With And Without Her: “Abandoned”

A few days away

Hello dear reader, it’s been a while since I’ve spoken to you. I tend to wait until I have something to say. And when it comes to this subject, grief that is, I thought I was done writing about it. Though it is the backdrop today it isn’t the main subject…

I spent the past few days away on a self imposed retreat. I needed time away to pray and hear what God had to say. I’ve been out of work since January 4th, it wasn’t stunning. But it has left me with quite a dilemma… loss of income, health insurance and so on. So there has been a lot on my mind. So much so, that the stress has caused me to have somewhat of a scatter brain. Lack of focus and forgetfulness, the lack of a daily routine hasn’t helped much either. So… I escaped New York in search of quietness. I found it and an answer to a question I didn’t ask. Sometimes the Lord drives me crazy with that. I pray about something, don’t get an answer and he answers something I wasn’t thinking about. Or at least I don’t think I was.

I threw on some quiet piano worship music, I set for a while, then laid back on the loveseat. Fully immersed in the melody flowing throughout the house, I suddenly drifted away. A sobering worship, I felt tears of joy forming but then stopped. One word came to mind, Abandoned. It went from my mind to my heart. So I started to pray “lord… speak, I’m listening” then I read a few verses, pray some more and continued to wait. Once more abandoned can to mind. Mind you, dear reader, I was asking for direction in the many things I need to do. So now I had to ask why “abandoned”. There was no audible voice, no hand writing on the wall, no scroll from heaven. Nope, just a flood of emotions, images and instances of feeling and being abandoned.

The beginning

Now, believe it or not, I’m not talking about me waning “Why is everyone leaving me”. It’s something far deeper. I suspect some of you know what I mean.

I was about 7 when my grandmother died. It was an odd time, she died around the age of 55 or so. Pretty young. I strangely believed, because little kids believe a lot of things, that my family was plagued to die early. A few other family members died in succession after she did, naturally the clan splintered. We moved to the Bronx after that. I was raised by a single mother and a dad that visited on the weekends. It was a really rough time,I didn’t know we were poor (because schools didn’t tell us like they do now) but I knew something was odd and my embarrassment while shopping with plastic money proved it. Yes! In those days public assistance “welfare”, didn’t come in the form of bank like, debit card. It was plastic coins and monopoly like, paper money. But food was always on the table and in our bellies. Clothes on our backs… even if it was borrowed. If there was no more toilet paper and no money, we sometimes used my mother’s Pattern paper,it was made of tissuepaper. She made clothes.

Most mornings she was there when I left for school but not there when got home because she worked. So there was no checking or helping me with my homework. Fast forward… I was about 11 or 12 when my sister left home. Meaning I was now an only child. It also meant there was no buffer when the stress of single motherhood, came home to roost. In my mind my sister left me behind. The flip side was, I stayed. I took it! She was off living the adventure(not true it was hard for her too) and I was stuck dealing with my mother, project and school bullies, massive failing grades, no one to talk to and what I would later come to realize, were panic attacks during my high school years.

Later years

Many things happened to me between child and adulthood, including a failed marriage. I believed marriage was forever and no matter how hard it was, I would stick it out. In other words, I stayed. The other party came and went and I gave chase to work it out. Eventually, like my retreat, I was in the house alone and heard a still voice…”leave this place” just like that. Just like Abraham! It came with a price, shortly before I was seeing a therapist because I suddenly developed Anxiety Attacks. Apparently the stress of the relationship was too much for me or should I say, my body to handle. And my body was fighting back to survive the blows I was unaware I was taking. I would later learn the seriousness of not taking care of yourself…

Dear reader, I developed a very bad habit, of holding things in, fighting back anger. And when I did push back I’d explode with frustration. Kind of like, I needed to be a “good boy” and not start trouble.

