Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Krazy Kat Lady Monologues - our newest addition

Once upon a time, my Mom had two cats.  In fact, cats always belonged in pairs as far as she was concerned.  Ever since we rescued our first kitten from the garage next door when I was 12 and adopted a kitten from the SPCA six months later, she has always owned two cats.

My Mom was the master of playing favorites -with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and ..... cats.  I'll give her this - she was honest about it to a fault.  You always knew where you stood with her.  As I said, she always had two cats... and one of the two was always her clear favorite.  Not so with me.  My favorite is whoever happens to be laying next to me or on my lap at the moment.   Cats, that is ... not nieces and nephews!

Last September, before we moved Mom into Assisted Living, she was residing with  Katie and Josie.  Katie was a long-haired orange and white.  Josie was a calico.  In the battle for my Mom's favor, Katie was the clear front runner.  As the move in date approached, Bill and I agreed to adopt Josie.  Katie was another matter.  She was older (12 years old) and very much a shy, one-person cat.  A household with another Senior Citizen would have been ideal.  But it was not to be for poor Katie.  Her reward for being "#1 Cat" at my Mother's house was the euthanasia needle.  As best we could tell, my Mom was already beginning the decline into dementia and its accompanying irrational behavior.  She reasoned that if she couldn't keep Katie, nobody would.

Josie was very skittish in my feline-dominated house.  The first few months of her life with us was spent in an upstairs bedroom.   She had the run of the house but, oddly, that's where she confined herself.   She decided that she liked her soft-sided cat carrier.  It must have felt like a protective cocoon, and it sat perched on its side in the bedroom - usually with her inside.  We got her downstairs by physically picking up the carrier and carrying it downstairs with her inside.  They say the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as gods.  If ever there was evidence of cat worship, this could be it!  Eventually, the litter box also moved downstairs (thank God) and now she resides only downstairs.  Whatever it takes to get the liter box away from my bedroom is fine by me!

The feline dynamics in our house range from brotherly love to benevolent acceptance to full-out trench warfare - sometimes all three in one day.  Kramer and Jerry were adopted together, so they are joined at the hip.  Pumpkin  - one would think - should be accorded some level of respect as the senior cat in both age and in years of residence at Chez Reece.   Not likely.   Right from day one, the "freres horreur" tormented her.  Kramer was the worst offender.  He liked to chase and corner her, at which point I would usually come to her rescue.  She never really tried to defend herself.  I don't think it was in her personality.   Enter Josie.  Sometime shortly after Christmas, she declared herself to be fed up with Kramer.  With fur on end, making noises I've only heard on Wild Kingdom, she would launch herself on him whenever he started his nonsense.  Amazing, considering that she is not only half his size but also declawed.  Nine times out of ten, they will confront each other like gladiators under the dining room table, and he will be the first to emerge and run away with his tail puffed to the size of a large feather boa.  For this reason alone, I have to admire this cat.   She's a tough broad.

Another reason: I frequently heard from my Mom and brother the lament about Josie's lack of cuddliness.  She's not a lap cat, etc, etc ...  As I compose this, she resides next to me.  If I am in the kitchen, she's there.  If I am standing next to the counter, she's on it (yes, germophobes - on it), head bopping me, purring loudly.  She lays on me, around me.  I think it is safe to say that she has adopted me.   What does this really tell me?  That she knew on some primal level that she was not the favorite in my Mom's household? That she has figured out that I don't play favorites?  That I am a sucker for a purring, head bopping furry face?  Yes, yes and yes.

I think I'm maxed out at four cats, but I wouldn't trade any of them for all the gold in the world.  And this new addition fits in just fine.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From the Yin to the Yang and Back - Chapter 4

She came to me like an angel when everything was torn apart. Erasing all the madness she came and blessed a broken heart ...

A Voice in the Darkness

 After I had served on the BCAS Board for a few years, I identified a pattern pertaining to the At Large members.  Every year without fail, a chorus member was elected to an At Large position on the Board who had no real idea what he or she was signing up for and, furthermore, no real desire to fulfill the duties.  This resulted in a Board member who just took up space at the monthly meetings and sometimes quit before the season was up.  By the time 2009 rolled around, I had developed a little game that I played with myself for amusement called "predict the warm body".  After the election in May 2009, I thought I had this one pegged for sure.  This woman had been a member for many years, but she was like a ghost to me.  She had taken a leave here and there, and when she was active, she was very quiet.  As Secretary, I prided myself on knowing everybody, but this was a tricky one.  My only knowledge of her had come from our illustrious President who had attempted to involve her in the choosing of new ladies' concert attire a few seasons prior to this one.   It was ridiculous to me, because she was on leave at the time, but he would not let us make a choice without her involvement, and she apparently was ignoring him.  I remember being highly annoyed and wishing that she would just tell him to bug off so that we could get on with business.  Needless to say, my expectations of this new Board member were not high, and I remember arriving home from the annual meeting and saying something sarcastic to my husband like "Well .....  we've got another live one again."

