When You’re Strong

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Photo by J. Wahl

PROLOGUE: Is this about you? I don’t know, maybe, or maybe it’s all of us – sometimes. 

Under the blanket of darkness she cries, praying to a God she fears isn’t listening. He’s probably listening to the prayers of someone more worthy – someone who believes without reservation, she prays nonetheless. The darkness knows she’s not as strong as she looks, but it never tells – it’s her secret keeper. A loyal friend.

As the sun rises she splashes cold water on her face, and smiles into the mirror until it feels real. The sunshine warms her face where the trail of tears once flowed. It’s not as loyal as the darkness, it shows all the rough edges and tender spots. The sun searches for secrets, and tells them all.  She must be strong to outrun the sun’s harsh glare.

At the end of the day she drops her armor at the door, and slides into the comforting arms of darkness.

This is her dance, she does it well.

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Before and After

How fast we learn lessons when time isn’t guaranteed.

On Friday, April 20th I found out my mom has ovarian cancer. Cancer, is there a more terrifying word?

Every issue I had with my mom, real and imagined, fell away. In that instant I was released from the anger I’ve stubbornly held onto for years. Big, seemingly insurmountable problems now look small and petty. I look small and petty. Why did it take cancer to release me and allow me to just open my heart and love her without conditions and judgment? In the dark of night I often wonder if I’m a terrible person, I hope I’m not. I hope I’m just a very flawed human who can learn lessons even if it takes a jolt to my gut like my mom’s cancer.

My mom’s cancer. Those words crush me. When I read them – yes, read them. My mom sent out a family email to inform us. I know you read that and thought, “what the hell?” But, it’s not strange for my family. We’re not a conventional family by any stretch of the imagination. But, each family is different, and I think that’s ok.

When I read the words they didn’t make sense. I kept re-reading them, it felt like I was reading a foreign language where the only word I knew was cancer.

“Who has cancer? Somebody, please, read this to me…who has cancer?”

My mom… wait, it says my mom has cancer. That can’t be right, I must be reading it wrong. If that moment were a movie it turned from color to black and white. The details of my surroundings fell away, but the edges grew sharper. And I hurt, my body ached, I wasn’t breathing right and there was a gut wrenching noise, it was me. Then I called my husband at work. I said words, I don’t know what they were.

I called my sister, I quickly realized she was in her car and hadn’t read the email. I tried to not tell her, but she knows me better than anyone in the world and almost immediately started to cry. I told her to pull over. I yelled it because she didn’t seem to hear me. She pulled over and I told her. She started screaming and wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop. I yelled at her, I swore at her to stop – I slapped her face with my voice so she’d snap out of it. She did. I told her to breathe. Take a breath right now, take another, now go home and call me.

As I sit here in the dark I’m thinking of my beautiful, funny and always sees the bright side mom. I don’t feel any of the anger I’ve stubbornly and stupidly carried around for years. God, why am I so damn stubborn? Why can’t I see my stubbornness until there’s a “life is not guaranteed” moment. Sometimes I just hate myself. Hate the way I am. Why am I the most difficult with the ones I love the most? Guess that’s for another day.

We have a battle ahead. My crazy, dysfunctional family – my brother, whose faith guides his every step. He’s better than I could ever dream of being. I hope his goodness makes God hear our prayers. I hope my brother’s unwavering faith makes God grant us a miracle. My sister, who is so close to my mom they’re practically the same person. My jealousy of that is gone now. I hope my sister can use their bond to bring comfort and strength to my mom. Our spouses and partners who are our rocks. Our family.

I think of my mom’s battle ahead, our battle as a family. I’m so angry right now. I swing wildly from dropping right to my knees and begging God to be kind and merciful and cursing him for doing this to such a good person.

Nothing makes sense right now, but despite that, and my own endless flaws, I’m strong. I’m ridiculously strong, and I rise to moments. I’m going to rise to this one. I swear cancer, you don’t have a fucking chance. My dysfunctional, crazy, beautiful family is going to rise to this moment and fight you like superheroes.

Please mommy just be strong too.

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Pieces of My Life

When I was 12 years old I found out the man I’d been calling daddy wasn’t my father. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my sister, eating a cheeseburger, when my parents got into one of their increasingly regular fights. My dad left, slamming the door behind him. My mother went to her room. I began crying not sure if he’d come back this time.