Sharol

When Sharol and I got married there was a lot of love, that was evident to all who knew us. But there was also marital stressors. We would battle like two proud and stubborn Klingon Warriors. Our biggest augments were over the kids, see we had a blended family, though we raised them as Christians we made the mistake of not choosing one system of discipline early on. The tension between us in the early years took a toll on me mentally and emotionally. Apparently. I thought it was normal… just like the high stress job I had. What wasn’t normal was my aforementioned way of handling things. Not only did I suffer from severe anxiety attacks I became an agoraphobic. Eventually I couldn’t go out, get to work or ride the train. Nothing! My wife couldn’t hug me, simple tasks like brushing my teeth were agonizing, sitting at the table with all the kids was unbearable. I would have panic attacks a few times a day, sometimes multiples in an hour. As I’ve written before, I lost a year and a half of my life to them.

So what does this have to do with abandoned? Well, it’s not as simple as I thought. But as set on the loveseat I had an urge to kneel so I did. That’s when all this came to mind. The feeling that I have always “stayed” while others found freedom to leave or let their emotions go or take over. I’ve never felt such freedom. I was left to “hold the bag”. That’s when anger crept in during prayer… “when do I get to say ef you?!” When do I have the chance or freedom to say this or that pisses me off, without feeling guilty or the need to apologize for my actions… this sort of abandonment Is more like betrayal or dissertion. When Sharol died I didn’t want to get angry at God. How could I? Death is part of life, right?. But there was a day…I was on a street corner talking on the phone. I started crying then got really mad. I was mad that my wife left me alone. Alone to bury her… it was a strange feeling. I forgot I was on the phone. I can’t remember what I told the person but I hung up then went upstairs. I wanted to run as far and fast as I could after her passing. I never did I stayed to picked up the pieces as best I could. Immediately going back to work to keep my sanity. Wouldn’t know…? As deaths does… the family split down the middle. The kids are older with families. Each moved on and away. But I stayed, at the same job, in the same apartment, looking at her clothes and so on. Never angry… but apparently my heart had been speaking to God, what my mind and mouth failed to realize. Or was willing to say. Like the panic attacks were my body’s way of recognizing what I didn’t. Weird huh…?

A few months short of the one year anniversary of my wife’s passing, I purchased a Nissan Murano. It was intended for more than just two people but as I mentioned earlier, life does it’s thing. My youngest daughter and I have taking to the road. Camping, short east coast roadtrip and last year we add hiking to our adventures. Yes, it’s time spent together before she starts her own life…but more than that, it’s my chance and time to leave. To go anywhere and everywhere. It’s a bit late in life and I don’t expect anyone to understand. But I feel alive and free out there, unrestricted. No sir, I’m not dragging the kid along she’s the one that suggested we drive across country. “Let’s go to the states no one else goes to… all the places no one else heard of”. It is entirely possible that, wanderers and outdoor enthusiast are running from death, pain, life changing events, but we are all running towards something too. Life! We are enjoying life as much as possible, with as little strings attached to us like puppets. Healing is also part of the process and adventure. I know many who have become healthier because of the great outdoors. If I didn’t subconsciously feel abandoned I would have never left, nor saw the beauty of God’s hand in nature. The beauty that draws me closer to him and what I needed to help in my process of grief. If Sharol didn’t live, I would have never written a book. If she didn’t die… let’s just say, her death changed me as much as her life with me did.

You see, dear reader, God didn’t answer my pray about a job or at least not at that moment. He answered the cry of my heart. I was left with, “I haven’t abandoned you” the other thought…”come to me and I will give you rest” Still in need of a job, but I’ll take a God answer in any form any day. What about you, dear reader, anything you haven’t realized about yourself?

Until next time…

“Without Her: Sacred Dust”

The infamous Box. Next to a can of chicken, she was hiding from our eating machine son; for my lunch.

       I have picked up my pen several times, placed the pad in front of me and yet, I haven’t been able to finish anything. Is it because my muse is missing? Is it laziness? Is it grief? Or perhaps a combination of all of the above…

      Last time, dear reader; I spoke briefly about “the past two months” when I was done I thought, you know; I have another topic I wanted to touch on. So, here we go… put your feet up and relax. 

