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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Ugh.

Yesterday, I surreptitiously became one of “them.”

I always swore I wouldn’t, but I did. I didn’t see it coming. But now I know how perfectly good and decent ladies turn down the dark and heinous path of crime, the crime of Makeup Application in Public, an etiquette Class 2 Misdemeanor. It sure as heck wasn’t an upper class misdemeanor, this I know. But I do know what I’ve always thought of “those women” whom I’ve observed doing “that.” Not my cup of tea, dear. Why, I nevuh!

It started quite innocently with a busy week, a healthy dose of preoccupation and five consecutive nights with less than six hours’ sleep. I should have seen the warning signs. There were actually only two signs (forgetting to charge my iPod and having it go dead on me at the bottom of the steepest hill I had yet to climb in 105 heat index – that, and on another day forgetting my jewelry and winding up at the office feeling utterly naked)…but I shoulda known this one was coming.

I will forgo all the excuses I am convinced are perfectly legitimate, like working late Thursday night followed by a mess ‘o hot sex libidinous diversion (how else can I tone that down?) which kept me up even later, restless sleep, toddler interruptus at 0330 and then having to arise extra-early to start my commute at 0630 instead of the usual 0700.

I was on top of the world making it work anyway and ejecting out the door precisely on time, with that nagging feeling I was forgetting something. Keys, check – phone, check – coffee, check – nourishment, check – iPod, check – earrings by gosh, check. Love ya, bye!

About 15 minutes into the commute, I caught a glance in the mirror as I went to bypass the usual left-lane-creepers who don’t know to move it on over. There I was, in all my plain-Jane glory, without makeup – and no way, no time to turn back. I would have to face the world with, um, just my face. Hoo-wah!

The next 5 minutes were devoted to the most wasteful of mental debates. Will anyone notice? Will they tell me what they told my coworker the other day when she forgot hers, how tired she looked? Yah, not enough sleep – no way to hide. Who cares, really? Dare I? Yes! So onward I steered, fearing naught and ready to take on the world, sans makeup. Done it before, often at home, just not left the house like that in awhile. It’s probably more for my sanity, anyway, than for others’.

I dedicated not one more thought to it until I found myself in the right turn lane headed into a store – what’s this?! I never stop on my commute. My alter-ego had grabbed the wheel and took over without my permission, better judgment and common sense combined. Before I knew it, I was at the checkout with brand new items of my favorite makeup, recklessly risking running late.

The rest of me was perched up in the rafters of the store peering down at the woman at the checkout, having an out-of-body experience.

That was not me, I swear. That was some Other Woman.

I would never do such a thing – I mean, how totally stupid and vain. How futilely silly! Gadzooks, it’s just one day.

This other woman at the checkout proceeded to the car where she drove off in my car, steering with one hand, using her other hand in cahoots with her teeth to open the new packages.

A short time later, this other woman came to an abrupt halt at the World’s Longest Traffic Light, and lickety-split fast as lightning, this bubbleheaded-other woman flipped down the visor and opened the mirror and went to work in methodical order, as though she were in the privacy of her own mirror at home.  (*POOF*) Fellow commuters simply did not exist. Lalalalala, can’t see meeee!

(Step aside, ladies of the night, here comes the Hussy of the Highway!)

Packed it up right quick, stored it in her purse and returned the visor to its rightful position in the blinding morning sun as though nothing had happened, and suddenly that other woman was drifting in spirit over to the other cars to see what the Joneses were up to – sure enough, one other car contained a hair salon event in progress, in another was some intense texting and yet another was too into his chicken-fried steak biscuit to notice the light turned green. Nobody raised stones to stone her. Geez, no one seemed to notice.

And off I went.

Later that day while digging for my phone, I was perplexed to discover a brand new eyeliner in the bottom of my purse.

How’d that get there?

Wow, that’s great, I thought…I was just about to run out at home! Great timing…I usually run out before I’ve purchased a new one, leaving me limping along and making do and engaging in a mad-dash to the drug store on my lunch hour and paying too much for my lack of planning and patience.

I got caught up in traffic and my mind wandered away somewhere into a song I once knew, forgetting about my alter-angel.

That night I was awoken by distant thunder, a comforting rumble approaching along the water. I suddenly remembered the Other Woman and how she commandeered my psyche, and where I was lacking, she filled a need – a need I never in my right mind would have ever condoned. She did something nice, fleeting but terribly off-course, and then it was gone. But the nice lingered like magic dust catching my eye like a little sparkle here and there, like the stars in the sky you can only see more clearly when you don’t look directly at them.

She had disappeared into the traffic of the daily buzz of life, and I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again, or if she’d ever veer me off-track and catch me unawares. I wanted to thank her for taking that short moment of time to do something so simple that really wasn’t a necessity, but it made everything so much more, well, everything. I didn’t get to, and now she’s gone. But I’ve got a nice new supply of makeup out of the deal so I can keep my game face on, and carry on, as though I was never lacking.

Thanks, God, for life’s little detours and for making our brains have the capacity for dual operations when needed, so between You and us and the unknown, we are made whole. Thanks for teaching us to withhold judgment until we’ve walked all paths. And thanks for the extra makeup I can now keep in my desk at work (next to the spare pair of earrings) in case I ever have another moment like this week’s. Oh, yeah, and help me to go my way and misdemeanor no more.

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I wish to extend a grateful thank you to Lea At Sea for bestowing upon me the “Beautiful Blogger Award.” Please visit Miss Lea’s blog for quality literary work (not to mention great photography).

