Jul 13, 2011

Out of the Desert

Dear Followers of my Desert Journey

My life that existed when I began this blog is no more.   As I begin a new life in a new state and new city, I thought it only appropriate I begin a new blog with a new name.

Please join me at http://thewanderingjewel.wordpress.com as I wander my way into a new life near the gulf waters that bring much needed healing to my soul.

This move is a huge undertaking and the first I've ever done completely on my own.  But if I fail, I shall fail magnificently and have sooo much to write about.  Yay.

May 6, 2011

My Mother's Heart

I am laying by my pool catching some sun, fully sun screened to, fingers crossed, prevent reliving my mother's history of skin cancer.  Damien Rice is playing on my iPod and I am wondering if my headphones are about to short out from the tears that are cascading from my eyes, running past my temples and pooling in my ears.  I have been crying since 7:42 this morning.  It is now noon thirty.  I have time as I tan to think about my heart and the place in it that is invulnerable to devastation by anyone but my child. 

This last year, my heart was smashed, shattered, broken, bruised and beaten.  I thought that every cell of my heart had been through the wringer and had survived.  Until this morning.  One wrong deed, one well intentioned communication and I have been disowned, disarmed and dissed.  Unfriended and now, it seems, unloved because I am imperfect and because he is seventeen.  My heart is now broken in a wholly different way.

I broke my Mother's heart, I imagine, more than I will ever know.  As the youngest daughter of three, I was the only one left to live with Mom, just the two of us, during my teen years. I'll never know what I did, but one summer I did something bratty or selfish or ungrateful and she went for two weeks without speaking a word to me. I had broken her heart, it seems, one too many times.  She and I became friends as I grew into motherhood with my own children and she forgave me long before she died.  As my own heart breaks today, I feel her nearby, understanding the hurt in my mother's heart and I am grateful to her for how she lived her life despite years of devastating pain from my Dad and then from me.  My mother fought to remain cheerful, loving, funny and full of life.  If she had bitterness in her heart, I never saw it.   

Now very sad and crying in the sun, I think about my heart and the place in it that may never heal because he will always be my child.  No matter what he does or doesn't do, says or doesn't say, I can't and won't stop loving him. The place in my heart that came to be at the birth of my first child will stay vulnerable to the pain this child can inflict.   But like my mother, I will not let my heart be protected by bitterness even if it is years before this child and I reconcile or it's on my deathbed that we come to peace.

Happy Mother's Day, Beverly Jean.  I miss you.

Mar 13, 2011

Life is like a Box of Roller Coasters

'Your hands are beautiful'.  I am 15, working my first job, an ice cream parlor, and this is the first time an almost-man, has ever said something so personal to me.  Mr. Ice Cream Parlor boy works behind the grill flipping burgers and dunking fries.  I work behind the counter scooping ice cream or waiting tables on $1 Banana Split days, splattered at the end of my shift with sticky hot fudge, maraschino cherry juice, yellowed whipped cream and a muddy rainbow of various ice creams.  He says 'your hands are so slender, delicate'.  Never having before thought of my hands as anything but hands, I look down at them and see them through his eyes and hear 'I want you, I love you, I see you'.  One date and a few kisses later the romance is over.  Without him I feel once again unwanted, unloved, unseen.  The words that never stop echoing in my head when I'm alone.

Multiple romances followed.  Like slowly climbing to the top of a dozen roller coasters, electrified with anticipation at the mind-blowing ride ahead, then dropping to the bottom and finding each ride over with no hair-raising inversions, no death-defying twists, no euphoria at having survived.  You have beautiful ~something or other~ and I would hear 'I want you, I love you, I see you'.  Before I was 20 one ride lasted eighteen tumultuous, impetuous, passionate months and ended with my heart so deeply devastated I thought I would die.  Once again, I was unwanted, unloved and unseen.  

