started writing seriously in 2007) since they usually involve being published in some capacity which I have done with several of my short works.

 

What about you?  What are some of your biggest goals that you would like to fulfill?

 

 

Monday Memoir: Letting Go…

I never thought I’d use my Physical Education degree, but I did. I enjoyed being a fitness trainer at the YMCA. I worked there for about a year, but it became increasingly difficult to maneuver around the equipments and exercising bodies as my peripheral vision decreased. The bouts with depression increased, and I began to call in sick.

The problem was I still refused to accept the fact that I was going blind, and my waning vision angered me. I was afraid to ask for help as this would mean I had to acknowledge the fact that I had a disability, and I didn’t want people to think me as a liability. I wanted to be an asset. Not a burden.

It grew more difficult to make ends meet, so in come a room-mate…my brother. At first, it was great; but, he had his own demons to battle. Being an adopted child, he’d always sought to be accepted. He’d always felt like an outsider, I believe. While he stayed with me, I noticed he hung around with several less than favorable individuals. When they started to hang around at our apartment, I got fed up and threw them out. I told my brother, no more. Soon after, he moved out and began to date an older lady from Louisiana.

A short time later, I received an unexpected call from someone I knew from college.

Jay and I met as freshmen in college; several years before I met and married my late husband. He had a girlfriend, and I dated his best friend. After our first year in college, he needed to leave the area for a while. He came from a very broken and dysfunctional family life, and felt the need to start a new one for himself. By this time, we’re both single. He enlisted in the Navy. After boot camp, he paid me a visit. It was a brief one as he was getting ready to go over seas to Kuwait to fight in the imminent war in the gulf there. He wanted to see me one more time as they were predicting that the rate of casualties were going to be high. I remember thinking how handsome he was in the military uniform.

He survived the first Gulf War. I saw him twice afterwards before we eventually lost contact with one another. I figured he’d gone on with his life, and I met and married my husband.

Eight years later, he was calling me to ask if he could come and see me. He’d found out that I was a widow, and wanted to check up on how I was doing. Sure, I replied. I’d loved to see him again.

Then, I started to think back to that day he paid me a visit before he headed overseas. Did he like me more than just a friend?

We reunited in a mall, and ate lunch at a local restaurant. That was in early June. I can’t explain it, but things just clicked between the two of us, and the next thing I knew we were dating, and then engaged. That September, we were married.

Before the wedding, he gave me a gift. A journal. A beautiful book full of blank pages. By this time, I hadn’t written in years. Somehow, he knew I needed this. I took the journal, and started to put words in it. The more I wrote, the better I felt. I poured out all the anger and resentment on to those pages. Writing in that journal became therapeutic as it began to sooth the pain and emptiness that I’ve held on for so long.

Writing enabled me to start letting them go.

Monday Memoir: Searching For Happiness

 

After Aaron’s death, I pretty much became a hermit, retreating to my tiny, one-bedroom apartment for the next three years. I slowly withdrew from his family as their daily pain in losing a son and a brother was too painful to witness. The only thing I accomplished during this period was graduate with a B.S. in Physical Education which, as I’ve said earlier, I had no intentions of using.

 

I spent my days watching romance-comedy movies, and cried.  I didn’t give up on my running or biking though.  I bought a mountain bike and rode that all around the town.  Other times I’d ride eight miles to the nearby walking/running trail and ran three miles, and then bike back home.  Exercise was pretty much my only outlet.

At least, it was something.

By the end of the three years, I decided that I had enough of being alone.  I felt ready to return to the “world.”  I’d been living in an apartment complex for the elderly where they accepted me because of my disabilities, charging me only a small percentage of what I received in my monthly social security benefits.  But at the age of 27, I felt that I still had enough of my vision remaining to go back to work, and not rely solely on them.

So, I took a big leap of faith and moved out, and into a regular apartment in the nearby city of Ithaca.  I got two part-time jobs; one as a clerk at a video rental store, and the other as a fitness trainer at the local YMCA.  I struggled financially, but the bills still got paid and I had some food in the pantries.  I slowly weaned myself off of social security.  I regained my independence as I now was in a place where I could either take a bus or walk to pretty much anyplace I needed.

For the first time in a long time,  I felt content.  Happiness still eluded me though.  I still had the gaping hole in my heart, and my chest would ache so, especially at nights as I lied in my bed.  I couldn’t escape the loneliness.  I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was missing something.

Monday Memoir : The Darkness Continues…

 

Okay, I was partially deaf and going blind.  I’d given up on my athletic dreams.  I hadn’t written in years so why start now.  Life dealt me the bad deal.  How could it get worse than this?