I can't pinpoint exactly when my opinion started to change, but it was some time in the Fall of 2009.  If I look back at e-mails from that time period, there are e-mails involving the entire Board, and slowly but steadily, the e-mails between just she and I began to increase.   I guess when she announced her proposal for the next Chorus trip and then when she basically took charge of it, I should have gotten a clue that this was more than just a warm body.   As my relationship with Marcia continued to sour, I instinctively turned to her for help in understanding what seemed hopelessly non-understandable.  But it wasn't until I announced my intention to retire from the Board that I felt the full force of this woman.  Unbeknownst to me, she had been forming an opinion of me that was unlike any that I had ever heard before.   She began a quiet, persistent campaign to convince me of my value - not just as a member of the Board but as a human being.  Could it be that she had figured out that I was lacking any sort of affirmation on any level from anyone, and that I was incapable of recognizing my own value?    I remember repeatedly telling her that nothing she could say was going to change my mind about retiring.  But it was more than just her words working its magic on me.   In order to understand my about-face, one must understand the inner workings of this woman.  When she meets someone for the first time, she will engage them in conversation and by the time it's all said and done, she seems to know the person's strengths and shortcomings.  But that isn't the whole story.  She will always celebrate a person's strengths and downplay their weaknesses.  You can see it in the way that she talks to you or engages you.  In my case, she always treated me like the person that I was capable of being, while everyone else close to me was reacting to my current state of being.  I was cynical, negative, temperamental and just downright bitchy.  I might have felt justified in feeling and acting as I did, and I attracted the negative attention that I so richly deserved - from everyone but her.   To her, I was a valued, intelligent human being.

Something happened to me one night that I may never be able to fully explain.  We had sung an Evensong concert that was truly an artistic success.  We were full speed ahead to our next concert tour.  And I had just been informed that a qualified person had agreed to run for Secretary and take my place.  It was a warm April night, and I was driving home with the windows cracked, enjoying the first warm air of the year when the reality of my situation hit me square between the eyes.   I was on the brink of throwing away the chance to be involved in something spectacular - and why?  Because some people had personality quirks that bugged me?  And what made me think that my life circumstances were so much more dire than anyone else's?   As I drove, I engaged in a mental role call of our chorus members.  For the first time, I saw them as individuals and I thought about some of them and the crosses that they bore every day.  Why did I want to step away from serving as their Secretary?  The answer was clear:  I didn't.   In those moments, in that flash of clarity, I realized my own worth and the worth of everyone surrounding me - from those closest to me to the people who can barely say hello to me once a week.  The rest is history.

This turnabout happened three years ago.  For three years, I have tried to pinpoint what it was that changed my thinking in such a profound way - profound, because of its far-reaching results that extended beyond my role as Board member.  I saw everything and everyone differently.  My husband would go on to completely change careers, and I am positive that the cynical, narcissistic, negative person who inhabited my body for so long would not have been capable of supporting his decision or the extra hours that were required for him to make this change.  He is a different person now - no longer imprisoned in a dead-end career that was so wrong and unsuited to his talents.  My job is what it is, and I am respected there.  Instead of looking for things that a job is not supposed to be giving me in the first place, why not celebrate what it does give me?  All revelations for me after all those years.   I had finally grown up.

There is no way to place a tangible value on a friend who comes along just at the right time, or in my case, just in the nick of time.  This is a value that is immeasurable.  It is easy to want to help someone by stroking their ego or telling them what you think they want to hear.   It is another thing entirely to tell them what they need to hear and to actually live your words every day.   A person who is drowning in self-doubt, a person who feels that they have no worth to the world, needs more than just words.  This person needs someone to emulate - a person who forces you to see the world through his or her eyes simply through the sheer force of their personality.   And now, I say this:

To my dear friend,

I am forever indebted to you.  Your presence has changed my life and the lives of those I love.  You have asked me on more than one occasion to stop describing you as a saint.  So, I give you this:  you are stubborn to the point where I want to smack you.  You are so driven and task-oriented that I so often want to kidnap you and force you to smell the roses.   And just when I want to kidnap you and smack you, I realize that it is those qualities that allow people like me to be spontaneous, and it is those qualities that made it possible for you to penetrate the wall that I had built up around me.  Likewise, it is my spontaneity that allows you to laugh, to relax, to let down your guard and reveal your inner self to me.   The wonder of our friendship is that we have so much in common, yet it is also these differences that enable us to be the best people that we can be when we are in each other's company and even when we are not.

