“Take away love and our earth is a tomb.”

Today the rains finally came.

I wrote another piece of prose for publication, and sent it off to an editor. Perhaps it will find an audience. I hope it will help someone. Perhaps it will bring me some food money for my family.

I am tired. My sewing business is growing. I don’t have time to entertain frivolous requests, and I will soon get to increase my prices. The solution is elegant; the logistics will take a bit of time.

Because the house, the children, the groceries, the volunteer work – all these are priorities over my craft. I smile at this because it will not always be this way. The children are growing and our lives change swiftly.

The children are growing. I am tired, and my children are growing faster than I am capable of keeping pace with. I practice a mindfulness breathing practice. Breathing in, I know I have a body. Breathing out, I smile at my body; I reconcile with it.

My days seem too short, and full of too much work. Something is amiss. The first Noble Truth. Something is amiss.

I am feeling less angry, more at peace with the events of this last year. I am thinking of my days before I found out terrible news, or should I say, hard news. Those days “before” are now a completely innocent memory to the pain and trouble I’ve wrestled with. This has tired me more than anything else. All that anger, and mistrust, and hatred, and fear. Near exsanguination. Crawling back to life now, a few moments in the sun here and there.

My child and I have an exercise. Every day I ask: Is there anything I have done today to hurt you, or to offend you? This is the one thing my child must answer honestly every day, no matter what. Today my child says, “You said ‘No’ to me, abruptly, and pointed your finger at me.” I hold my child close.

Both children put their arms around me, their hands in mine. Their trust in me and their love for me is something very precious. Is it wrong that in my mind I somehow fear to lose it, when it is likely one of those things that can somehow never be lost? A mystery no one can explain, that echoes through space and time with only itself, and the love cast out over many generations, to keep company and bear witness.

the untrained mind

Tonight I wrote, by hand, a letter to the men responsible for my child’s sexual assaults.

I wrote by hand until my hand cramped. I wrote as articulately as I could. Even as I wrote I knew I had a bit of spiritual wisdom; wisdom I did not used to have. Even as I wrote I knew that these men had destroyed my sleep, my peace of mind. They had taken things from my child, things that can never be fully restored. Doubtless they had taken things from other children. They had removed my security regarding the person I love most.

But they had not taken my compassion, and they had not taken my faith.

Folded-up sheets of yellow paper sit at my elbow. I will read my letter to one of my spiritual mentors, the woman who told me to write this letter. She is a Catholic and I am a Buddhist but she is the only human being who has given me lasting comfort because she is not afraid to tell me the truth. Of all those I have had the dubious honor to deal with during this time – the advocates, the professionals, the social workers, the counselors, law enforcement – many who have added to my confusion, one who has misled us intentionally, some who have caused my child more harm than good – this woman alone has been able to help me because she has been where I have been and she knows the thing, the Bravest thing, the truth about faith that so many are afraid to surrender to.

I will likely never meet the men responsible for what happened to my child. I wrote the letter anyway because my friend told me to, and I trust her.

People think a sexual assault is just the assault. But when the law gets involved, it is much worse. We have had agencies, strangers, crawling up in our family business. My child has had interviews in a police room, suffered many night terrors and panic attacks (for many months we were entirely ignorant as to why), been submitted to a rape exam, and had many freedoms curtailed. My child has endured mistakes by the adults, professional and familial, who are supposed to protect. My child has endured the inept, clumsy, and stupid mistakes Ralph and I have made – because no parent is prepared to deal with this well, no parent.

This has been the hardest thing I’ve gone through, no matter how carefully I’ve tried to do the right thing. Since late September my world has changed and it has been relentless. My anger, my confusion, my grief has exhausted me. It has kept me depressed and anxious so that even while I function “properly” and do the things I’m supposed to, I am never without this pressing fear, a fear few intuit or even think of. Prayer and meditation have helped; helping others has helped immensely. “Restraint of pen and tongue” has been a godsend. Doing the next thing I’m supposed to – doing the housework, returning texts and calls, helping friends – has kept me sane.

Tonight I needed there to be a point to all of it. To what has happened. Because I know there is. So even though she was dead-tired I grabbed my friend and mentor. I talked with her and she told me some things. I cried – but less than you might think. Because I am ready to understand a little more than I’ve thus been able to understand.

