Another Dad Story

I don't know the man in the picture, but he reminded me of my Dad the other day and it was nice. My Dad loved dining out, from white table cloths to Waffle House, he liked restaurants. And, in his 58 years, he managed to frequent a lot of the same establishments-often at the same time and day. He was a creature of habit and routine and sometimes, though I doubt he'd have ever admitted it, maybe a little OCD.

So, my Dad had to retire early due to his congestive heart failure and COPD, but he managed plenty of outings. He was the go-to man in our family for mid day errand-running. Dentist appointments. He even sold a car or two for friends because we lived on a pretty well-trafficked street and he was home for test drives. He also managed his Waffle House breakfasts at least once a week and O'Charley's champagne brunch on Sunday's.

Before hurricane Katrina took the O'Charley's on HWY 90, my dad had his name on a gold plate at their bar. He's one of those patrons. Everyone knew him. Everyone loved him. After the storm, my Dad moved to the one built north of our house, as with his Waffle House spot.

The last four years of his life, Dad rarely missed a Sunday. He went early to help the bartender take the stools down or carry napkins or glasses. He sat in the same spot (no nameplate there, but that didn not matter) and ordered the same thing. Always. Having given up alcohol when he was asked to quit both smoking and drinking by his doctors, he said I'll quit one: he picked drinking. But, on Sunday's, he had champagne. Not much, it was not his old bourbon style, so it was clearly for the fun of it. The routine and the celebration of a weeks' end even though his weeks had not been work weeks for many years.

Sometimes I get a little sad that my Dad only had 58 years on this earth, but then I see a man enjoying a beer at an O'Charley's bar on a Wednesday afternoon and I'm reminded that my Dad lived! He knew how to have fun. He knew when it was time to work hard. And, he made a lasting impression on people.

Not only did waitresses and bar tenders and restaurant managers attend my Dad's memorial service, most brought food to our home and shared stories with us about him and now greet us with a warmer-than-normal sense of southern hospitality. My Dad lived. And people liked him. And, I like this man who is living. I like him a lot.

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Dad Story 2

I am doing really great things in my personal life, and know that my Dad is somehow seeing and is the MOST proud. My Dad died never fully understanding me as a person. We discussed it. He and I could talk about anything. So, we did. This post may ramble but these are some of the better conversations I was blessed to have with him.

While caring for my Dad, in his last months among us, I would tell him about my emotions and feelings–something he did not see the point in ever talking about, but I had a captive audience, so I took advantage. I’d struggled with mental health issues my whole life and he’d forever told me, “it’s all in your head” and I began to respond, “that’s exactly where it is.”. Comic relief is the only way I know, and laughing about his figurative being my literal was funny. One afternoon, in between Rush Limbaugh radio and Judge Judy, I asked my father if he ever truly understood my struggles with anxiety and depression. Did he have empathy for me? He said, no, I do not. Quite frankly, which is the only way my Dad knew how to communicate, he did not ever understand me or my diagnosed illnesses. And, I am so thankful for that raw honesty. I respect it. I accept it. And, it did not change me, nor my relationship with my Dad. In fact, it got stronger. I got stronger.

Once, when Dad and I were picking up lunch from a local bar and I was in the car waiting for him when a REALLY nice, new car pulled up beside our Pontiac sedan. He comes out with our food and gets into the car to light his cigarette and I said, “Dad, look at that car! Those folks must be so rich! How awesome?”. With not much more than an exhale of smoke, my Dad smoothly responds, “Kiddo, money doesn’t buy any of the things that are going to make you really happy.” while getting out of the parking lot and ashing his cigarette all seamlessly. I think I was about 10 years old. It stuck.

At the ripe age of eight, my Dad, while handling some inane argument my brother and I were having, told me something that I did not understand at the time but have lived by ever since: Nobody ever told you life was going to be FAIR or EASY, so don’t go looking for it to be. Boy, was that man right. I think I have repeated that to myself and to others my whole life. Again, he did not sugar coat things. It wasn’t his style. I notice that same style creep in on me more and more, as I age. That characteristic does not always go over well with my fellow humans, but I just always remember that they too need to learn; life isn’t supposed to be fair or easy. Deal with it.