      There is a show my 14 year old daughter and I like to watch called This Is Us. About two or three months ago we watch an episode where the doctor; that delivered the babies had to deal with loneliness  and his inability to move on/ more forward, after losing his wife. His adult children were concerned about his lack of joy with life and how the house remained the same since his wife died. Kind of like my 14 year old, “daddy, you need to have fun. You should go out” I did. I went to two birthday parties… I think I told you about one of them. The first was with coworkers, I was out of place and uncomfortable. Clubs, are just not my thing. I don’t like crowds, I’m more a an intimate small gathering guy. The second party was just that, small is something I can deal with. Yet, of course I was uncomfortable. My oldest son is a master of working the room, something he inherited from my dad. In these situations, I tend to slip in and out unnoticed. My coworker calls it an Irish wake. More on the party later, I’m going off road…

     Anyway, there’s a scene where the doctor is talking to his wife but she’s not at the table. He fills her in on the latest happenings with the grand kids. To the ordinary viewer or anyone else, he probably looks like he’s losing his mind. But the truth is and many of you reading may have experienced this; that he was continuing the routine in his life. It was keeping him sane. Her medicine was still in the bathroom cabinet and on the dresser. Her things were all in the places where she left them…

      I shook my head in agreement because Sharol’s t-shirt, yoga pants and bra are still on the hook behind our bedroom door. Her towel is on the hook next to it and my towel on the left hook beside it. Her shoes spread across the bedroom floor. I stop tripping over them though, I’ve learn to navigate around them now(it’s okay you can laugh). Her clothes still on hangers, bleeding over to my side of the closet. Yep, still taking over the closet. Mostly everything the way it was. Even the silly empty cough medicine box… well,actually I put that on her bookshelf months ago and laughed at her when I did it.

    Okay, let me explain, for years we have been pulling simple pranks on one another. Every so often we get a good run,the box happened to be one of them. Once while she was asleep I wrote my name on her arm. She returned the favor. I don’t remember who started the nail polish thing, it was probably me. Painting her nail an odd color. Well, I woke up one morning with my big toe chocolate brown. After the initial freakout, because obviously I thought something was wrong; I laughed and we went about our day. So, there was no time for payback. I forgot about the toe nail until  I had a podiatry appointment a few days later. The doctor looked at my feet then up at me. Yes, go ahead; dear reader and laugh. We would put notes in each other’s bags from time to time or leave it where it would be discovered later. Not all can be discussed with you. There was this one time I wrote in a book that she would read to the baby… it didn’t get discovered until the baby was a preteen. Lol. 

     So, the box started with throwing something at each other, playfully  of course. Our bedtime could turn into a kindergarten class at times. I can’t recall if it was a piece of paper or a sock. Anyway, Sharol was falling asleep and I retaliated. I slipped the box under the blanket. She opened her eyes… I walked around the bed and a flash of green and white whipped by me and bounced off the wall. This meant war! I busted(don’t be a grammar nazi) out laughing. We laughed and went to sleep. The box eventually ended up; tucked into her underwear she was planning to wear that was out on the bed, in my shoe which I didn’t find until 2 days later, in her bag where her keys goes, the hood of a coat, on my pillow one night and so on. Lastly, after packing clothes to bring her home from the hospital, I slipped it in with the clothes. When she saw it in the hospital, she sucked her teeth. If you’ve been around people from the Caribbean you know the sound. She gave me that I got you look. It was in the bag when she came home, no doubt planning her next attack. Not sure if she got me back but I had the last laugh. I put it on the her bookshelf…

        Out of habit, like the doctor I sometimes look over at her picture and say goodnight. Last summer  I bought a wall decal that reads Always kiss me good night.  Something we’d do most nights. Many years ago; because you realize you’re getting older, we purposed do that just in case. So, you know what happens after being married for a billion years, right? You start by kissing lips, then it’s the forehead, the hands, the shoulders, elbows; hey sometimes you’re just too tired to turn and reach the lips. Lol. Some of you know what I mean. There were nights when the only thing we could do was reach out in the middle of the bed and hold hands. That was followed by snoring. 

    Sacred dust…      Not only is that silly box there but there are other things still in its place. Perfumes, pennies and the hospital basin that came home. All collecting sacred dust. You know, I didn’t even think about it until my grandson came for a visit. Where’s Nana? He often ask me. Then he runs off before he gets an answer. So, he picked up a plastic container that has an accordion plastic tube connected to it. If know someone with asthma you’ll recognize the device. Sharol had blow into it. He touched it and my brow furled. My first instinct was to grab it but I didn’t. He asked what it was and like usual the ants in his pants, had him dancing around the room. 