The worse was yet to come.

I was declared “legally blind” by Social Security and began to receive disability benefits.  I did continue to work towards my P.E. degree even though I really had no intentions of using it.

Then, I met Aaron and fell in love.  We were married within a year after our first meeting (through a church’s function).  We had so many things in common.  We loved rock n’ roll especially the 80’s rock and early 90’s alternative music.  We both loved sports.  He was a soccer fanatic.  He not only played in various local leagues, he also coached boys’ soccer teams in the town we’d lived.   His dreams were to not only coach kids, he also wanted to be a teacher.  He began college to pursue both.

I like to say I was the good wife.  I can’t.

I was manipulative.  Verbally abusive to him.  Why?

Jealous because he was able to play soccer?  Resentful because he took me away from my family to live with his own?  Bitter because he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and was able to do them?   Envious because he made friends wherever he went and I couldn’t?

Name it, and I felt it.  Then, I punished him.

I became the psycho-bitch that mothers would warn theirs sons against.  And I hated myself for being that way.

I wanted to change.  For him.

But, it was too late.

One cold day in March, Aaron was killed in a car accident.   He was on his way to pick up our pastor to take to the hospital because he didn’t want to take the ambulance.  I decided not to go at the last-minute.  Aaron was going too fast when he lost control of the car, and crashed into a dumpster truck.   The truck struck the passenger door, and because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt…well, you get the idea.

The heartache I felt that day was unlike I had ever felt before.  It was unbearable.  And the guilt…

That night I attempted to take my life by overdosing on certain pills, but something stopped me.

How could I be this selfish?  To take my life after what Aaron’s and my family have just gone through with his sudden death?   I hated myself for the way I’d treated Aaron, but I could not do this to them.

So, I decided to live with the pain and the guilt.

Monday Memoir: The Darkness Begins (Part One)

 

I thought living with a hearing disability would be difficult enough.

I was wrong.

Photo Credit: Pixabay Free Images

By the time I was twenty, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life.  So I pursued a degree in Physical Education with the hopes of going on to earn a masters in Exercise Science.  I wanted to work with college and professional athletes.   Being an athlete myself, I competed in cross-country, softball, as well as soccer.  Sports became my passion, and I’d wanted to make it my life.  Around this time I learned (finally) how to drive, and attained my driver’s license.

I was ready for the world.  To pursue my dreams at full speed.

Then, everything changed.

At first to me, it seemed pretty minor.  Getting around in the dark was growing more difficult.  I kept bumping into things (and people).  Stairs became more of a challenge.  Okay, so I needed glasses.  No big deal, right?

Wrong, again.

I went to see an ophthalmologist and was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa; a degenerative retinal disease which could result in complete blindness.

Being devastated was probably an understatement.

The next month my parents took me to Boston to see a RP specialist, Dr. Elliot Berson, at the Eye and Ear Infirmary.  He put me through several intensive tests over the course of two days, and confirmed that I did indeed have Usher’s Syndrome type II which meant that my deteriorating eyesight and hearing loss went together.

Lovely.

My dreams…my career aspirations…

I felt so distraught I gave up on them all.

I did, though, finish college and earned a Bachelor in Physical Education, but that was the extent of it.  I never went on.  Never moved forward.  I allowed my disabilities to destroy my confidence.   I’d withdrew within myself, and allowed everything else to vanish.

Monday Memoir: Unforgettable

 

At the age of ten, I discovered there was another way of intermingling with my imaginary friends, and that was through writing.  A new world was suddenly opened to me where I can create and bring things to life on paper. Because of my hearing impairment, my overall understanding of grammar was a bit lacking to say the least, and I knew this.  And because of this, I kept whatever I wrote hidden away.  I wasn’t ready to share with the world.

Not yet.

In the meantime, I struggled with insecurities, and with the belief that I was inferior to the other kids. I felt I wasn’t good enough in anything.   As a result, I stayed pretty much a loner with perhaps one or two good friends.

Later on in the same school year, one of the school’s teachers, Mr. Hathaway, announced that the school was going to compete in its first (and only) track meet with other private schools in the area. I signed up for three events: 100 yard dash, 200 yard dash, and 400 yard relay.

I’ll need to clarify that my school’s sport program when compared to the area public schools was more intramural at best; especially given the fact that my entire school population had only seventy students in all (grades Kindergarten through 12th)! And because of the small size, most of our sports were played with co-ed teams.

You get the idea.

Photo Credit: Acclaim Images

 

I was excited, and I was also nervous. I’ve never done track before. We had no coach, or any training. I wondered just how bad I was going to be.