Then my sister said, “Don’t cry, he isn’t your real father, George is.” There was no malicious intent on her part, she just wanted me to stop crying. To this day she doesn’t remember this episode, and I can’t forget it. Not understanding what I just learned, I went around the corner to my best friend’s house and told her. We snuck a glass of her mom’s wine and discussed it like only 12 year olds getting a wine buzz can. Then we went for a bike ride.

Later, I went home and my mom told me the whole story. I was her love child. Such a romantic sounding phrase. After divorcing my brother and sister’s dad my mom met a blonde haired, golden skinned boy. That finally answered my question regarding having blonde hair and gold toned skin in a family full of dark hair and olive toned skin. They were in love, and the inevitable happened she got pregnant. He wasn’t sure he wanted kids and she had two and one on the way. Nine months later she had three kids, but he was gone. Then she met a handsome Navy man, who not only fell in love with her, but fell in love with me too and adopted me when I was one.

This is where this tale gets tricky. My parents opted to not tell me I was adopted. So, until that fateful day I had no idea. When my dad came home after the fight, I pretended I didn’t know. To his dying day he never knew I found out. After my parents divorce, I just kept pretending and so did he. It wasn’t too hard as I only saw him a few more times.

That’s when I began feeling half. It was a quiet feeling at first because I was young and didn’t recognize it for what it was. For some reason not looking like anyone in my family stuck with me. I wondered if there was some blonde, tan skinned family out there that I looked like. Did he ever think of me? I kept these thoughts to myself because it felt disloyal to the man who raised me. But, I wondered.

Then I went away to college, and my parents got a divorce very soon after. I always felt guilty that they waited until I was gone to go find happiness. My dad went back to his hometown in Illinois and my mom began her journey as a single career woman. As for me, I continued thinking about my biological father. It was just that vain wondering if I looked like him. I didn’t have a burning desire to know him though, once again, knowing him felt disloyal to the man who raised me.

When I was 21 I came home from college on break, and told my mom I wanted to meet my biological father. She had kept track of him throughout the years and periodically sent class pictures (I didn’t know this). She contacted him and to his credit he agreed to meet me. First he had to tell his wife he had a daughter. That’s all I’ll say on that as it’s not my story to tell.

A week or so later I arrived at the agreed upon restaurant. I’m nervous and I’ve changed my mind. But, it’s too late, I see him and he sees me. He looks nervous too. The first thing I notice is how much I look like him. He notices too and says something like, “Well, no doubt you’re mine.” I laugh nervously and so does he. We have the same smile and our eyes squint when we laugh. We sit at the table and make small talk. He puts his hand up the way you do when you’re comparing hand size, and I put mine up too. We laugh because our hands are exactly the same shape. There were no heartfelt conversations that day or any of the days that followed.

Flash forward through the years we stayed in touch mostly through email. Neither of us made attempts for more. I stubbornly wanted him to do all the work. Right or wrong I felt he owed it to me. I can be stubborn even (especially) when I’m wrong. We sent each other holiday cards, checked in to see how the other was doing and periodically he’d send me some money. I think he felt fatherly doing that, like giving me an allowance even though I was all grown up. Then my adopted father passed away. I told him my dad died and from that point on he began signing his emails “dad”. I resented it and liked it all at the same time. I wanted more with him, but would never give an inch of myself to show him the door was open. Even though my dad was gone I still felt loyal to him and I had this exhausting internal battle of wanting something and fighting myself for wanting it.

As long as this story is I’ve left out so much. Some because as I said previously they aren’t my stories to tell. Some just because this is already so long and I’m not done yet.

Flash forward to now. My mother-in-law is very into genealogy and bought a bunch of those DNA tests on that Ancestry site. She sent me mine and I wasn’t totally into it, but agreed to take it. So I did and sent it in. A couple of months later I received my results. I’ve always known I was Jewish on my mom’s side and Spanish on my father’s. Both of those showed up in my results, but even more than both of those was I’m 37% Irish. I didn’t know that. I assumed there must be Irish on my bio dad’s side. When you take these tests you have to activate your information on the site and it shows you if you have any DNA matches that are members on the site – I did.