I have tried before to describe to you all of the different demons that were working inside of me when we first met.  I hope that this has shed some real light on what I was all about back then and why your efforts on my behalf and your friendship were so important in turning my life around, and especially why you are so important and special to me now and why you will be so for the rest of my days.



From the Yin to the Yang and Back - Chapter 3

My Chorus

In 2001, I joined the Buffalo Choral Arts Society.  I was finally able to expand my musical horizons while safely tucked away among 120 people.  Perfect for someone with untapped talent and all the self confidence of a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  I loved it.  I loved it a bit too much for my husband who didn't seem to appreciate the time I was putting into rehearsing with the chorus and on my own.  It was the first time I had indulged a passion since we were married.  And... it was the first time that I didn't really care about him being bugged.   Did I mention that I loved it.

The Music Director was charismatic, extremely talented, passionate and temperamental.  She was unlike anyone I had ever met, and if I'm going to be perfectly honest, she fascinated me.  I spent the better part of two seasons striving for perfection.  I was like a giant, red-headed sponge soaking up every new piece of musical knowledge thrown my way.  I joined the music committee.  It seemed like a way to get to know more people and, more important, to get my hands on the music ahead of everyone else.   I would take it home and pour through it prior to the first rehearsal.  As my second season wore on I was less content with blending in than I was when I first joined.  In what seemed like a natural progression,  I agreed to run for the Board of Directors.  Once again, I made the safe choice and ran for Secretary.  This position came equipped with very clear, very well-defined duties.  I was warned that there were a lot of them.... duties, that is.  That was ok with me - they were all mundane and clerical in nature.

For the next four seasons, I tackled the duties put before me.  The job was largely done on paper, and I dedicated myself to computerizing it.  This gave me a fine sense of accomplishment for a while.  I was not serving on any committees, as I had been told that the Secretary job was much too big to allow for committee work.  I continued to thrive on the music and grew dependent upon it to fill in the emotional gaps in my life.  Marcia continued to be an enigma.  As I grew more confident in my role as a Board member, I would occasionally dare to question her or the Board President - a man whose long tenure on the Board had given him the aura of a benevolent dictator.  Yet there was no benevolence in his manipulation of the other Board members.  Month after month, he craftily presented proposals for our consideration - proposals whose wheels and cogs were already in the works.  He convinced us that we were contributors rather than the rubber stampers that we, in fact, were.  She often seemed to be "in cahoots" with him. It was my first experience as a member of a Board of Directors.  I had no basis for comparison and it never occurred to me that it should have been functioning differently, I guess.  There was really nobody to keep either of them in check.  Out of sheer boredom, I joined the Marketing Committee in 2006.  But it was more of the same, as the Board President was on this committee, which consisted of the Marketing Consultant, the President, the "Marketing Committee Chair" (a.k.a "puppet of the President") and a couple of random members.  We met once a month to rubber stamp the purchase of ads, agree to the Ad and Patron campaign mailing dates,.... and that was about it.  I look back at the publicity that we did for our 40th Anniversary concert and I cringe, because it could have been so much better.

I have decided that Marcia and I are more alike than we are dissimilar.  We are both prone to spontaneous acts that sometimes come back to bite us, we both tend toward having a short fuse, and if we have passionate feelings about something, we are very vocal and often simply cannot control ourselves.  We differ in our career backgrounds and our approaches to problem-solving, and I believe that this is where some of the problems lie.   Another obstacle is that she does not always understand my sense of humor.  This in and of itself is usually the kiss of death. If someone doesn't get my sense of humor, I generally write them out of my existence, as it just takes way too much effort for me to suppress it.  It was different with Marcia, because I respected her talents so much.  Our relationship was, and is to this day, very cyclical.  Weeks would go by where I could do no wrong, but what happened most often was that I was lulled into a false sense of security and would say something or ask a question that would tick her off.  And I had zero tolerance for her aversion to one-on-one confrontations - be it with singers or with members of the Board.  I believe that is what caused what I will refer to as "perpetual winter" with her, which began in January of 2008.   Mike, the President/Dictator decided that it would be....fun?..... productive?....... divisive?..... to take idle gossipy chit-chat and turn it into a grand conspiracy on Marcia's part.   After a Nazi- ish discussion at a Board meeting where Marcia was absent, I was commanded to put a rather painful directive in my minutes.  The following month, Marcia delivered a blistering condemnation of the Board and of my minutes that could go down in history as being comparable to anything uttered by any President of our country... or any country.  I was so devastated that I don't even remember how I drove home.   I was furious with Mike, but mostly I just felt utterly betrayed by Marcia.  I felt that she should have known that I was forced to record the nonsense, and in fact, had I included more details, it could have been much worse.   Worst of all, I saw at the February meeting that she knew how upset I was and not only did she not care,  but she seemed to feel as though I deserved it.   I felt betrayed and belittled.