The track meet was held on a warm spring day at another private school (almost as small as my school); the school’s parking lot was converted into a track.  For my first event, the 100 yard dash, I found myself competing against girls who were two and three years older than me, but age or size didn’t matter as I flew past them and finished in 1st place.  The same thing happened in the next event, the 200 yard dash, where I again finished in 1st place. In my last event, 400 yard relay, I was put in as the last runner, and as a team, we placed 2nd.

I never thought that running and competing could be so much fun.

Summer came and my parents placed me in a summer day camp which was sponsored by one of the local public schools. None of the kids from my school were there, but that really didn’t bother me. The kids that were there were from other public schools, ages that ranged from five all the way up to sixteen. I kept to myself as always while occasionally conversing with a few who were close to my age. One whom I do remember was Kari Lynn Nixon. She was a few months younger than me, but I was amazed by her. She was pretty, outgoing, and popular. I can remember one particular day when she involved me in one of the activities she led: how to put on makeups.

Here I was, eleven years old at the time, a tomboy learning how to apply lipstick and blush to my sweaty and dirty face. I must have been a comical sight when I got home later that day.

I remember one specific day over any others though.  It was late morning when one of the camp leaders announced that there was going to be a race.  Anyone who was interested was to come to the baseball field and stand in a line next to the home base. I didn’t think.  I just went. As soon as I stood in that line with at least twenty other kids, doubts filled my mind and butterflies jumped in my stomach.

What was I doing?

Most of these kids were athletes.  A few of whom I actually knew were  star baseball and softball athletes.  What kind of chance would I have against them?  A girl like me who went to a small private school against these other kids who went to schools that were at least ten times larger.

I must be insane.

I seriously considered stepping out and away from the line, but that would mean the entire camp would see me chickening out.  There had to have been about one hundred kids sitting in the bleachers behind me.

I had no choice, but to compete.

Must of the race was a blur to me.  I remember running as fast as I could.  I remember this one boy athlete racing right along beside me.  Then I remember seeing the home base ahead of me as we rounded the last section of the field.  I could hear the kids cheering in the bleachers. I can remember my legs feeling like rubbery leads.  You know what was amazing about that race?

I finished first.

I finally found something that I was good at. Something that apparently I was better than many of the kids from the local public schools.

It all felt quite surreal.  I never had so many people cheering for me.  Congratulating me.

It felt good.

I almost felt…normal.

 

Run With the Wind

Cool breeze sweeping by

the landscape all but a blur

my feet take me home

Monday Memoir: An Eccentric Outsider

 

I was almost six years old when I was diagnosed with nerve deafness.  I received my first behind-the-ear hearing aid shortly after the initial visit with Ms. Audrey.   The device helped as I was finally able to hear the sounds around me more clearly.  I could finally hear myself talk as well as whoever was trying to talk to me.

I was now able to understand and learn in school.

It certainly was not a “cure-all” as I was still very much a loner.  An outsider.

I spent the next two or three years attending speech therapy at a distant school.  About twice a week, a transportation vehicle would come and pick me up at the tiny private school I attended, and took me fifteen miles away to a moderate size elementary public school where I met with my speech therapist for our one-hour sessions.   Then I would board a public school bus with kids I didn’t know which took me home.

The speech therapy sessions helped, but I still spoke funny.

My accent was odd.  Out-of-place.

People, kids looked at me with strange expressions.

I felt very much alone most of the time.

Imaginary friends helped me through this period, as they would throughout my life.  Even as an adult, I still have imaginary friends.

Does that make me strange?

An outsider who’s not quite all there?

Hmm…yeah, I guess so.

And you know the funny part about all this?

I’m fine with it.  Totally and completely.

Why?

Because I have an excuse to be strange and odd, and what’s that word that a coworker once used to describe me?

Eccentric.

However, by the time I was eleven I’d developed a slight problem with having imaginary friends.   I started to act out some of the things they wanted me to do or where they wanted me to go.

Adventures in other lands.  Or, more like misadventures.

Like this one time when I was playing with my various superhero friends when one of them convinced me that I was Wonder Woman and could leap over a line of six chairs.   I almost cleared them all.  I ended up straddling a rocking chair and spent that evening in the ER.

When I was eleven my best friend was Melanie.  She was a red-head with a fiery temper.  I can’t remember what sparked the idea but she put out a challenge to see who could write the best short story.  I took the challenge and wrote a story about a haunted house where a girl went in to explore and found a decapitated head in the fridge.  Pretty morbid, but this particular challenge altered my life forever.

That day I learned there were other ways of participating in adventures with my imaginary friends; not to mention, much safer.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the writer within me was born.