Four years later one more 'you have beautiful eyes' came along.  I was lonely and weary of the ride ending the same way.  He was lonely and ready to get married.  Three amazing children and 26 years later, the longest roller coaster I'd ever ridden came to an end.  But this time it didn't slow to a stop and come to a rest at the station where we could buy our picture  in the gift shop.  This ride careened off its rails, crashed through the guard rails and flung me out into the atmosphere, completely unsure of where I would land or if it would kill me when I did.  I wasn't just unwanted, unloved and unseen.  This time the words weren't just echoing, they were shouting that I was alone, abandoned and that I deserved it.  They drowned out my own voice of reason and for a time I went a little mad.  I left my near grown children without a moral compass or a parent they could count on.  I made some choices that I'm still not sure of.  I left my 17-year old son alone too much.  I tried to make Christmas normal and in the process nearly wrecked the whole thing.  I gave away books and clothes and crap from the garage that maybe I should have sold later because I'll need the cash.  

And then I landed and I wasn't dead.  Deeply bruised and my heart lacerated, but not dead. On the contrary, flying through the vast uncharted regions of loveless and lonely air I discovered my life.  I discovered me.  I discovered that I'm an optimist, I love to laugh, I love to write, I love to read, I love to dance, I love a thousand kinds of music, I love making new friends, I love connecting with old friends and I have incredible friends; I can find a job, take some classes and enjoy every day for what it brings.  And some days bring nothing but pain.  I still don't have a job, have no idea how I'll pay the bills a year from now, don't  know where I'll be living at the end of November, don't know if this single thing is forever-until-I'm-dead-permanent, but I really love my life.

If I ever climb aboard another roller coaster, I am thoroughly prepared to enjoy every twist, every turn, every scream-inducing plunge knowing that if or when the ride ends, I will still want, love and see me.

Feb 7, 2011

The Angst Machine

The Royal Typewriter, antediluvian even in 1973, sat on a desk in our dining/music/whatever room.  The desk was built by my Dad to perfectly match the broken piece of our glass-topped dining room table that had split into a sweeping configuration when he placed a hot cup of coffee down during dinner.  The desk was 60's groovy.  The typewriter, not so much, but it helped to save my Mom's life and then it got my two sisters and me through high school.  I can only imagine how Beverly must have felt as she went back to college and typed her way out of the anxiety and fear her life had become married to a man who couldn't stick around for more than a few weeks at a time or hold a job for more than 3 months.  As Dad moved us around like gypsies running from or to God knows what, Mom knew it was up to her to provide for us, so she took The Royal and became a teacher and gave us a home and an education.

My sisters and I used that typewriter to create term papers, book reports, letters, poems and short stories.  Its clickety tap clickety tap clickety tap ding zip, a firm certainty in the uncertainty of our lives.  Paper after paper, with the typos whited out and typed over.  The carbon paper with its ability to rip at the wrong time or smear the final draft of a paper due the next day and often used much longer than its natural lifespan in order to save money.  The Royal planted the seeds of a writer in my sister, Tracy, who became a professor of English and  just published her first book, My Ruby Slippers. The Road Back to Kansas (www.tracyseeley.com).  It planted those seeds in me too, to grow into a blogger and a lover of words spoken, thought and written.

The Royal came to live with me in 1988 when, with my husband and 5-month old baby, I returned one last time to Wichita for Beverly's retirement party.  Long after the purchase of an electric typewriter had left The Royal forgotten and collecting dust it rode back to Texas in  a rented truck with the rest of my belongings I rescued from the purging garage sale that was to come before Beverly retired to Arizona.  In just a few short years my baby, now 3 and joined by his 2-year old sister, would clack away on The Royal's keys, listening for the ding of the carriage and pretending to replace the long-dried out ribbon.