This incident did not prove to be rock-bottom, however.  We entered next into the grand realm of the re-audition.   Under the guise of improving our quality both individually and as a group, we planned a re-audition of the entire chorus.  The real goal was to shed ourselves of some of our older, less-trained singers.  Marcia was quite clear on multiple occasions that there would be singers who would be asked to resign.  None of us believed her, mostly because of her aforementioned aversion to confrontation.  Mike, in particular, banked on this since some of his longtime buddies fell into the "older, less-trained" category.  He did give himself one level of protection against reproach, however, when he retired as President after the 2008-09 season.   Lo and behold, singers were indeed asked by Marcia to resign. I recall returning in July from a glorious concert tour of Quebec City and walking into a firestorm less than a month later.  Other members resigned in protest.  Letters of condemnation were written.  Some came to me, to be funneled to Marcia.  Most members who had been with BCAS for more than 10 years were angry or confused.  To summarize, this is what the 2009-10 season consisted of if you were a Board member:

- newly retired President turns on Marcia and the Board, taking no responsibility for the re-auditions or their aftermath, in order to rally behind his wronged friends.
- Marcia responds to this by also turning on the Board, including the first-time, newly-elected Board members, and scolding us for "not foreseeing the angst that the resignations would cause and not being proactive enough to make efforts to  try to minimize this angst."  Yes -yet another scolding and finger-pointing Board meeting.  This time, however, it was unwarranted and largely undeserved.  I did not cry after this one.  I felt nothing but pure, burning anger.
- retired President also abandoned the Marketing Committee that he had previously agreed to chair in the upcoming season.  Seeing as how he did absolutely everything in previous seasons, the committee was like a rudderless boat and we were left adrift and on our own.
-bumbling fool on the Board agrees to be our "Music Library Coordinator".  Part of his responsibility was to make sure that the place was cleaned, per our agreement with the owner of the building.  Apparently, this was beyond the scope of his limited capabilities.
-bumbling fool #2 on the Board becomes the chair of the Marketing Committee and decides that it is to be a one-woman show, with assistance from the Marketing Consultant.   I will assure everyone in the known world right now that marketing and publicity is not a one-woman show.  If I hadn't  believed this to be true in September, I certainly did by May.
- new young President of the Board, elected by the most slim of margins, is a very talented and personable young man who is very interested in leaving his mark on the Chorus and in putting a big mark on his resume.  Unfortunately, he is not interested in doing a lot of work in order to make those things happen.  In one election, we went from having a President who did virtually everything but conduct the Chorus to a President who is only interested in being a face.

I may have left out one or two other unpleasant points.  Suffice to say, I entered the 2009-10 season questioning my desire and my capability to continue serving on this Board, and none of the events that occurred in the first half of the season made me feel any better.  After marathon Board meetings, many angry e-mails between Marcia and the Board, and her general insistence on blaming the entire Board for the actions of one or two Board members, I had had enough.  I was already carrying around so much anger because of the other things going wrong in my life.  This seemed like the only problem that had a swift and almost immediate cure.  In December, I announced my intent to retire from the Board at the end of the season.   I felt an immediate sense of relief.

It was a sense of relief that, I feel most fortunate to say, did not last.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

From the Yin to the Yang and Back - Chapter 2

My Career

Occasionally, I get together with people I used to work with at HSBC.  There is always a lot of catching up, but invariably we end up reminiscing and talking about how none of our current jobs compare to our old jobs and how we'll probably never work in an environment like that again.  So ...  what was it that made us so special in an organization whose name has become synonymous with words like "downsize", "job elimination", "stress", and "money laundering"?