    I didn’t know it then but that plastic piece of nothing had become a Sacred Relic …something we should be very careful not to let happen. When the revelation slapped me, I was reminded of a conversation we had about Facebook. About not leaving messages to one another when the other dies. Because neither could read it. She and I were adamant about not doing it. We’ve seen others do it but thought we should focus on other things. It was always a strange thing to us. For me personally, it’s like lighting a candle for the dead. Dear reader, you may do this as a practice, that’s cool for you and most likely is part of your faith. It’s not part of mine so please don’t be terribly offended. Do your thing. I was told a long time ago that I didn’t have to get rid of her things right away. Take as long as you want. Take years if you need to. He said. The latter is is bit impractical… 

     I had gotten to the point when it was time but didn’t have time to do so. My reaction to my grandson, signaled to me that day, that I was in a dangerous place. I had made sacred that which was not. Not a good head space, like those in a time bubble or an endless loop. I’ve seen and heard many people over the past few months stuck in a loop. This came about as well meaning folks wished to comfort me…by trading death stories.  The lord knows and Sharol few that, that’s not a head space I need to be in. The horror some folks live with. They replay the endless loop of an argument or telling someone they wished they would die, some disappointment. It is hard enough living with regrets when the people is alive. But when they’re gone some people are stuck with their  finger on replay. I have no idea how to advise or help them. Except as I have said before, seek out grief counseling.

    Anyway, back to what I was saying. Like the doctor on the show. We are men a little out of step from another time. There was a neighbor and friend that didn’t live to far from him. She’d seen the doctor in the store and greeted with a smile. She even invited him over and offered to make him lunch. He said “Hi” then carried on. Well, his children mentioned her to him and he waved it off. Basically saying the woman wasn’t interested in him. Even though she did offer to cook for him. The doctor got frustrated with his children. Telling them not to tell him what to feel. They had been married for over 20 years… He was right but so were they. He later started clearing out the cabinets and had that lunch.

        *(I’d written most of this a month ago. Which is why I  thought I told about the party. I hadn’t typed it) 

The party… so I got invited and the kid says “So…are you going?” I eventually answered the nagging child, with “I don’t know. It’s not my thing, I haven’t been to a club in nearly 30 years” I went. Like any single parent I texted a thousand times. “I’m here” “Are you okay?, what are you doing?”  Her text, “So how is it?” At about 9pm I text her “I’m  ready to go to sleep” Lol. I didn’t even know any of the music either. See, a man of step and time. As mentioned earlier, the second party was more intimate. Oh, and with music I knew! Lol. But like the first one I was oddly out of step. I eventually warmed up and talked to people I knew. Then… someone I didn’t know came in. I found myself wanting to talk, but was way out of practice on how to strike up a conversation. Well, it started somehow and I was intrigued. She had a great sense of humor and timing. When I got home of course that child of mine grilled me. When did I become the child? Shh… don’t tell her, but I’ve wondered if there would another time when I’d run into that lady again. 

     Like the doctor, dear reader; I know the things I need to do and they’re  getting done. Again, I don’t sit around moping and crying for days. But there are things that trigger memories and this episode was one of them. I thought you’d find it interesting. Some of you are like me, you have businesses to run and children to raise. So, like in Nehemiah, building a wall with and sword on their side and a tool in their hands. So, we mourn and work. Laugh and remember fondly while continuing to live life. Hey, by the way, before we go. I did get to those clothes, some big girl in a shelter or in need will be blessed. As always, our life as a living witness of God’s love. However, we were ready to leave the house and all of the sudden out of nowhere, I couldn’t breath. A mad rush of emotions flooded me. It lasted about 10 minutes. I reached out in prayer to the lord and found him there as always. For a moment I envied my coworker who’d just lost her husband a few weeks ago and others who donated clothes and things immediately. But, that wasn’t how it was meant to be for me…

     Back to my opening statement, which I know you forgot and I don’t want to leave sitting there in tears. It is a combination of all of the above.  The joy of writing has returned but my muse is missing. I often wrote for an audience of one, Sharol. Now, I’m learning to do it alone without my in-house cheering squad and it started with you. The only thing I could write for a long time was this blog about this strange new season of my life. Good news, I’ve been  writing a New short story for the past month.  Thank you, dear reader and my author buddies for convincing me to continue writing. 