After many more moves, The Royal was finally relegated to the attic where it remained for the next 10 years until this last fall when one more move and the breaking of our family brought it out of seclusion.  Grasping at anything that felt solid, anything that would help me bear up against another tempest of anxiety and fear, I grabbed for The Royal and anchored it to the table in the entryway of this house my son and I will share until he leaves for college.  The Royal, ignored for years but old enough now to be ironic, has been rechristened "The Angst Machine" and given a place of honor in this new season of our lives.  Once again, this marvel of an invention that saved my Mother's life, partnered in a thousand papers and formed the writers in us, is now serving a third generation of this family in ways the makers of The Royal never dreamed into the plans.  In brief moments throughout the day, my son will stop by The Angst Machine, dash off a few choice words to vent his anger or frustration in his own darkly creative way knowing that the ribbon, being as dry as his wit, is a trustworthy keeper of secrets.

The Angst Machine is also a metaphor for my life....Despite the neglect, dust and tiny pieces of attic insulation that can't be completely dislodged from the inner workings, the clickety tap clickety tap clickety tap ding zip still work and we both have plenty left to say.

Jan 11, 2011


I have a baseball bat.  A high-quality, maple, close-grain timbered Grand Slam Louisville Slugger.  My bat rests against the headboard post of my king-sized Temperpedic bed within arm's reach because for the past 5 months I've slept alone and my bat's presence makes me feel a little bit safer.   This bat really belongs to my son, but I adopted it, gave it a name and it lives next to my bed.  I believe that if God named each and every star  then my bat deserves a name, so I call it  Babe.  Mostly in honor of Babe George Herman Ruth.  I don't know if Babe Ruth played with a Louisville Slugger.  I could have Wikipedia'd George and found out just to make it look like I knew and isn't that neat how she would know that, but I didn't because this isn't about Babe Ruth, and it isn't about my bat.  It also isn't about Babe the Blue Ox, even though my bat was also named after that illustrious character of American folklore.  Faithful companion, that Ox, just like my Babe, the duck-tape handled and slightly mangled Louisville Slugger.

This is about new beginnings and how I'm finding some aspects of my new beginnings easier to adopt and embrace than others.  One of these new beginnings is learning how to sleep alone in a king-sized bed when I'm only 5'7" and 118 pounds.  Do you know how much room such a tiny frame takes up in such a large space?  Well, not much.  I've kept to "my side" of the bed these past 5 months.  My side consisting of about 1/5th of the square footage of the acreage I nestle into at night with two cats,  my body pillow and not much else.  But I had an epiphany last night during another one of my many tossy-turny sleepless nights.  I could sleep anywhere on this giant bed!  Anywhere.  I could sleep on the other side.   I could sleep in the middle.  I could sleep sideways, or completely the other way around ala Pippi Longstocking.  I could sleep anywhere in anyway I wanted.  "Dang!"  I thought.  "This is gonna be sweeeeet!"

So Babe, with the grey duck-taped handle, for a better grip when I have to kick some bad guy's ass and the chip out of the bottom where I think my son may have bashed something other than a ball, rests against the head of my bed.  And I get to rest anywhere I want.

Sep 11, 2010

September 2010

In starting this blog, my intent was to document my journey into a scary and unfamiliar landscape. In order to keep my sanity, I wrote, and it appears, not very often.  I honestly thought this painful season of my journey was coming to an end and I was well on my way back to civilization where I could start a new blog about happy and fun things.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

My time here is not even close to being over. I am still in this metaphorical desert, stripped naked, bruised, bleeding, grasping for a hold on a rocky surface that only wounds me more as I climb up or down or whatever direction I'm heading.  The unanswered questions gather like vultures on dead carrion and taunt me with the certainty that they will only continue to multiply and remain unanswered. Why am I here?  Where is here?  Is there an end to this?  Will I survive?  The loneliness is deeper, wider and more tangible than when I began. 

We are selling our home of 10 years due to the economy and some unwise investments we've made.  Our home, filled with memories of my growing children, is going into the hands of strangers.  My sweet dog of 14 years has cancer.  Next year I send my youngest child off to college. My husband of twenty-five years has moved out and I have no job.