Before we parted she told me, “It’s like that tree across the way. The leaves will fall soon and they’ll pretend to be dead. But you and I know they’re not dead. They are fertilizer for other things to grow.

“This experience is going to be food for you, it is going to make you stronger;

“But first you have to fall.”

that marmalade quote I like so much

I made an error, recently. I relied on two entities who were sending checks. Both of them, insurance entities. Both of them insist the payment is on its way. They’ve told us this a little while now (months; weeks resp.). So far in our post office box blows tumbleweeds.

I counted on that money (that was my error). I bought the things our family needs. Now we are in a tight spot.

It’s easy to let a mistake slip into feeling sorry for oneself; into self-criticism. I can be patient with this a while.

But I also know an antidote to this, or at least a spiritual balm. An antidote to self-pity, to self-recrimination: work. Or as my friend John used to say, “chores”.

Not mindless work for the sake of doing it, but the work I should do no matter what. The work I’d do no matter what because it has to be done.

I have rice to cook, for an event I am helping with tonight. So. I saute up fine-minced garlic in olive oil and coconut oil. I set aside broth to simmer; season rice with pepper.

Dishes. Laundry. Yoga; coffee.

Breathe in; breathe out.

My son will wake soon. He will then be the next thing I get to attend to. I don’t know what our plans are for the day – our reduced circumstances have cancelled our road trip – but I do know I bought him lychee yesterday and he loved them as much as I thought he would. I do know I bought him a fifty-cent creampuff at a bánh mì shop and he saved that for this morning.

I do know that he and I will be provided for in some way – whether I can see it, or not. I often can’t.

“This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”

My Father, Mother & I - c. 1978

I miss my father.

If you’ve mourned the loss of a beloved one, you know that the “missing” part never goes away. It changes. You are changed, from having loved and lost. The pain resurfaces in pangs now and then. It is like this sweet ache. It almost feels good because it is a reminder how very alive I am. If that makes sense.

I grieved for my father in a healthy way. I am not angry he is gone. I am not one of those “fuck cancer” people. This has never resonated with me. For one thing, cancer gave me the opportunity to practice mindfulness, and to be glad for what I had while I had it, and to appreciate someone with my very soul. I had eight wonderful years to know my dad was dying. We are all dying; but rarely do we truly appreciate the implications of this fact.

I used to visit him during his chemo. I would bring him a milkshake, because he had trouble keeping weight on, and one thing he’d always consume was a chocolate shake. One time I went out of my way to find some protein powder to mix in. I somehow screwed it up and it wouldn’t dissolve. My dad took a sip out the straw and it was powder. He was so pissy. It gives me joy to think about it (although I felt bad for making a mistake). Just how pissy he was.

My father’s cancer was a very long journey with many rough spots. Kind of like life. I’ve this friend – she also died within the last year – very dear, a wonderful friend. She was hardcore and awesome and had survived SO MANY things. She used to say, “At its best, life’s a bitch.”

I would have liked more time with my father. He occupied an incredibly important place in my life. He’s one of the few people whose respect I wanted to have. Even so, I learned a healthy bit of detachment before he left. He was just a human being. He could be a real turd at times. He made me laugh. He gave me a great deal of comfort.

My father gave me many gifts. He was an agnostic, but he told Buddhist tales and koans and it is thanks to his influence I am a Buddhist today, which gives me so much joy.

My dad was more beloved to me, is more beloved, than I can express. I am not only grateful he raised me along with my mother, I am grateful that I liked him so much and that he was so gentle. My life was not to be a gentle one, but I always knew something better was possible. He was like a beacon in the night as he was very kind – at least he had become kind by the time he had children. Sometimes I think the compassion I have, whatever there is of it, has a lot of its root in my father.

Rest in peace, Dad. I miss you so!

My Father

catch me i’m falling

I would like to offer my readership an apology. I “owe” a few tutorial posts (I am well-aware of this!), and I have not been writing as much as I’d like.

Some of this is circumstantial – just, getting out of balance. As of this week I have committed to two sewing projects – and a design sketch – that I haven’t yet started. My creative exploits have been put on the back burner as I meet commitments to family and community. I am trying to be very patient with my limitations, as it is end-of-school-year for my daughter and I have a little work to do there. Ralph has had a few professional and personal activities that have kept him from home a night or two – and that adds up.

