October 28, 2007

Those left behind

Sometimes you come across a book that touches you and really makes you think instead of just entertaining you briefly. I just re-read such a book. The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice is a book....well, I'm going to give you my summary since the book has none that I've ever found. It's a book about a group of college students, all of whom have a tragic past that they are trying to escape, by creating themselves anew, some more than others. Randall Stone, who is running from the fact that he (possibly unintentionally) killed his entire town, is the most successful at doing so, although all of them, and even a professor, are all moderately successful at this task. The book follows them from when they start at the college, backtracking into their pasts to give you the story of why they are so desperate to escape who they are. It's a really good book.

As I read it, and after I finished it late this afternoon, I couldn't help but wonder, how many of us would really like to do this ourselves. I mean, I'll be the first to admit there are some things I'd like to outrun, change, erase, or whatever I could do to eliminate them from my history. But, given the actual opportunity, the chance, to really do it, would I? When I sit here right now, with it not being a true possibility, I can say yes, I would. But I also know that that's not a realistic answer, because I know I can't do it, so it's easy to say I would.

But, the weirdest thing about all this is that as I'm having these thoughts, I get a phone call. Someone that I've been acquainted with, and who's been a friend of my family for years, shot his girlfriend in the face and then killed himself last night. Her young son discovered her lying on the couch, injured but alive, and found his body. It seems so strange to have finished this book and now am trying to accept that someone I knew could do something like this. There is no explanation at this point for why he did it, although there will never be one to satisfy those left behind. What reason can you give for attempting to kill someone you love, and then killing yourself? What can you say that will ease the suffering and the grief that those who are left to pick up the pieces and carry on? As far as I've ever known, there is nothing.

But, at the same time, I'm also reminded of Stephen King's Lisey's Story, which is, to quote Nora Roberts, at its core, a love story. This book shows you the strange and twisted ways that people will sometimes show their love. We always think that people who abuse their children, kill their spouses, or kill themselves, obviously don't love those people. And while it will never make such tragedies right or acceptable, it does make you take a step back and think, "Wait a minute. What s/he did wasn't right. And obviously there was something wrong there. But maybe I shouldn't be so quick to say s/he didn't love them."

I say that because I know that in no time, there are going to be people who are going to say that he must not have loved her, or that he hated her, or what have you. And you know what, maybe they will be right. But, maybe, just maybe, they're not. Maybe he did love her. Maybe the problem did not lie in his feelings for her, but his feelings for himself, or some other situation. That doesn't make it right.

I'm not condoning what he did. I'm not saying he's right, or that what he did was acceptable, okay, or even understandable. I don't understand it. To be honest, I don't know that I want to understand it. That might require going somewhere in my mind that I don't want to go, somewhere where insanity and depravation lives in all of us. But what I am saying is that we should not judge him, should not be judge and jury in the trial of his life. Obviously, he made a mistake, and it's not one he can ever atone for or make right now. So maybe we should cut him some slack, and instead of passing judgment, think of those he left behind. Those, like the girlfriend he shot, who now has to forever wonder why he did this. Or her son, who will forever wake up from nightmares in which he continues to find his mother's bloody form on their couch. Or his best friend and business partner, who doesn't understand any of it, and just wants his best friend alive and well again. None of them want to hear anyone say how horrible a person he was, or how he didn't love whoever, or deserved what he got or any of the other millions of stupid, petty, judgmental comments we all make when we see these situations on the news and in the paper. Yes, I've done it too. But now that the news story exists outside the TV and the paper for me, I realize how wrong we all are to do that.

His friends and family will grieve for him. We will, because regardless of his reasons, he was a living man and he deserves to have someone grieve for him. But we will also grieve for the ones he left behind, the ones he left to try to pick up shattered pieces of life and try to glue them back together into some resemblance of what they used to be, even though it will never be the same. That gaping hole that was him will never be filled, and life will never be the same.

October 24, 2007

Regret? Or just wishful thinking?

When I was 17, I worked as a cashier in a grocery store. I loved that job; and I was so good at it, too. Not that I'm not good at the much more complicated jobs I've had since then; it was just something to really be proud of at that time. But, that's not my point.

While working at this grocery store, I met a much older man. He was 24. He was sexy, funny, sweet, everything a girl could possibly look for in a man. But, of course, being 17, I was too stupid to realize the good thing I had, and so for the next few years, we had a yo-yo relationship: up and down, on and off, him waiting patiently for me to grow up, me wanting something more exciting, dramatic.