I came to work for HSBC (still Marine Midland Bank at the time) in 1989.  I had come to the difficult conclusion that the accounting world was not one for which I was suited - after four years of college and having passed the CPA exam.  While I was trying to figure out what to do next, I accepted a position in the Retirement Financial Services Department at Marine Midland Bank.  It was only to be a way to support myself for a while.  I guess I should have known right away that it would be a long term commitment when I found out that two people who I went to high school with were working in the department, and in fact, I had graduated with one of them and she was starting on the same day as I was.  Karma - if you believe in that sort of thing. 

We were a young crowd of mostly women, all of us single.  As the years went on, we acquired more men (our Senior Manager, in particular), but by and large, we were independent career girls in a niche industry.   We were not traditional banking, and over the years, Senior Management could never seem to figure out where we belonged within the bank's infrastructure.  The last place we landed was the Commercial Banking Division, presumably to take advantage of cross-selling opportunities - which translates into "we will attempt to force our commercial banking customers to use you to administer their 401(k) plans".  This all had an odd bonding effect on us.  We were like those shirt-tail relatives from the other side of the country that you never quite knew how to talk to or what to do with when they visited you.  There was an insular quality to our work environment, and we became very close.

I was on rocky times with my personal friends at this point in my life.  I married in 1990 and that seemed to be the beginning of the end of those relationships.  Slowly but surely, my co-workers began to fill in the gaps.  We were all getting engaged and married - four of us in a three-year period.  And then the babies started coming.  One of our managers was moved to another department because... she was marrying our Senior Manager (surprise!), and they went on to have three children - including twins.    Our children grew and flourished. All of this was going on while our department grew and gained a reputation for being able to deliver high quality personal and customized service to large 401(k) plans.   We took great pride in our work.  And, we took pride in our special celebrations for birthdays and holidays, wedding and baby showers and our annual family picnic in our Manager's back yard.

What is all too often true is that it is not only the joy but the sorrow that draws us closer to one another. One of our clerks suffered a stillbirth at seven months into her pregnancy brought on by a tragic misdiagnosis of a serious condition.  Another clerk suffered a stroke and succumbed days later.  The manager of our administrators went home one weekend and suffered a fatal heart attack.  Our IT liaison battled two bouts of breast cancer, and we rallied around her, hosting "Pink Days" where everything and everyone was draped in pink.  We sent care packages to her with pictures of our group looking like we'd bathed in Pepto Bismol.   We were a tight-knit group to be sure, and I thought that there wasn't anything I wouldn't do for these people.

As they say, nothing lasts forever.  We were not profitable enough for the organization that nowadays is mainly known for job eliminations and providing money laundering services for people with terrorist connections.  One by one, our managers were forced to implement outsourcing projects that were failures.  Failures, because we had a product that was centered around quality service.  Quality service and outsourcing rarely go hand-in-hand.  Predictably, our large and longstanding clients began to leave us.  We kept our heads up, but on some level, I think we all knew that things weren't working and that there was no going back in time.  In April 2007, we were called into conference and told that our department would close, effective December 31, 2007.  It was a testament to our managers, our Senior Manager in particular, that we received a generous severance package that was way above and beyond what others in our situation were receiving.  They fought for us.  They fought for us, I believe, because they knew how difficult it would be for us to find positions elsewhere in HSBC.  Our niche product, our specialized product for which we had been rewarded over the years with higher salaries, would be our downfall.  Not surprisingly, those at the very top and those at the very bottom of the chain found new jobs at HSBC .  The rest of us were set free.  I was fortunate to be extended to March 2008 to help with post-closing clean up.  A lot of people were gone after January 31, 2008.  On February 3rd, I walked into a sea of empty desks.  There were four of us left.   On that same day, people from redeployment appeared and swarmed around us, removing computers and phones.  I could barely contain myself while I watched this, and when they finally left the floor, I burst into tears.  It felt as thought somebody had died and, indeed - somebody or something had died.

I consider myself to be extremely fortunate and blessed to have found another job in the 401(k) industry.  I desperately wanted things to be the same, but it was not to be.  Looking back, I think that I did not truly begin mourning the loss that I had experienced until it dawned on me that I could never recreate what had once been.   I realized that there are once in a lifetime experiences that we don't recognize or appreciate until they are gone.    This weird sort of mourning depression was something that I was not prepared for, and I was at a total loss as to how to handle my feelings.   I had spent close to twenty years helping Bill transition from one failed job to the next.  Helping myself was a completely foreign concept.  He was not remotely helpful or empathetic.  I think that he was just wrapped up in his own problems and didn't understand what I had to be sad about.  I remember being so angry at him and saying things like "well maybe if you'd ever stayed anywhere for more than three or four years, you might get it."   My words were like pouring gasoline on a fire.  My only excuse was that I simply could not deal with what was happening to me, and the only thing I knew I was good at was lashing out.  So that's what I did.  While my career continued to flourish, my personal life was crumbling around me.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

From the Yin to the Yang and Back - Chapter 1

Five years ago, I was on the fast track to a crisis point.  This is the story of me -  a woman whose life was crumbling around her, piece by piece.  And how, piece by piece, she reclaimed the good parts of her life and learned how to accept the bad.