But most relevant: I have not been feeling well. I am experiencing medical problems that are quite distracting and often disabling. It isn’t a complex illness to describe and it is one I am looking forward to sharing in the next few days; but I don’t feel like writing about it now. I am under a sewing deadline at the moment; when this is finished (tomorrow evening), I will take stock of what I said I would accomplish, and make a plan.

Paradoxically, it has been a commitment or two that keep me in relative good cheer. I have a few volunteer engagements I’ve been faithful to for almost three years. Today I sat in my standard Wednesday afternoon meeting, and served as the meeting’s chair. While I listened to others talking, I wondered if the individuals there knew how much it meant to me, to have a place to go, and a purpose, and to be asked to help, a group of “strangers”. No fame. No pay. No reputation. No one gives a shit. All of this makes it deeply meaningful (because I’m a Buddhist, and we are weird). Dizzy and nauseated, I breathe deep, close my eyes, and meditate on the gladness I am alive. There is something very special about caring for people I will never see again. About pouring my heart out, just emptying it out, with no regard to where things go. Because I know I’m doing something helpful but I don’t know what I’m doing, exactly.

Home and my children are themselves: energetic, lively, clever, loving, and vibrant. I am ill and sensitive to noise; on the drive home (Ralph in the driver’s seat) I put my hands on my face. “Mama, are you sick?” Nels immediately asks in alarm. “I am, little guy.” The sunset is beautiful and the car has a full tank of gas and I’ve got makings for tomorrow’s dinner in the fridge (fried chicken, corn on the cob, coleslaw and homemade biscuits) and surely I’ll survive the night.

on the present moment

This afternoon I did not want to put aside my work (which had been delayed enough already), and pack children into the car – rowdy children, not all of them mine – and go to a few shops, and pick up groceries for a summer dinner, and come home and prepare that food. I did not want to pay for or organize a cookout meal next door at my mom’s, but I did it anyway. I did so because I knew my mother and the children and the dog would enjoy it. I knew it didn’t matter if I enjoyed it so much.

It was my job. I was that guy. I want to be that guy.

This morning I didn’t want to be honest with a suffering friend. I worried my honesty might hurt an already-hurting person. I worried I was wrong anyway. Why speak up, if I might be wrong? But I also know: I want to be that guy. I want to be that friend you say, “She always told me the truth.” I want you to know I meant what I said when I said it. It’s my job. “You’re not thinking straight,” is how I actually started the main part of the conversation. It went from there.

I have more than one friend suffering and suffering over shit that is real. As years go on sometimes it seems I can help so very little, although I often wish I could help a great deal more.

I am a Buddhist. When I am thinking straight, I know I don’t have big problems or little problems, I just have Problems. I soothe myself with gentleness. I don’t know if I was helpful today. I know I tried to be helpful. I don’t know if I harmed someone today. I know I tried not to. How can I task myself with doing anything perfectly – whether counseling a suffering friend, or offering assistance to someone homeless, or teaching children how to play charades, or organizing a hot dog roast at my mothers’?

It doesn’t feel like Doubt, it feels like sadness. It isn’t always easy to stay on the path. My foot slips and there’s that moment I wonder if my journey matters much at all.

But life is too short to take seriously. I remember that. I lift my chin. I realize I am not easily intimidated, and that I like the company of myself. When my day is rough, I am my own best friend. This is new; it happened sometime in the last few years. It is wonderful.

And that I have a boundless love. When I lose it, when I let the fire down in the damp, I put down my load and go look for it. Right away.

I keep my love alive.

unfriendly skies

I am almost four hundred dollars short on rent.

I am physically exhausted.

I am having a wee bit of emotional turmoil.

Yesterday I heard one of the women I came to know through the Treatment Center very recently, died of an overdose. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this one but in my small town it is impossible to share without the possibility of causing more pain to those living. It is very hard for me to wrap my mind around the reality this young woman was here just yesterday, and is gone today – although God Knows I have no cerebral reason to experience surprise.

That’s not all. I had a really difficult conversation that I had hoped wouldn’t have to happen. I had to stand up for myself to someone who I know to be retaliatory. My husband pointed out to me I shouldn’t be afraid because I learned to stand up to HIM back in the day and that I had a lot more to fear, then.