The next morning I get an email from a woman who showed up as a strong match. Hang in there this part gets confusing… She told me some family member’s names, one being her mom Constance. I got a lump in my throat because I knew my bio dad’s mom’s name was Constance. I told her his name and that her mom had the same name as his mom. She immediately wrote back telling me her great Aunt’s name is Constance, and her mom was named after her. Our grandparents were brother and sister. I’d heard from my mom my grandmother had a tragic death and once again not my story to tell. But, this woman who I had an immediate and emotional connection to asked me if I wanted to see some “family” photos. I did and she sent me the first photo I’d ever seen of my grandmother, Constance. I cried, I couldn’t stop crying. Every photo she sent me felt like a long lost puzzle piece snapping into place. She also sent me a genealogy report on the Spanish side of my family. Telling their story of migrating to the United States for work. First landing in Hawaii where the whole family worked in the sugar cane fields saving money to come to the mainland where they built a life. No words can express how precious this book is to me.

I wanted to let my bio dad know what I’d found. I hadn’t talked to him for quite a few months. I told him in an email about what my DNA results turned up. I privately thought maybe this would crack the door open for us to maybe have something to bond a bit over. A few days passed and I didn’t hear anything. I thought maybe he was freaked out I found a connection to his mom whose tragic death when he was young must have had a huge emotional impact on him. I wrote him again. No response. I wrote again and still no response. I decided to write to his wife just to make sure everything was ok. I had a pit in my stomach because even though we weren’t close we always returned emails immediately. Often within minutes like we were waiting.

His wife wrote back right away. Just seeing her name in my inbox made me tear up. Something not good was coming. She told me she had to put my dad into a home in June he has dementia compounded with a lifetime of heart problems. She said he didn’t want any visitors and probably wouldn’t remember me.

We’ll never talk about the paternal side of his family who migrated here from Ireland and make up a large part of my DNA. He’ll never tell me about his mom’s death or his dad and grandfather whose name he carries. We’ll never have anything more than the small relationship neither of us was willing to build on. My stubbornness has shut this door. I’ll carry that every day with me.

I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if she’ll let me see him. I just don’t know and the not knowing hurts. I’m not a person who shares myself easily, so I write. I guess I just end this with – to be continued…

PROLOGUE: In the early morning hours on November 30th my biological father passed away quietly in his sleep. I never got to see him or say goodbye. There will be no service and no closure for me, just guilt and regrets. 

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Let Me Eat Cake

Flashnano a challenge to write 30 stories in 30 days with a daily story prompt

FlashNano Day 9: Write a story that takes place in the grocery store (supermarket)

*PG-13 for language

img_5190She spent the day holed up in her house in her pajamas. Too shell shocked to leave. CNN still blaring the results loudly from the other room.

Her hair was unkempt and her toothbrush never left its holder. The wine she mournfully drank the night before roiled in her gut. But, she was hungry. More like hangry actually, that new fangled word – hungry + angry = hangry.

She threw on sweats and a jacket over her pajama top. Crammed her disgusting hair into a ball cap and put on her shades. She had to go to the store and get some food…NOW.

Walking into the store she headed to the produce section. Maybe a nice salad, fresh fruit and some lightly flavored sparkling water would make her feel better. She stood looking at the array of vegetables, mentally putting the salad together. Beautiful crisp lettuce, crunchy cherry tomatoes, vivid peppers of green, orange and red – julienne cut, of course. She put all of the ingredients for her salad into her cart. She was starting to feel better already. Seeing a container of organic pine nuts, she put that in her cart as well.

She walked over to the fruit section and bagged two bright green granny smith apples, a honeydew melon and lastly a bunch of nearly ripe bananas… nearly ripe, she didn’t like brown spotted bananas. She searched for a non-brown spotted bunch… every bunch had brown spots. She could feel her blood pressure rising.

“What the fuck I just want bananas that aren’t brown spotted, is that too much to ask for?” She muttered loudly.

She began tossing the brown spotted bunches over her shoulder in search of a non-damaged bunch.

“No! No! No! NO! This will not fucking do!” She shouted. People began to stare, but she didn’t care. She began hurling the brown spotted bananas across the produce section.

“Ma’am…um you can’t throw bananas… it’s not allowed,” the young man in his bright red employee vest stuttered.

Turning around with bulging eyes and bunches of bananas clutched in both hands she leaned into the scared young man’s face and growled, “This fucking banana will NEVER be my president… oh! I mean…”

Realizing what she’d said and seeing the terror in the young man’s face made her laugh. She laughed until tears poured down her face.

“I’m so sorry… it’s ok, I’m so… Geezus, I’m so sorry. Can you please take this cart. I won’t need it.”