The thought of leaving this house I spent years of my time, talent, vision and love on is devastating.  We'll sell and the endless boxes I've been packing will go with me to a place not my own. I am not ready to leave but the painful memories are choking out the joyful ones and I am willing to rip the bandage off and get this thing over with. The uncertainty of what's next overwhelms me and I cry at almost everything. I don't know where I'll be living. I don't know if I'll be married, separated or divorced. I don't know where or if I'll be working. I don't know if I'll be able to support myself and my 17-year old son.

Some days I am totally devoid of hope. I am struggling to see the most microscopic evidence of goodness, truth and beauty in even the tiniest moments throughout the day.  I am reaching out to friends and acquaintances and risking rejection.  So far, I have found only love, support, compassion and a few good meals. I have discovered who my good, true and beautiful friends are and those who only loved me when my life looked like theirs.

I am learning to speak up for myself and to ask for what I need. I am learning to face fear, embrace pain and to breathe until this too shall pass. I am learning to lean into the tears and cry until I'm done, knowing, that as deep as this pain is, it will not kill me. I am reading more, blogging more and listening to good music.  I hang out with my son, talk to my faraway daughter, enjoy a sip of whisky here and there and laugh as often as possible.

I have found no answers to the questions that panic me, finding instead that as much as I want to trust Jesus, I don't trust him nearly as much as I want to. I have been left empty of anything to offer him and am beginning to glimpse how truly, permanently, profoundly dependent on him I am.   Stripped of all that I thought I was with my heart raw and bleeding, I see more clearly the pain in others.  My heart breaks for the countless thousands of women in the same place I find myself.  And as alone as I feel, I know that I am not the only one clinging to what remains.

Sep 16, 2009


1971 in Wichita was a time of racial tension like everywhere else in the nation. It was the year that I was bused to Ingalls Elementary at the corner of 10th & Grove, in the middle of a predominantly black neighborhood. I was in 6th grade and it was my favorite year. I loved my teacher and my Mom taught first grade downstairs at the end of the long Kindergarten/First Grade hall. All those tiny people in Room 119 looked at me with awe as if I was the coolest girl ever. I loved being near my Mom all day. One of my best days came the morning after someone had been shot near the corner I worked crossing patrol.  Wearing my orange Crossing Patrol sash across my flat chest and the hand-held Stop sign in my authoritative grip, I was acting tour guide of the dried blood stain in the street.

It never occurred to me to be afraid that morning, or any other morning. Recess on the playground, walking out to one of the four corners for crossing duty twice each day, getting into the car or the bus after the last bell, I never felt in danger. My Mom had been teaching at this school for years and nothing bad had ever happened to her. She must have been scared after the shooting but she never let on.

I had two best friends that year. One was Leanne Ogle. She was skinny like me, but brunette. We'd get to school and trade left shoes so we'd walk around all day with mismatched matching pairs. Hidden in our desks from the watchful eye of Mr. Schneidewind were the people we made out of Bugles corn chips, glue, yarn and googly eyes. Sometimes Leanne came to my house after school. We'd ride the bus to my neighborhood on afternoons my Mom left school to go to her second job at Lewin's Fine Women's Wear in the mall. A few times I'd go to Leanne's house on Fridays so I could spend the night. My other friend was Sadie. She was chubby, not like me, and had black kinky hair that shined. Sadie came to my house once that I remember. She gave me a poster of a woman with a parasol sitting in a boat on a serene lake surrounded by willows. She said it had reminded her of me. She and I put it up with tacks on the only wall in our unfinished basement that wasn't concrete. I kept that poster for years, remembering what it felt like to be loved by someone as kind and sweet as Sadie.

The following school year I attended Truesdell Junior High, or as we called it, True Hell. Truesdell was within a couple of mies from my house, so this time it was the black kids who got bused to us instead of us to them. I think I was afraid most of the time. Afraid I'd forget where my locker was. Afraid I'd forget my combination. Afraid I'd fail Spanish. Afraid of gym class where I'd have to unclothe my frighteningly thin, prepubescent body in front of girls with breasts and hips and change into the ugly green bubble shorts and matching short sleeved shirt. Everyone said I looked like a toothpick stuck in an olive. I hated 7th grade.