Monday Memoir: Darren

 

I learned how fragile life could be at a young age.

Darren and I were born one month apart.  As cousins, we were constant playmates. I can remember us spending a lot of time running around in the back yard of our grandparents’ house.  In their back yard was a fairly large garden that they kept planted almost year round; usually full of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. On a particular overcast day, we were playing near the garden when Darren started to yell, “Snake! Snake!”    I looked and sure enough, a shiny black snake was squiggling its way through a patch of tomatoes.  But, wait a minute, it wasn’t alone as I started to see another one emerge, another one, and yet another one.  There had to have been at least a dozen black snakes slithering through that garden.  With the sight of so many slimy snakes, I froze.  One particular snake writhed towards me; but, Darren saved my life (from a kid’s perspective, mind you) by grabbing my arm as he dragged me back to the nearest porch of the house.  We were about five or six years old.

This memory still makes me smile, and chuckle.

That incident was the last real memory I have of us playing together.

My next memory was being at his Daddy’s (my Uncle Harold’s) funeral. I remember as I watched the adults congregated among themselves when someone said that it was probably for the best that he died suddenly.  I couldn’t understand why they could say such things.  My aunt was now left alone to raise three girls and a boy.  I couldn’t possibly see any good in that.

It wasn’t too long after that I noticed Darren falling more and more often.  Then, he needed help to get back up to his feet each and every time.

A short while later, he was confined to a wheelchair.  At first, we made good use of that wheelchair as I enjoyed zooming him all through our grandparents’ house like a car in a NASCAR race.   It was a cool race “car.”

We would spend hours sitting at a table, and play card games such as Go Fish and Slap Jack.   At some point, he wasn’t even able to do that as he grew so weak he could barely lift up his arms or hands.  Then, he couldn’t even keep his head up.

The wheelchair was soon replaced by a hospital bed in his own bedroom.  He could no longer go to school.  All he had to look forward to was watching the little television on a dresser in front of the bed.  I can remember how depressed he would get; especially since he could no longer play or go to school with kids his own age.

I can remember Darren lying in that bed, his body full of tubes that were connected to all kinds of machines.  Machines that helped him to breathe, to pee, even to eat for him.   The only things that he could still move were his eyes.  Heck, he couldn’t even talk anymore.

Mom would take me to visit him every Saturday.  I would go right into his room, take out his collection of Star Wars’ action figures (other times it would be race cars) and spread them out on his bed. Since he couldn’t play for himself, I played for him as he watched.

Eventually we didn’t go over to his house anymore.  His mother had placed him in a hospice.  A few months later, he got sick with pneumonia, and died one night in his sleep.  One month shy of his fourteenth birthday.

His funeral was held on a cold, rainy day.  It’s still a blur to me.  I can remember hearing my cousins crying for their brother beside me.  I don’t think I cried at all.  I just felt numb.  Empty.  And, lost.

He was my best friend.

Now, he was gone.

He had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Friday Favorite: Helen Keller and Poetry

 

It’s Friday–FINALLY!   🙂  🙂  🙂   Hope your week has been productive, and fast.  Mine was a bit chaotic with both hubby and son home sick for the past few days with colds.  I had a MRI done on a shoulder, and the results were positive–no surgery will be needed.  Just more physical therapy, but that I can handle.  🙂

Can’t help though but to feel a tad frustrated since I hadn’t done any writing this week.   It’s not that I’m feeling unproductive, but if a day or more pass by and I hadn’t created anything, that’s where the frustration lies.  I feel like an addict in that if I don’t get my fix (in the act of creating), I feel pent up, and agitated.

Sounds familiar?

Anyhoo…

A question popped in my  mind earlier this morning when I began thinking about Helen Keller (one of my favorite inspirational writers): how did she feel about poetry?

Reason this question came to mind is that I’ve been doing some soul-searching as I start to make plans for a memoir (which will be written around a series of poems I wrote throughout various parts of my life).  A realization struck me in how important writing poetry was to my healing (and dealing with losses), and I’ve begun to look at the role of how poetry therapy played in other people’s lives.

I knew Helen Keller had written at least one memoir, and several essays, but I wondered if she ever wrote poetry.  So, I hunted online to find the answer.  Although I did find it, I also found this particular quote by Keller that I’m considering to have framed and placed on my writing desk:

 

Poetry is liberating.   Writing poetry enable me to delve deeper in emotions and experiences that have been too painful to voice orally, and even openly about.

What about you?  Have poetry been instrumental in certain aspect or time of your life?  Do you have a favorite poet or poem?