Ripley’s on 42nd Street

Until next time…

“Without Her: 9 Months Later, I’m Not Okay”

    I was sitting down watching Nashville the TV show the other week. I was so happy that it returned. Since ABC cancelled it, Country Music Television picked it up. I can’t say I’m anywhere close to liking the writing this season. First off, they are screwing up every relationship on the show, everyone is breaking up or going through drama that doesn’t make since. Well, at least to me. See when you change too much too fast you lose the audience. I’m a die hard fan so, I would stick it out. I learned that  the show runners are from ThirtySomething. Do you remember the show? The characters spent most of the time wining. So understandably I’m concerned about the writing and direction of one of  my favorite shows…
     Out of nowhere, they killed  Rayna Jaymes

 I’m like “what the heck!?” What made things worse was that the hospital scene mirrored my conversation with Sharol. I knew Deacon Claybourne’s pain. Like Deacon, my loss was sudden and unexpected. Like Deacon, my life has been a series of twists and turns down dark roads. Conquering addiction depression, assaults, bigotry and fear. We both found a confidence and strength that came from the relationship with the women in our lives. Who also happened to be the absolute love of our lives. 

Deacon and Rayna we’re working on an album of duets together. It was the story of their life together. It was a pretty adventurous task which brought up old feelings and anxieties as they tried to write together. So at one point they decided to write separately and meet to put the songs together. Coincidentally, it was the same formula I came up with when we decided to write our own  autobiography about lives before we met and then our life together as a couple, the struggles of parenting and becoming One. That was about 5 years ago. We were up in Albany for a weekend because Sharol had to take a class. It started on a vacation, then when that weekend trip came we decided to spend some more time writing…. we never finished it. We didn’t get pass the outline of the chapters. Only God knows where Sharol’s notes are. Like me they were scattered all over the place, a notebook here a piece of paper there…

    I fell apart when Deacon did. I couldn’t imagine him living life without Rayna. Raising the two girls alone, the unfinished album, the business up in the air, a custody battle, a music career that was halted, teenage daughter dating an older guy that’s bipolar… and the only way Highway 65 was going to survive, is for him to finish the album that everybody’s waiting for…

      I once told someone “how am I supposed to be Papa without Nana?” They responded with “Aww”. Someone hit the buzzer please. “Aww…” is the wrong response! “I don’t know”, would have been better. I think what followed was something like “you’ll be okay” …in the words of President Trump “Wrong!” I won’t be okay, heck I’m not okay. My life was and in some small ways, but less with each day; intertwined with Sharol’s. Thankfully, I did not die with her emotionally; as so many surviving spouses do. Things would have been far worse for our two youngest that I still have to raise. So, how am I supposed to be Papa without Nana? How can I  finish the book we were working on, much less consider an autobiography without her? How will I lead this nation(6 children  and 4 grand) of ours forward without her by my side?.. a month ago I woke up to a runny nose. I thought it was a runny nose, it was blood. It took me a bit to figure it out until I saw the bright red on the pillow. I tried not to panic, but this is the thing I was most concerned about over the months. What happens if I get sick? Ill be alone. Usually, we’d wake up, one would  stay with the other just to make sure everything was fine. One would pray with and for the other. But my prayer partner is gone. Who will take care of me…? I thought, thinking of the future. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. The kids can’t loose both of us within the same 12 months I thought as I laid back down…

      So, you see, dear reader. When the car ran into Rayna, when she laid in the bed promising Deacon that she’d come back to him and when he said “don’t you die on me” as they ushered him out of the room…it was all too familiar with me. Some years ago, probably within our first two years of marriage. We looked at each other and I said “Dag, why didn’t you wait for me?”  I was referring to all the stuff we had gone through in our past relationships. If we had just waited for the one God had for us. We agreed it would have been fun to have had more time together. Like Deacon and Rayna we struggled but the love was real and genuine. They were arguably one of our favorite characters/couples  of the show. Now, Sharol  wasn’t a great big country music fan but she did like a good drama and watched the show with me from time to time. It’s one of the few shows that I can stomach watching without her, probably because I started watching it before she did. 