My decision to divorce was heavily influenced by a conversation I had with my Dad. I had been married four years and he and I were in the process of moving back to my hometown. I had a job first, so I came to live with my parents and work while my husband finished his job search and handled our home. I spent a lot of time with my Dad during this transition period and time of great doubt in my life. We often talked about my work life relationships, so I figured, why not get his feedback on my marriage relationship. I asked my Dad if he ever felt like my Mom was just his family, because she took such good care of him when he was sick (which was often). I explained to him that my husband had become more like a close brother or cousin to me, and that I did not see him in the same light after all that we had been through because of that Hurricane and whatnot. Dad quickly replied, and spoke sincerely, saying that through all the hospital stays he and my Mom had endured, it got very far from romantic intimacy but never had he ever thought of her as family. She was his wife and partner. I knew in that moment what I had to do, as hard as it was. And I did it. Now, I am proud to say that my Dad not only was able to walk me down the church aisle to get married, he also managed to get me down the courtroom aisle to get divorced.

I love that man and miss him so much.

 

All or Nothing

I have struggled with this ‘characteristic’ for a long time. Maybe forever, I can’t be certain. I go full speed or full stop. I am all in or all out. I want to live and learn like a toddler, or I want to sleep and stay unconscious as long as possible like a newborn. I will love you with my whole heart, or I will exclude you from it completely.

Needless to say, it is not easy for the people around me and takes a certain amount of patience and acceptance to be in my world. I used to worry about them, but now, I just appreciate them and make it my priority to give my all to those who have hung around through the very high highs and very low lows. And, in the same vein, I try to be understanding and understandable when I have to eliminate people from my world, or when I am eliminated. I did not choose to be this way. I have worked on balance, hell, I work on balance every moment I am awake. But, it doesn’t come easy for me and I am still trying to find my own way to achieve it.

After all, I am the one who has to deal with the after affects and the consequences and the feelings of failure and inadequacy, when I have been on top of my game and then back at the bottom. It is not easy being extremely helpful to everyone in your life to being codependent and helpless. But, what is easy is constant communication with your loved ones about your state of mind and your feelings and emotions. Your truth is always where you can find comfort. If you share that truth, others will feel comfort.

Marriage: Post-Hurricane

By September 3, 2005, three months into my marriage, I had lost all my possessions and all the homes I had ever lived in were unlivable if not gone. My husband and I made it to middle Mississippi, where my family was, and we sat in limbo for weeks. No jobs. No money. No cars. No privacy. No clue what to do.

Those limbo weeks were spent with so many people, I basically forgot I was a wife or that I was in a marriage. The husband and marriage, were actually the only things I had left (besides family). I most definitely cherished it. And, with an incredible amount of family and friend’s support, we slowly waded our way to the outskirts of limbo. While living in limbo we slept in multiple homes, usually apart because of space and amount of people. Say what you will about the South; but when the shit hits the fan, we treat each other extremely well. It was hard and uncertain but the decision to move to a more metropolitan area was made. We would stay with family, find jobs, and start over.

Learning about maneuvering your marriage is hard. Learning about maneuvering your marriage while you are both basically refugees, is a very quick test in its strength. We made excellent teammates and we learned very quickly how to wisely pick our battles and keep the lines of communication open and honest. Like before the Hurricane, we still engaged in many deep and important conversations; but, needless to say, they were one hundred times bigger than any we’d ever had. Every decision we made felt like it was going to affect every detail of our future. A future that felt so hopeful and guaranteed not three months before this.

We did the best we could with the best we had. We lived in close quarters with each other and in the same house with my great aunt and uncle. Fighting was frequent and frustrating due to our living arrangement and the fact that neither of us could find jobs. Unemployed newlyweds, with no prospects and no friends, we spent all of our time taking turns searching the web and looking at newspaper classifieds. Repeat. Sleep was almost useless. I think we went to bed only because we knew it would get us to a new day.

I spent the next three years completely codependent on my husband. He had to try to meet every single need I had. And he did, to the best of his ability, and I am sure often much to his dismay. That Hurricane and subsequent, abrupt move changed me forever. I did not have any of the same goals anymore. My goal was now to get through each day. My goal was now to keep breathing. Keep waking up. My life became an awful lot about me, despite the fact that I was a wife. And, I must admit, he came to task. He came to task so much so, that I ended up feeling like he was my family. You don’t have sex with your family. You don’t marry your family. So, I divorced him.