Chapter 1 - Marriage

All human beings are complex.  I don't believe that anyone can be accurately described as a "simple" person. My husband, however, pushes the boundaries of complex.   When we first met,  I had all of the dating and relationship experience of a 10 year old.  He was the first man I had ever met that I could actually talk to...... and talk to....... and talk to.   He made me laugh constantly, and he mad me feel desirable and good about myself.  I was not an emotionally mature individual and he was someone who was already very comfortable in a paternal role at the age of 25.  In the year 1990, we were a good fit.  We were very happy...... and we were walking down the aisle.

As the years passed and our daughter arrived and grew, my employment remained stable, but he gravitated from one job to another.  They were all smaller, family-owned companies and he was either a senior accountant or the controller.  Every time he switched jobs, there was enthusiasm and hope that ended in disillusionment.  In one case, he found out from a sympathetic co-worker that the owner had paid a consulting firm to find his replacement.  The best part was that he had to pay the consultant's  bill.  He managed to head them off at the pass and quit before they could fire him.

As one job melted into the other, with each switch, his mood swings grew more frequent and more drastic.  When he was down, I literally could do nothing right, say nothing right.  I was not emotionally mature enough to handle him properly.  My usual "modus operandi" was to become defensive and loud.  I guess I thought that if I could out-shout him, I could get him to recognize and acknowledge his behavior.  Wrong.  I could literally call him on the phone at 4:00PM and talk to a happy and joking man, but by the time I arrived home at 5:30, he was angry and irritable.  He could never tell me what was "wrong" or what had happened in an hour and a half to cause the 180 turnaround.   I think it was the language that bothered me the most.  I simply did not know how to handle being told to "go to Hell" or go F*** myself, etc, etc.... by the person who was supposed to be in love with me.  When trying to explain how much this hurt me didn't work, I would often resort to copious weeping.   It didn't take him too long to become immune to my tears.

To be perfectly clear, my husband has never laid a finger on me.   But, if there really is such a thing as verbal or emotional abuse, however..... this would seem to be it.    What I finally realized was that he was a less severe version of his bipolar sister.  How else could someone be so obnoxious and then the next day, be in complete denial even after I repeat his own words back to him?    She was always so off the wall, and her moods were long-term.   Each manic or depressive episode would last for months.  His episodes lasted for hours - literally.  For so many years, I didn't see this because I never thought about the genetic factor and I never knew that the episodes could be that brief.

The culminating episode involved a dress rehearsal and a cup of coffee.  I texted him to let him know that I was going for coffee after the dress rehearsal.  He texted back - "ok".   After the dress rehearsal was over, we headed over to Tim Hortons.  My phone was still on vibrate and was buried in my purse.  Unbeknown to me, after I had been there for about an hour, the text messages and voice mails began to pile up on my phone.  As I got into my car to come home, I pulled my phone out of my purse and saw 3 text messages and 2 voice mails, each one more angry than the last.  As I was calling him, the phone rang - him....  I tried to talk to him and figure out what I had done,  but he screamed at me through what sounded like gritted teeth and informed me that I was a "selfish bitch, a selfish fucking cunt...."  and that I'd better get my ass home",  and <click>.  I sat in the car for five minutes trying to collect myself and decide what to do.  It was the first time that I was actually afraid that he would hurt me physically.  I had to go home, because I would never leave without my daughter.  I remember walking into the house and telling him in a low voice that I had almost gone to my mother's house because he scared me that bad.  He looked me straight in the eye and told me that he hadn't said anything offensive, that he was afraid something bad had happened to me, and that I should have texted him if I was going to be out that late.  I had been at Tim Horton's for one hour.  Days later he did not remember saying those horrible things to me and he flat out denied it.  I guess I must have been lying, even though my daughter told me that she had been cowering in her bed and heard the whole thing.