Well, end of that story is that I made a huge mistake, although in some ways I don't regret it. I met my ex-husband and got pregnant with my oldest child. The result was, well, of course, my child, but that I married my former jerk-I mean, spouse. I was adult enough to call and try to tell my wonderful guy how stupid I was and what I was doing. After that, I never spoke to him again.

I don't blame him for hating me, despising me, or anything else he may, and probably does, feel for me.

Here's my thing though: There's a lot of nights, I lie awake, wondering where he is, what he's doing, and if there were any possibility he might still love me, and if I found him, maybe we could have a chance.

Which is why I now wonder: Do I truly regret what happened, truly still love him and want another chance with him, or is it the wishful thinking of youth gone by? Is it what I really want, or do I only think I want it because it's not an option? I've looked for him, used every resource I can find that doesn't cost (because as a single mother, I can't afford it!), all to no avail. Which is another reason why I wonder. I mean, if I could have just dialed his number, and had him on the phone, would I still have this longing for him? Or is this a matter of wanting what I can't have?

I'd like to think it's real. I do think it's real. This was a man who meant a lot to me, even though I wouldn't admit it at first. My ex-husband was a mistake, and had I not met him and gotten pregnant, I believe this other guy and I would still be together, with a family of our own. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying I want to go back and change things. In one sense, I would, because I would still have the other guy. But mostly, I have to say, as much as I regret the end of the relationship, I'd still do it, because it gave me my children. My children are my life, my world, my center. I can't say I would change or regret the situation that resulted in thier births.

I don't mean to sound mopey and depressed. It's just something that I think of quite frequently. I'm sure other people do something similar. I just wonder....are we all regretting what truly could have been, or are we regretting what we've convinced oureslves would have been?

October 17, 2007

Popcorn, Cotton Candy and Music

Hmmm...betcha can't guess what this is gonna be about. :)

My son's school had a fair tonight. It was pretty cool...totally free, everything. Which, as a single mother, I love. Anything free is a good thing when your paycheck is stretched so thin you can see right thru it like a friggin pane of glass.

Anyway...for being a small deal at a small "country" school, it was a lot of fun. The kids got to slide on an inflatable slide, jump in an inflatable fun house, and just generally have a blast. The school librarian (and pretty hot guy...not just for his looks, read on) was in the dunking booth. My oldest couldn't dunk him, and neither could my little guy. But Mr. Wilson is such a sweetie, he had the teenage boy running the booth lift my little one up, take his hand with the ball and bang it on the target so he'd get dunked. :) We all got splashed and my 4 yr old strutted the rest of the night, crowing, "I dunked Mr. Wilson!" I love a man who can be so nice to kids. This guy definitely tops my list of awesome men just for that.

The Sheriff's dept. was there with their helicopter. All the kids got to sit in it, and at the end of the night, we got to watch it take off, too. I'm an adult, and even I have to say, it was pretty cool. LOL. I never realized how powerful they were, though. We were standing there and I was thinking how nice this breeze was that had come up. Then I realized the trees weren't moving off in the distance. That was when it hit me. It was the helicopter. My two boys stood there, mouths dropped open, eyes wide, amazement clear in their gazes. I got a thrill just from that, just from seeing them so amazed and awed by something so simple. I also was glad it gave me an opportunity to let them talk to a police officer and show them that the police are friendly and that we should trust them if we need help.

I embarassed my son, too. That was fun. They started playing the Macarena, so I started dancing. My son was like "Mom, stop that." I looked at him, and I'm like, "What?". He goes "Stop that, you're embarassing me." LOL I told him he needed to remember that moment the next time he wants to make a butthead out of himself in the grocery store. Then, I stopped dancing. LOL.

We didn't get any cotton candy, though, because the machine broke. My boys were very disappointed, and I'm disappointed for them. Cotton candy is a fair staple, and it just doesn't seem like you really get the full experience unless you get cotton candy. I promised I would buy some from the store for them...of course, now I have to find a store that has some.

All in all, they had a blast, and so did I, just from watching their joy. It's good to see a bunch of kids act like kids. All the kids there, no matter how old they were(it was K-12), just acted like kids. No one felt the need to act like they were too cool to be there, or it was boring, or whatever. It reminded me of what it was like to be a kid. To go do something just because it was fun, not because you had to. To do something fun on a school night, and not worry about the fact that you had to get up early the next day, or do dishes, or laundry, or pay the phone bill, or whatever. I think we all need to do stuff like that every now and then. We all need to set aside the worries of adulthood and be a kid again for just a little while.