Well. He’s probably right. But fear keeps me company sometimes.

Life has been a creaky, uphill climb; a brief bit of comfort here and there. Then suddenly: stunning experiences of love. Today I looked out a door and saw an addict I know, sucking on one of those fake cigarettes, and I felt this surge of love. He probably doesn’t know I feel anything for him and he probably doesn’t give a shit about me. I felt this weird comfort about this. A gladness to be alive.

Tonight in another setting I waited my turn to speak and I felt an irritation and anger that rattled my chest and soured my guts. I prayed for Love and Tolerance. A few minutes later and I had it, and I could speak with love and laughter.

Today my husband put his arms around me and I felt his human presence with gratitude. In June we will celebrate sixteen years together.

In one month exactly I will celebrate three years’ sober. I am not an inarticulate woman, but the gratitude I feel is nearly impossible to express. I am aghast.

Tonight I try to give myself the gift of compassion. Sometimes it seems the only true treasure one can grasp.

dancing / kneeling

Today would have been my father’s 71st birthday. I miss him terribly. He taught me so much.

 

After he died I wrote his obituary – I believe I began it with his body still in the room. Re-reading it now it fucking kills me he never knew my daughter’s real name. He never knew how homeschooling would go for us. He didn’t know Ralph and I would get through some hard years and build a strong marriage.

He never saw me get sober. I don’t think my dad thought of me as an alcoholic but I know he knew I was troubled. It is only through some ministration of divinity I am not in personal agonies that he died before I could make direct amends to him.

I don’t believe he “knows” somehow, anything, now. Or that he is “with” me in some way, watching over me like those maudlin Family Circus comic strips. I believe we have been separated in some profound way and his form will never be reassembled again. “Everything dies”, and from that stark sentence springs a beauty so fierce I want to cry. From that stark sentence springs a faith that is simple and indefensible.

Sometimes I think it was my father’s gentleness, and his witness to my life that enabled me to survive so many trials. My father didn’t rescue me from so many perilous situations, but he seemed to know a lot more about me than anyone else did. I didn’t think anything I did could separate me from his love.

As he sickened and died it was my mother and I alone who stayed witness. Sometimes I think that is a bond she and I share that could also never be broken. I remember watching him in his deathbed and watching him waste away and feeling a profound, keening helplessness that was beautiful in its simplicity. I could cook or clean but nothing would change a thing. I could wait on him but he needed me less and less until he left.

I can remember the panic in my mother’s voice as my father fell into the suffocating last moments of his life, not enough oxygen. She cried out for me while holding his head to her breast. It was a horrible way to die maybe, but we do not know how exactly the body suffers, and our own time will come soon enough. There is no part of me that regrets being there. I only hope I offered him some sort of comfort, some sort of Presence, just like he’d given me.

My heart breaks to think about it. Today would have been a wonderful day to remember him in some way, besides the small slice of lemon meringue pie (his favorite) that my mother procured me. I would have liked to do more – but I was tired, preoccupied, I had a hard day of my own. I know that sometimes these milestones pass and there is only this scuffling sound and an inert sadness.

But even so: one never knows. Tonight in searching his obituary I find his Guest Book hosted by the mortuary; I had never seen these notes before. There is a glimmer of something; someone out there cares. Whatever struggles I go through, mediocre or keenly-felt, there are those who care and who are there to keep pace.

muffled, dark, angry, water churns

Today one of the chapters closed on our child’s sexual assault case.

I have longed to write more frankly, and more frequently, on the events we’ve been privy to since the abuse first came to light. Interviews, medical exams, evaluations, appointments, reading materials, and helpful and less-helpful professional experiences, opinions, and evaluations.

But I don’t write more, because I have been learning to more deeply respect my child(ren)’s privacy.  In the early days post-abuse disclosure, when I was treading water and flailing, I shared a few details with adults in my life. Not every one of those people held my disclosures in confidence. I’m not sure how much it hurts to be gossiped about, for me personally. But it really hurt that I trusted a few people with my child, and they were clumsy with the child’s safety, and the child’s story. So, I’m not willing to throw my child’s life on that particular bonfire again.

Damn their eyes!