Still looking warily at the obviously insane woman, he took her cart and began putting the vegetables away.

She went to the bakery section and bought a triple layer chocolate cake inscribed with “Happy Birthday” in bright pink lettering. The young woman behind the bakery counter asked, “Would you like me to add a name to that?”

“Nah, this’ll be fine like this,” she grabbed a cheap bottle of wine and headed to the register.

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And The Dog Shall Inherit The Earth

FlashNano a challenge to write 30 stories in 30 days with a daily story prompt

Not my proudest moment writing-wise, but I’m a bit distracted today. JLW

FlashNano Day 8: Write a story in the form of a speech

IMG_5186.JPGWOOF WOOF …. WOOF WOOF WOOF! WOOF WOOF WOOF, WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF! WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF — WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!! WOOF WOOF. WOOF WOOF

…. WOOF WOOF WOOF! WOOF WOOF WOOF, WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF! WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF — WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!! WOOF WOOF!

WOOF WOOF – WOOF WOOF!

Wild applause.

TRANSLATION:

Hello Friends…

Enough with these humans ruling the land… Enough I say! Join me today and I promise you warm beds, hot meals, a squeak toy in every basket and a human to train any way you please.

No dog has ever started a war. Dogs love peace… unless there’s a squirrel around and then all bets are off. But otherwise, a dog knows love is the answer… love and a bit of bacon.

So, if you enjoy peace, love & bacon. I’m your dog!

Dogs Rule – Humans Drool!

Wild applause.

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When I Was A Superhero

FlashNano a challenge to write 30 stories in 30 days with a daily story prompt

FlashNano Day 7: Write a story that happened to you when you were 7

*Dedicated to my sister, Jill, I’ll still fight monsters for you.

IMG_5167.JPGTip toeing through the dark hallway my senses were on high alert. I looked around every corner – scanning high and low. Only when it was all clear did I beckon her to follow.

“Ok, it’s clear, come on,” I whispered. Her bare feet scampered behind me.

“Turn on the light and check the bathroom,” she said.

“Sssssh, I will. Be quiet, you don’t want them to hear us do you?”

In the darkness, I felt, more than saw her shake her head no.

“Stay right here, don’t move,” I said as I pressed my back to the wall and slid noiselessly into the bathroom, I quickly turned on the light and struck a karate pose. Ready for action… but, there were no monsters – this time. Lucky for them.

“Ok, go… I’ll be right outside the door. You’re safe.”

When she was finished, I guided us back through the dark to our room. I made sure she was tucked tightly into bed and then I climbed into my own bed. Without being able to see it, I knew her little hand was reaching out towards me – as was our ritual, I handed her the corner of my bed sheet to hold onto. Just in case the monsters came, she could tug my sheet and I’d leap up and save her.

By day I was the bratty, messy younger sister, but at night I was a superhero who protected my sister from things that went bump in the night.

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The Girl with the Twinkling Eyes

FlashNano a challenge to write 30 stories in 30 days with a daily story prompt.

FlashNano Day 6: Write a story inspired by this picture

IMG_5147.JPG

Sarah and I were best friends – unlike me, she was perfect. Her hair was chestnut brown like the mane of a horse and it sparkled in the sunlight. My hair didn’t sparkle.

In the summer of my youth we’d lay out in my backyard listening to Top 40’s music on a transistor radio. I miss the scratchy sound of a transistor radio, sometimes clarity isn’t such a good thing. Sarah never got a sunburn, she turned the color of golden honey. I burned.

Sarah’s eyes were an iridescent green, they twinkled when she laughed. I did everything in my power to make her laugh just to see them twinkle. My eyes are brown, they don’t twinkle.

Sarah and I talked for hours and when I was sad she listened. When my parents divorced, Sarah was there immediately. She sat next to me on the curb and let me cry. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out two pieces of chalk and handed one to me.

“From now on when we’re sad or lonely, let’s write,” she’d said.

And she started writing on the sidewalk. Her letters were big and swirly. I tried to copy her swirly letters, but my letters didn’t swirl. But, I did write.

One day my mom came outside when Sarah and I were writing on the sidewalk and she snapped, “What are you doing out here by yourself scribbling all over the sidewalk? Clean that up and get inside.”

Sarah left that day, her chestnut mane and twinkling eyes were gone. I never saw her again.

Sometimes clarity isn’t such a good thing.

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