   Okay, back to Decon; facing finishing a work they started together with everyone pushing and pulling on him. But of the crowd came a voice of reason, Avery Barkley, who reminded them that the man just lost his wife. Avery later came up with a brilliant idea of how to finish the record. I have been fine for months moving forward, getting done what needed to be done. Until I woke in the middle of the night. Followed by the past few episodes of Nashville…

     But don’t you worry none, dear reader, became my hope and trust is in God and I have seen him move mountains for me these past few months. Friends have come and gone but Jesus has remain. Like that poem Foot Prints, I have only seen one set of boot prints in the snow of NYC. But I know he was with me before, so why not be with me now? If the Lord said he would be closer than a brother, as close as the mention of his name, if he gives birds food and I am more valuable to him than them, then why not take care of my needs in this dark hour? 

    Of course, that does not change our human feelings and the need for human to human contact. That need to be held. Isn’t that the reason for Eve? After seeing Adam alone, with no one like him; God decided that it was not good for him to be alone. Then by God’s grace he gave Adam someone to walk through life with. So, in this too I must trust him. I don’t just say this to encourage you but also to encourage myself. As Fred Hammond  once said sometimes we just have to encourage ourselves. By the way, Decon and the girls are doing much better. I suspect the rest of the season will focus on the continuing life, after Rayna Jaymes. I know that feeling too.

Until next time…

The Things That We Remember: “Chicken In A Shoe Box””

Yesterday, I was working on chapter 2, my goal was to get my characters on a bus and out of the south. Ultimately they will end up in Chicago, but that trip would prove to be near impossible , as they are fleeing from the south just after the depression era. There wasn’t a lot of money in those days, so escaping would be hard…while they were hiding, they sang a song and for some reason this was the song that came to mind

Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior: http://youtu.be/qr-o-kVcR6E

As I got them ready to leave, I thought of ways they could travel. I decided that the bus was the easiest and cheapest way to travel about. Immediately I was transported back in time, I was a kid again with my mother about to board a Greyhound bus. I could hear the engine running, I stared at the the dog on the side of the bus. I was short enough that we were eye to eye. I could almost physically feel my mother pulling on my arm. And then it hit me! The scent of fried chicken sweating in the inside of a shoebox lined with Reynolds Wrap foil. Mmm… the smell of lunch! And it wasn’t complete without the boiled eggs.
Wow, it is strange what we remember and the odd times that we remember them. Just Sunday, I was in the super market with my wife and passed by a display for Lipton Soup.
image

I’d asked her if she remembered the soup from her childhood. The minute I asked her, I pictured in my mind, my mother’s hand placing the box on the kitchen counter.
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I could see her hand dropping the lump of seasoning in the water. I had another flashback, I was sick and my mother handed me a bowl of soup. I watched as the tiny thin noodles spun around in a circle. All of that happened while I was still in aisle 5 of the supermarket with my wife. Whoa!
And the other night, I was watching a film about Jim Jones! The charismatic church/cult leader who orchestrated the deaths of over 900 people. Need I say I was sick to my stomach. I was watching the screen when a thought popped into my head “don’t drink the kool-Aid” I remembered it from my childhood. Another thought came nearly simultaneously, I’ll get to that in a moment.
When I was a kid we used to joke about not drinking the kool-Aid, which alluded to Jim Jones’ mass suicide. My wife and I watched in horror as the people were lead and forced to drink the concoction. Then the other thought came to mind… we were sitting in a circle reading the bible and teaching our, then little children, the importance of knowing the Word for themselves so that they would not be easily fooled.
What a strange thing to feel, taste, hear sounds or see pictures that take you back to a different time and place. Not all of what we remember is a good memory, but isn’t still amazing what sensory our bodies can produce. We really are “fearfully and wonderfully made”…
Until next time…