**I have more to say on this whole marriage thing, but I now need to process this entry, especially the sentence, ‘I spent the next three years completely codependent on my husband.’ because it is the first time I have said that out loud.**

 

Dream

Wanting to keep my goal of an entry each day, combined with a long day of productivity, I am going to just talk about a recurring dream that I have had for the last several years. I am not big on dream interpretation, but when you have dream so often and so vivid, you tend to want to analyze it. Also, don’t you hate when people tell you their dreams…like you care! I am doing it anyway.

In this dream, I am always in either a familiar house or a place I have stayed on vacation. Always. My mood is pure panic and I can not pack my stuff quickly enough to get out of the house or hotel or condo, which I feel is a life or death situation although nothing alarming is happening. I just have to get out. Must. Get. Out. (shockingly easy to analyze) Every dream has either my entire family or certain members of my family. Never friends. And, I am always pleading with them to help me gather my things. They ignore me or they argue with me about being needy. (even more easily analyzed) I do not ever get my stuff or myself out in time. The dream almost always ends in crying, sometimes screaming and crying. No one ever helps me. I never get out. And, when I wake up, I can feel the exhaustion. The constant packing and begging for help. (yeah, again, easy)

This dream is simple; I have problems, with literal and emotional baggage, that are keeping me from moving forward in my life. My family is like all families, so there is typical strife and I feel like they are present, but not available to me.

I am wondering if now that I have written about this dream and what I feel I know about it, if it will come less often or change. Maybe I will make it out of the place and be independent. One can dream, right?

Bully

When I was in junior high and high school, bullies were people who stole your lunch money. Bullies were physical or seemed they would reach that level in their need to control. This was the 90s, things are very different now. And, I am not even going to TOUCH on the added pressures and problems technology and social media add to a bully’s power.

But, by today’s standards, I was a bully. I made jokes at others’ expense. I called people out on their mistakes, in front of anyone and everyone. I think everyone always laughed. At least, I remember the laughter the most. I remember the reactions from the group-never the person. Even right now, I can’t picture a face that was hurt or sad or even angry. I wonder if that is because I was an overweight teen and seemed physically daunting or if it was because they saw the humor in it. Most probably, though, as I write…I never looked at their faces. I only cared about making everyone else laugh. I thought it was my purpose or something.

Not to go completely into the deep, but as I write, I recall my first memories of knowing I needed people to laugh at and with me. I was young, 4, 5 years old tops. My family was and is a party family. We like to celebrate, most everyone drinks, a lot smoke marijuana. And, clearly, we grow up early with this party atmosphere.This particular family event included my older cousins and aunts teaching me a well-known nursery rhyme, but with a twist!

LITTLE MISS MUFFET SAT ON HER TUFFET
EATING HER CURDS AND WHEY,
ALONG CAME A SPIDER,
WHO SAT DOWN BESIDE HER
AND SAID, ‘WHAT YA GOT IN THE BOWL, BITCH?’

I nailed that last line and my family laughed and laughed. I loved it. They loved me. Many more family gatherings included my “funny poem” performance, and always to huge acclaim and approval. I was 4, I had no idea what “offensive” even meant. But, I knew that feeling of instant gratification for being funny meant everything. I’ve been making people laugh ever since.

I won’t ever be able to see those kids’ faces or know their feelings when I pointed out that they’d forgotten to zip their pants or had toilet paper on their shoe. I do remember the girl in 8th grade Spanish who I alerted (in front of the entire class) about her shorts giving her a camel toe. Yep. I did that. And she laughed! She laughed with everyone. But, I know deep down that HAD to have hurt her and embarrass her and who knows what else. But, I never noticed. I only knew I was being funny. I loved the laughter. I only cared about making everyone crack up.

 

Scared

So, I sat down to write my entry tonight and a lot of emotions showed up to help. I’ve always felt sarcasm deserved its own font, so for my purposes italics will work.