So, the question of the hour became - where was the man I married?  Where was the person who could make me laugh at the drop of a hat, who I could talk to for hours?   I no longer wanted to be with him - physically, mentally, in any way.  I would spend hours fantasizing about the day when Mandy was out of the house and I could tell him that I was done being screamed at and then I would walk out.  I think I realized that I did not have the emotional tools or the maturity to fight for my marriage.  I was in a holding pattern... but for how long?  What would our future be?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Little Moments and Big Moments

Last night, I started to create an electronic photo album of my Mom.  I started with her old brown photo album compiled pre-Dad.  I'd browsed through this album many times over the years, but this was the first time I was really seeing it.   Something new - a bunch of never seen high school records that she must have put in the front of the album when she moved into Tonawanda Manor.  I didn't really need proof of this, but there it was - my mother was very intelligent!    I always knew that she was Valedictorian of her class, but she also received achievement certificates in Journalism, English, Social Studies and  <ahem>  Dramatics (which explains a lot!).   In her Junior year, she received some fancy-sounding award in American History.   As many times as I've thought that I was born 10 -20 years too late, I wonder how many times she thought that she was born 20 or 30 years too early?

As I continued to piece together my Mom, I saw on my phone the last picture taken of her - by my brother - on March 19th.  It was to be his last day with her, and she was alert, laughing and happy.  For the first time, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and grief.

If today were a normal Saturday, I would be heading out soon to spend a couple of hours with Mom.  But today is not normal.....

She has a lot of pictures of herself in her album.  I guess this is just one more way that we were not at all alike.  Well, I don't blame her - she was way more photogenic than me.   Also unlike me, she was not afraid to put imperfect pictures in her album.   Case in point - wedding pictures of my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Carmen.  The pictures of the bride and groom seem to have been double exposed, but it gave them a 19th century quality that makes me wonder if someone took the pictures this way on purpose - except that they were all like this, so I don't think so, but there they were in all of their imperfect beauty.

So far, this is my favorite picture of my Mom:

I wonder what she was thinking about there?  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Mom

My Mom left me this week.

She left a void, but it is difficult to pinpoint the definition of that void.  Our relationship was not always smooth.  It was not one that could be described in terms of  "my Mom is my best friend".   I did not think there was a lot for me to even admire.  Most of her life choices were those that I would never make for myself - or so I thought.  Most of her interests did not interest me.  Even though I was her first and only-born child, she always seemed to favor my brother, as they had formed a special bond when she and my Dad were married.  In the final decade of her life, she seemed to grow more critical, more demanding, and harder to please with each passing year.  When we finally convinced her to move into assisted living, she seemed to elevate to an art form the practice of taking out her frustrations on her children.  It was only after she started falling and whacking her head that she expressed gratitude and stopped blaming us for ruining what was left of her life.

So, here I am trying to formulate a vision of a woman that goes beyond her final years and beyond her life with me.  This quest has taken me on a journey back to a time prior to life with my Dad and his kids and me.  She was born in 1927, the fourth of seven living children.  Her childhood largely took place during the Great Depression, and she despised her father because he was a "traveling salesman" who, in her words, left for months or years at a time and came back just long enough to get my grandmother pregnant again.  According to her, when he was home, he had no use for any of his children - although he did teach her how to drive (and she had a lead foot to the day she died).  All of her sisters married to get away from all of this, and it turned out that their choices of husbands did not, in every case, turn out to be "choice".  Her oldest sister married three times.  The next in line married on the rebound, and my Aunt Gloria was divorced by Uncle Jack after 38 years of marriage after which he proceeded to parade around town with his girlfriend in matching outfits.

My mother was not interested in any of this.  She graduated valedictorian of her high school class in 1944 with no interest in marriage and did NOT become an (a) Teacher, (b) Nurse or (c) a Nun.  She wanted the corporate world - or whatever was available to women in that world back then.  With the exception of the first five years of my life, she worked in an office from the time she graduated from high school to her retirement in 1991.   These life choices were not greeted with enthusiasm by her family, but from what I could tell, she didn't give a damn.  My cousins loved her because she was the "fun Aunt".  Now I also realize that for my female cousins, she symbolized something special.  She was a real role model for them.

There was nothing conventional about my mother's marriage, when it finally happened in 1962.  She married a divorced Protestant with four children.  More behavior of which the family most definitely did not approve.  The two youngest kids were living in a good foster home where they would remain until adulthood, and the two oldest children were already teenagers.  I imagine that my Mom rationalized that the situation was manageable for a woman who didn't want kids and thought that she was too old to have her own kids.  I also suppose that this might be the only example in her life where my otherwise smart and logical mother did something incomprehensibly stupid by choosing the "Rhythm Method" of birth control.  Further proof in my mind of the cultist qualities of Catholicism that would drive an intelligent woman to such stupidity!  Of course, I am sitting here typing this, so you can see how effective it was.