But, here's what I find truly funny: My son is listening to all this music that they're playing, and telling me how much he loves this song or that song, and they're all songs from when I was a kid! I used to hear songs growing up, and come home to tell my parents about this "new song" I just heard, only to have them tell me it had been around since they were younger. I never believed it, until now. I have to laugh when my son comes home to tell me about this new song he heard, for example, called "Who Let the Dogs Out" and I tell him that I used to listen to that when I was pregnant with him. It's truly funny to see that look on his face. Priceless.

October 12, 2007

Ever notice how much life sucks?

Yeah, I know. Real blunt. I'm feeling blunt tonight. See, here's the thing. I'm trying real hard to be optimistic and upbeat and all that crap, but it ain't workin' so well.

My youngest child turned 4 last week. Not a bad thing, per se. But, as happy an occasion as it is, it's also slightly depressing for the mother. The sudden and yet not so sudden realization that my baby is growing up is not a fun one to come to. I look at my child, and see how different from the baby that was he is now, and although it's wonderful in some aspects, it's also saddening in some. I see hints of the man he will be one day, side by side with leftover tidbits of that chubby little baby I brought home from the hospital. The two different life periods intertwined make for a very bittersweet moment in time. This, in itself, is not the reason for my bad mood, though.

My great-grandmother is still alive at the age of 97. She's the only great grandmother I have left, along with one set of grandparents. I feel very fortunate to be 28 years old and still be able to say that I have grandparents, and a great-grandmother that are still alive. This gratitude is being rapidly worn away, however. My great-grandmother suffers from dementia and is now in a nursing home. This alone is depressing. She doesn't want to be there. She cries and begs for various family members to take her home when they visit. This is heartbreaking, even if you don't witness it first hand.

That's not the worst part. At 97, she's now been diagnosed with breast cancer. It started with a lump the size of a dime, and within 3 months was the size of a lime. They will not do anything to treat it. Logically, the 28 year old part of me, my mind, understands this. At her age, she might not survive the surgery, or might and then not survive chemo, or might survive all of it only to be pronounced in remission and die of old age the next day.

But my heart, that little girl inside of me, doesn't understand any of this at all. Why won't they try to save her? Why won't they do something, anything, to help her? Why did this happen at all? She's 97! Isn't it enough that she would die soon anyway? Plus she has dementia. She's already lost to us in mind, living in some world in her head, built by her own design, populated with her own little family and friends. Is it really necessary to force her to live in pain and agony for her last days?

I realize some of what I'm saying sounds like I'm being selfish and not wanting my great-grandma to die. That's not the case. I've long ago made peace with the fact that she will die, as will my grandparents, parents, even myself and my children, someday. This abstract concept is not a problem for me. The reality of my great-grandma's more imminent death is a little harder to accept, but I've made great progress in the acceptance of this. It's the way she will go that bothers me.

I don't want her to die a painful death. It just doesn't seem right. Almost a hundred years on this planet, giving birth to several children, seeing the births of many grandchildren, and even more great-grandchildren, seeing the world go from outhouses, no indoor plumbing, no phone, not being able to afford electricity, no cars, to a world full of CDs, DVDs, hybrid cars, MP3 players. She's lived through wars taking place on foriegn soil, and watched as terrorists attacked on our own soil. She's watched the world change from mothers staying at home with their children while the men worked, to single mothers having children, occasionally without a father. She's lived so long, seen so much, and it just doesn't seem right that her death should be one filled with pain. She should be able to die with dignity, in a way that is calm, peaceful, and uneventful. Is that really so much to ask?

People will tell you that things happen for a reason. No matter their faith, no matter yours, they all say that. I just don't see the reason for this. What possible reason could be served by giving a 97 year old woman a painful illness that, at her age, is incurable, and forcing her to live out her last days either in pain or in a drug-induced, but pain-free, haze. Neither one seems to be the option I'd want if I were her.

I've mostly come to terms with her death. I know one day, my phone will ring, and it will be my mother or father to tell me she's gone. And when that happens, I will cry. I will feel that ache deep inside that tells me that she's no longer here, and I will find the way to sit down with my children and find the words to tell them of her passing. Whether or not they will understand is another story, especially considering that I don't much understand myself.