I have a few friends that I’d trust with my absolute life, and those are the friends who hear more on the subject. They have been a lifeline.

But oh, how I’ve suffered. I’ve suffered horribly. I’ve suffered in ways that don’t make sense. The depth and breadth of my suffering has been unreal. Sleep has been snatched from me; at times my appetite slapped from my mouth. As a spiritual mentor of mine told me last fall – “Remember – this didn’t happen to you. It happened to your kid.” Her helpful sentence has sometimes been the slim thread that has kept me in sane behavior – if not in a sane thought-life.

I’ve suffered while trying to do my best with institutions and entities that have been occasionally helpful, but often bureaucratic, dishonest, and frustrating. Entities who had more information on the assaults than I, yet were not willing to share it. I’ve had to make decisions and find counseling and advocacy and that has felt  like a crap shoot at times. The financial expenses are nothing when compared to the anguish of worrying for my child’s wellbeing.

I am not trying to complain for pity, or for – well, anything. I am trying to be honest. This has been difficult. And since my habit of writing – and writing frankly, warts and all – is one of the most helpful exercises I’ve ever had at my behest, to err on the side of non-disclosure these past months has been stifling.

I only write now, not for my own therapeutic efforts but in case someone who reads here may one day need comfort. I can say this has been the hardest thing I’ve gone through as a parent – so far. Sometimes the pain is so great I don’t know what to do with it. It has been a dark experience. I can feel okay for a while but then something bumps up against me and suddenly I am angry. I can’t sleep. I am full of anxiety. My trust is etched away in an acidic bath of hate.

So today – another report. Another series of findings. A case closed. Another difficult talk within the family.

I light a candle and take Refuge. I swim for an hour and meditate. I do housework; I help others. I feed my body and care for my loved ones (and a few friends, and a few strangers).

Friends give me tender loving care. They send me kind messages, texts, and sometimes emails. Sometimes they send funds, which are very helpful. Sometimes they more or less just tell me they read here – that is very helpful too.

I’m trying to be patient with myself. Because lately life has been dark, and ugly, and baffling.

Wanna put on some Q Lazzarus and check out my moth collection?

Today something clicked during my swim, and everything was measurably easier than even yesterday. I told myself I needed to practice often, and practice slowly enough, that I would come to feel entirely relaxed in the water. Today, I was a lot closer to that. A rolling motion with the shoulders, head only rotating during the breath. Kicking enough to stay up and moving but not so hard I am inordinately winded by the end of a length. No longer thinking about my inhale, no longer thinking about much at all. A brief rest in between lengths.

This kicks in about lap three. I pull up to the edge of the pool and tug my goggles up. “Did I beat you this time?” I ask Phoenix, who is splashing in next to me.

“No,” she says. Then wipes a hand over her face. “Well, yes.”

I silently dance a few body rolls, holding onto the edge. It feels good.

Then, to get the point home I say, “That’s my swim-taunt.”

“I know,” she says, gravely.

Swimming with Phoenix has been wonderful. I have already caught up to her so we are swimming peers. She catches her breath back more quickly than I, though.

Out of the pool and on the road to pick up Nels at the art gallery; then to guest-assist in a kindergarten class. I’m nearly faint from hunger after this last, but I have only a slim $23 for the day. I can afford to get my also-hungry kids a sandwich and soup to share, and pick up dinner supplies. That’s it.

The hunger keeps me a bit off my game. At self-checkout, a young man bags his own groceries, leaving his cart in the thoroughfare and seemingly entirely oblivious as we wait to pass. “Excuse me,” I say, and he jerks the cart out of the way. We walk past and I think, Where do I know him? A few beats later and I remember him as a two-time client (at least twice) at the treatment center; I remember his name, and I regret not greeting him. I can tell by his expression, his lack of eye contact, and his skin, that he is likely back on his drug of choice – and might feel lukewarm about a greeting. And already: the moment has passed. Like at least once or twice in my day – sometimes more – I get to silently say goodbye, and move on.

Music in the car. The kids are helpful; they know I’m hungry and tired. I am irritable and angry; earlier in the day I dealt with an institution I find incredibly challenging to negotiate with. I still have an emotional hangover from this experience; what’s more, it doesn’t feel like that mood is going to lift.

Patience, prayer, persistence, and practice. What else can I do?