Most of my female cousins (and some of the boys) went on to marry Protestants - some divorced, some not, some with children from the previous marriage, and all wonderful people.  Now that I reflect on this, I'd like to think that my Mom was their role model.   My Aunts and my Grandmother came to know my Dad and by the time I was old enough to remember, their animosity seemed to have faded away.  I recall my Dad and my Uncle Jack (of the previously-mentioned matching outfits) getting ripped at my cousin's wedding reception.  This was one of only three times that I ever saw my Dad drunk, and I have to say, he was pretty funny!  But I digress.  He had whatever it took to lure my Mom from her independent life into a marriage that lasted 30 years, and it is my firm belief that in the final days of her life, my Mom was not struggling to stay with us.  Rather, she was struggling to leave this world and move on to be reunited with my Dad and with all of her cockeyed sisters who had left her behind, one by one, starting when I was only in grade school.  And my grandmother.  And maybe even my grandfather, who I never knew.

See this picture of my mother's family, taken after my uncle celebrated his first Mass as a Priest. My Mom is standing directly to his right.  How many time I've looked at this picture and never noticed that my Mom looked so pretty and happy.  My cousin Debbie, who is my Mom's godchild, told me just yesterday - "Look at your Mom in this picture.  See  - she was the pretty one and the nice one and she was the sister of the future by getting a job and moving out on her own."  My Mom ...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Drive Time Revelations

I was driving in to work this morning, and I was pondering the question of why, just when I have so much personal "stuff" to deal with, is this the time that the people who I thought were my friends decide to turn on me.  Of course most of them don't know about my personal issues, but somehow that doesn't make it any easier to swallow.  When I think about everything I've written about my connection with these people, how a void in my life was filled by them, I just sort of feel betrayed.  And I know that, individually, each of them did not decide to start acting this way.   In the simplest of terms, it's like a collective punch in the gut.

But suddenly I thought of something I'd read and identified so strongly with, and I felt like there might be some relevance to this poem.  It bears repeating, so I think I will do just that:


Blessed are the weird people ~ poets, misfits, writers, mystics, heretics, painters & troubadours...
for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.

Blessed are those who embrace the intensity of life's pain and pleasure... for they shall be rewarded with uncommon ecstasy.

Blessed are ye who see beauty in ugliness... for you shall transform our vision of how the world might be.

Blessed are the bold and whimsical... for their imagination shatters ancient boundaries of fear for us all.

Blessed are ye who are mocked for unbridled expression of love in all its forms...because your kind of crazy is exactly that freedom for which the world is unconsciously begging.

Blessed are those who have endured breaking by life... for they are the resplendent cracks through which the light shines.

I'm a weirdo, and this is something I've always known, but this poem sort of solidified it for me.  I figure...
 ~ I qualify as a writer or a troubadour, or both
 ~ I definitely see beauty in ugliness, always have.  How could I possibly cringe at the details of my good friend's shot in the eye when I know that it prevents her from losing her eyesight?  How could that possibly be anything but beautiful?
~ The others have yet to be determined, but I know that I can choose to embrace this difficult time in my life and view it as an experience that will further shape the person that I am and the person that I am continually evolving into.  I can choose to look at these people who seem to be turning on me and just accept that they are reacting to their own frustrations.  I can do all of this, and then I can just wait patiently for the uncommon ecstasy - although I have a feeling that I've already experienced it and with any luck, I will continue to do so.

It is the other weirdos out there that will see me through.   Thank you so, so much ..... YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


I hope that people who have children living nearby realize how lucky they are.  I've had the need to talk  about my vacation - the good and the bad, my niece, my mother in law, my place in Bill's crazy family.  Mandy is the one who would really understand, but she is hardly ever free to talk when I am free to talk.  Sure enough, she called me (which hardly ever happens)... yesterday, 5 minutes before I had to leave the house for the day and go to the T-NT Expo.  So we talked for about 5-10 minutes.  Not even close to long enough.

I'm getting that "alone" feeling again.   I feel like my chest is hollow, except for this gnawing pain.  For some reason, it just feels overwhelming today.  Talking to the cats will only get you so far.    Getting this out in writing isn''t helping at all like it usually does.  And now I need to pull myself together and go back to the Expo for four hours.   I don't know if it's possible to be charming and personable with bloodshot eyes, but I guess I'm going to find out.  Wish me luck.