Often times the first, and most loud, emotion for me is scared. I am scared to write about how scared I am. And, to be perfectly honest, no idea which fear I should even start with. So, I am going to start with my first memory of the feeling of scared…

I was between 8 and 10 years of age. I smiled all the time. I had the roundest face with fat, squeeze-worthy cheeks and that big smile. My grandma, let’s call her Pam, had taken my cousin and I to the mall for something. I do not recall the reason we went because the most exciting thing happened: she bought us huge cookie treats from the cookie cake store in the food court. It was so special to me, not only because it was food, but because she didn’t buy me things. She gave me money at Christmas and maybe my birthday, but she never just gave me anything. So, I cherished this huge cookie filled with frosting and the feeling that Pam really did like me. The cookie was so huge, I didn’t finish it and was so proud to bring home my gift. I remember my Mom even being surprised about the cookie gift and seemed as thankful as I was. We both smiled.

I was awoken that night, abruptly, sweating and choking. My nose was full of something making it impossible to breathe. My body is shaking and I can not speak or move quickly enough before vomit forces its way out of my nose and mouth with a vengence. I can only gasp as I roll over to try and move. My body will not move. I am no longer physically ill. The vomit did choke me but I was now breathing. However, I was only breathing because I was telling myself to breathe. Fear had completely paralyzed me. My stomach wrenched. I couldn’t scream out for my mom, who was only one room away. And, I remember the first feeling of what I will be told ten years later is, anxiety. It is the loneliest of feelings. It is fear and terror with nothing scary to point at to explain the fear. Me and fear. Hanging off my bed. Lying in my special, regurgetated cookie that I’d once treasured. Immoble. Repeating to myself; just breathe.

My Mom came to me, I guess it was instinct, or maybe I was louder than I realized. She helps me out of bed and expects me to walk to the bathroom. I am old enough to know I have to get cleaned up, but I can not. I fear moving will make it happen again. I am stuck. She calls my Dad in who gets me to the bathroom and cleans me up, I am sure just assuming I have a virus or bug causing me to be lethargic. But, I was no longer sick. This was something different. This was awful and uncertain and downright debilitating. This is the first anxiety attack I ever experienced, and I did not know the words or understand any way to tell my parents what I was feeling.

Just breathe. It’s all my 9 year old self could do to combat a feeling of drowning in your own emotional quicksand, surrounded by people who care for you and would immediately pull you out of the quicksand–if they could see it.

Thirty years later, roughly, and I am still using ‘ just breathe’ to get through life. Part of me is very proud of my 9 year old self for coming up with a mantra without even knowing what I was doing. And, other parts of me are so bummed that I am still plagued by feelings that started at 9 years old.

 

 

Gotta start somewhere…

and, I did start somewhere. I kept a journal from the age of probably 9, when I just recounted new shoes I’d worn or which BFF had been rude. I always wrote my feelings down. Then. A hurricane took them all and made them illegible. I think I have them somewhere, just for posterity. I have spent a lot of time hating that hurricane, and I am visibly moving into the acceptance of the life it threw me in to, against my will. Nature can really fuck shit up.

I am the anxiety-ridden child of two parents who are of the “it’s all in your head” generation. I’ve grown to feel apathy for them; but, it’s been a very long and tedious journey. One I don’t think ends.

I am the average height, overweight sibling to a tall, athletic, book-smart older brother who has worked just as hard as I have to accept me, and vice versa. We are very different and just alike. Our problems sort of mirror themselves, but the way we approach life and its problems is polar opposite. Respect has kept a bond between us, that we both appreciate and reciprocate.

I was married. It is sadly forgettable and overshadowed by the darkest time in my life. Well, let me say, one of the darkest. He was a good man, is a good man. But I am all in or all out–to a fault. He is but one casualty of my inability to balance.

I have no children, by choice. I was often told I would change my mind, even crave the need to nurture. I believed these people, but it never happened. I can barely nurture myself–and oddly, I knew that even as a young child as I was being nurtured. I didn’t learn to self-soothe until I was in my early thirties. It explains a lot of unnecessary angst. Doesn’t change it, just defines it.

I have been involved in LOTS of therapy over the past twenty years, this blog is going to serve as my own release. I fully believe that is how all writers become-writers. Release. I want to be a writer. But, like most writers, I am terribly insecure about what to write, who my audience would be, would they even care. So, here is the first step.

And, I feel like it will possibly turn into a Pulp Fiction-esque timeline because my life is better told out of order. The balance of a chronological biopic would be just another thing I avoid. Oh. I am a HUGE procrastinator. Like, wasting years of my life is a hobby of mine. Or, maybe it is a guilty pleasure?