So, I repeat my question: Ever notice how much life sucks?

October 1, 2007

Innocence of an early Fall Day

My babysitter had a situation to deal with today that required her to close, therefore I had to stay at home with my 3 yr old. We left the house this am around 6:45 to drop my 6 yr old at school and then came back home. By 7:30am it was raining. Then it stopped, rained again around 10ish, and then cleared up. We hung out inside, though, cause it was just easier. At 1, we left to get my oldest. I have an attached garage, so I don't actually go outside until I step out of my car at my destination. Or, in a case like today, until I roll the window down at the mailbox.

When I pulled up at the mailbox in front of the house and put the window down, the first thing to hit me was the temperature: It was beautiful. Comfortable, warm but not hot, cool but not cold, just that perfect temperature that makes you wish for this moment to last forever.

The next thing to hit me was the smell. You know that smell you smell when fall is just beginning? It's that indescribable scent that you just associate with fall: crisp, good, cleansing. It's not one you can explain with words like "salty" "spicy" or anything like that. It's just that smell that seems to float it's way into your nose, clearing out pollution, allergies, stress, all of it. It seems almost to slide into your brain, massaging the tension of life away, for that one moment anyway. It's also a fleeting scent. You only smell it that one time, at the beginning of fall. Tomorrow, well tomorrow it's supposed to rain, but if it weren't, the smell still wouldn't be the same. That first time you smell it, you have to breathe deep, take it all in, savor it, enjoy it, revel in it, because the next time you try to find it, it will be gone.

It was so wonderful I took my kids out into the backyard after we got back from school. Homework was left on the table for later, dinner put in the freezer to be cooked whenever we got to it, and the phone left where it was. No one needed to interrupt my precious time with my babies. So, we went out back, laid on the ground, and found shapes in the clouds. I haven't done that in so many years...I don't even remember when the last time was. Just like riding a bike, it all came back instantly. I saw a sheep, a girl on a unicorn, a duck, a dog, and when my oldest saw a crocodile, it took me only a split second to see through his eyes and see it, too. At one moment, even with my sunglasses on, I found my thoughts turning to complaints about the sun being too bright. I mentally slapped the thought away. Children don't complain about that. They simply squint and enjoy the moment; so that is what I did. I'll have crow's feet for it; who cares? I got to be a kid again for just a few moments, and it was wonderful.

Tomorrow morning, the alarm will go off at 5:30, that ungodly hour of the day when it is still dark and quiet and I'm starting my day with dressing, making lunches, and deciding how to wear my hair for yet another day at a job I'm growing to dislike more and more by the day. At that time, the stress, worry, tension, responsibility, and aggravation of adulthood will rush back in. And at that time, I will welcome them with open arms, as they are my life now. But for this afternoon, for tonight, I'm simply a girl. I may be 28, but that doesn't mean I can't still be a girl every now and then. Yes, I helped with homework, cooked dinner and loaded the dishwasher. But you know what? None of that pushed me back up the ladder to adulthood. It probably would have if I'd let it; I didn't. Like I said, tomorrow morning is soon enough. Right now, as I sit here with my fingers flying over the keyboard as they have since high school, I am nothing more than a girl. Old sitcoms on TV, 80's music on the stereo, a good book at my side, it all combines to make me feel as though I've gone back to that simpler time. That time when bills and grocery shopping were someone else's responsibility, and all I had to do was eat, sleep, do homework, and hang out with my friends.

Friendships are harder to maintain now. Grocery shopping and bill paying take up the time that used to be spent with friends. Homework has been replaced with real work, although homework still comes into play when your little one struggles, or when you want to be sure they understand how important education is. Eating and sleeping become things to schedule instead of things to enjoy, and even those things you enjoy so much tend to feel like chores because you have to plan and plot to make time for them, much as you would plan doing the laundry or plot who will do the vacuuming today.

Even with all the responsibilty, the chores, the bills, and everything else; I think we all need to take some time every now and then to lay down in the back yard and see the shapes in the clouds. To smell that sweet, here-and-then-gone scent of fall in the air. To feel the balm of smooth temperatures flow like tender fingertips across your skin. Squint into the sun without complaint; you can buy some Olay later to cure the wrinkles. Laugh with your children. They'll be thrilled; and so will you, if you just let yourself. Don't let Life stop you from enjoying your life.