Truesdell was the loneliest and most crowded school I'd ever been in. There were hundreds of students and I missed my Ingalls friends. I missed having a friend to share shoes and Bugles with. I missed knowing my classmates and having friends. Leanne was running with different girls and we hardly ever saw one another. I didn't have the one close friend that I needed in this giant hormone infused rat race. And then I saw Sadie. She was the most beautiful thing I'd seen all year; a serene, beautiful lake surrounded by willows. I greeted her with open arms and a smile so big my face hurt. But she didn't reciprocate. Her greeting was restrained and cool. She had a painful kind of sadness in her eyes. We saw each other a few more times in the halls, but something was different and she never wanted to stop for long. I thought she had just made different friends.

One day during that in-between class rush in one of a dozen long hallways, classes miles apart, hundreds of students all rushing to get where they needed to be before the dreaded bell, I felt a !Thwack! on the back of the head. Turning to see who or what, as I continued in my rush to get to class, I saw a girl much bigger than I was. She had 3 or 4 friends attached to her and they were all laughing at me. This big girl, with hate in her eyes and a face I did not know, had hit me. I had never been hit before and shock, embarrassment and fear all flooded up but there was no time to think about it. I had to get to class. Every day after that I expected to be hit again. I became more afraid, not knowing where or when that girl was waiting to jump out and beat my skinny body into a pulp. I didn't know this girl and her posse of friends or why they hated me but I did fear them.

Colors were everywhere. The pale white skin of my Spanish teacher's complexion. The ugly green of my gym uniform. The blue of the lock whose combination I feared would allude me. The browns, blacks, whites, tans and olives of the skins of the hundreds of students at True Hell. We were just different colors, like everything else in life. But those differences were just as natural to me as the different colors of the rooms in our house. Cars, books, flowers, trees and bugs were different colors. It seemed obvious that people would be different colors, too. Then I spoke to Sadie one last time.

It was in a different gray, long, student-filled hallway between classes. Sadie walked up to me. "Shannon, I can't be friends with you anymore." A sharpness stabbed my heart and it grew heavy with a weight that was new to me. I'd had plenty of painful moments by the time I was 12. Plenty of pain. My pets dying, my Dad leaving again and again, the loneliness of being the youngest. But the words she spoke next added a new, pressing weight to my heart and pushed me forever away from my innocent view of color. I came face to face with the ugly, irrational, stupidity of racism. "I can't be friends with you because I'm black and you're white." Looking at the sadness in her face, I also saw fear.   Standing less than 15 feet away behind Sadie, was the girl that had hit me and her backup singers, glaring at me and at the back of Sadie's head. They had scared her too, and in order to survive this school, this True Hell, she had chosen to do as they said and get rid of her skinny, blond and very white friend.

As I thought about writing this piece this morning in my bathroom with the blow dryer pointed at my now brunette head, I realized that the last moment with Sadie still makes me sad and I miss her. I think the tears that I push back now while I sit at my desk aren't for Sadie or for me, but for a world that I believe should exist and doesn't yet.

Racism still comes in all the colors. With the advances in science over these past decades, you think we'd all know by now that none of us are exactly the same color, while at the same time we're all made up of the same exact stuff. Race still becomes a conversation during elections. Color is the blame for countless hurts and failures. A kid in my son's school started a teacher-sanctioned "Southern Gentleman's Society" a couple of years ago. Most of the kids understood that was really KKK Light, but this kid with his affinity for the confederate flag, has convinced all the teachers and administration into letting him start his little 'whites only' club. What do I do with that. What do I do with the injustice and stupidity. What do I do with my outrage. I feel as helpless as the day I realized that I was white and there were people who hated me because of it. I hated 7th grade and I still hate the day Sadie's fear mixed with the tension of the times and I was forced to see that something big, ugly and powerful lived and would probably not breathe its last in my lifetime. But it was also the day that my black friend saved me from any more harm. Those girls who hated the color of my skin never bothered me again.