Most of you already know I am an evil chain-breaker when it comes to doing my part with bloggy awards – I shamelessly claim them without listing seven things about myself and selfishly neglect to nominate others. The latter is mostly due to the fact that I don’t have enough time to get around the blogosphere to meet enough new bloggers who haven’t yet been awarded, and most my blog pals are already spoken for, for this or that award.

So I kind of lurk in the corner of the blogosphere, standing there holding my drink, vicariously enjoying the party without venturing forth and making the rounds. I’ll let the hors-d’œurvres tray come to me.

I noticed that one of Miss Lea’s seven items about herself is near and dear to my heart: hating (“a lot”) to talk on the phone. Yes, I was the one in the marriage years ago who, when the answering machine finally self-destructed, made the case (and won) not to replace it. Having a device which bestows others control over me and my life is incredibly oppressive, be it phone, answering machine and now voice mail.

I do not like the idea of others running around knowing they can summon me at their will like I’m some genie in a bottle. Especially when the caller is a solicitor, politician or, the worst, a robocaller. But, you say, I have complete control over whether to accept, ignore or not return calls? Aha, but this still puts a subliminal psychological burden on the phone-owner in that either decision evokes a multitude of required thoughts and feelings. Choosing to ignore a call demands that I make a decision at someone else’s will and timing, when frankly, I’ve spent all day making decisions and I would like to come home and relax and have the most mind-bending decision be what time I turn out the light and go to sleep. The caller, no matter how beloved, has cluttered my psychological landscape with an unexpected and sudden demand to interact. (Okay, so this introvert acknowledges it requires selfless sacrifice and giving on my part to make things work…I’m working on that part; please have mercy and patience).

This past week was the first time I willfully and purposefully punched the “IGNORE” option on an incoming call. And (please remain seated with your tray in upright position) the person I ignored was my husband. But, see, I had a REALLY good reason: I was in the middle of a bird-swooping shot using the camera feature, and timing was essential. Lucky me, he was very understanding. But don’t think I evaded a brief grilling…fortunately, the proof was on my phone with the great picture.

As one inclined to write, talking on the phone is just not my cup of tea. I often awake at 3 am with the perfect response which I likely was not able to offer the caller when the caller had me at their disposal. I am witty on my feet, but cannot always offer you the answer I really intend to give. I have to mentally chew your input before I can swallow and digest, a process which takes me time. I do not like to gulp my food, nor do I like to gulp my relationships and their conversations. I like to savor and reflect.

Curiously, this only applies to calls received at home, my castle, my sanctuary. Somehow, I am not like this at the office, where I even look forward to verbal exchanges with random, incoming callers. Sock it to me, baby!

This week a long-awaited, coveted piece of paper arrived (and quite unexpectedly this soon) deeming me worthy of officially engaging in the practice of mental interior redesign (therapy). This is the fourth such piece of paper I have ever received, but this time it was extra-special because the first ones I had retired before to care for our little guy with Down syndrome with critical health problems, and did not expect to return to the field, much less to have to go through the credentialing process a second time, which is now much more rigorous than it was decades ago. And this one was particularly unexpected because I had already been told many times  by the credentialing body that I likely couldn’t get that piece of paper in this state because this state takes pride in their extra-rigorous process which is far more hassle than any other state I’ve ever gotten that paper from. Sheesh.

That being said, if I had my druthers, my method of engaging in the act of phone calls would involve some long-term Freudian analysis process. This might include noting who is trying to call me (love that caller ID!). I would analyze why they might be calling (so I can adequately prepare an intelligent response with accompanying appropriate humor if needed), analyze all possible reasons and all possible responses, anticipate their frame of mind in reference to mine, flip through my mental Rolodex to see if there was anything I forgot to say the last time, pull out my calendar in case the call requires date-setting, pray that for once my tongue doesn’t get me in trouble and, with four noisy children, reserve the bathroom in the farthest end of the house to secure privacy and quiet prior to the call.

Okay, so maybe telephonic spontaneity isn’t my thang. Sorry, folks.

I guess I just think too much. And I’d much rather you joined me on the beach for an expectation-less chat and some quality peace time.

I will quit thinking for now and simply share a picture I haven’t found a place for until now. It was on some little side street and evidently the owner saw fit to paint a natural knot in the tree which happens to be heart-shaped. It expresses my sentiment to my fellow bloggers, readers and callers I might avoid, about how I really feel about them and how much I appreciate them, even if I’m busy over-analyzing stuff:

Thanks, God, for a direct line with You, and that You allow me the control to call You at will, without need for analysis, forethought or structure. Please help my hang-ups not be literal when it comes to others’ needs to make contact when I’m off the clock. Even if it’s a robocall.

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In a land far away from our minds stands a lone angel tree today, seen by few, known by fewer. This tree is different from the rest.

You know of the others. Right now in stores across the United States stand hundreds of “angel trees,” decorated with carefully disguised identities of needy children in the community. These are children who through no fault of their own are in situations which render them financially less fortunate than other children on Christmas day. These children may live with their families or perhaps are foster children, but they still have the freedom to live with a family, attend school, and, although challenged, have a fairly typical daily routine in the daily world.

Allow me to introduce you to a similar, but rarely-seen angel tree.

This tree also has the names of carefully disguised identities of needy children, but these children are apart from the community. These children are the emotionally less fortunate who, through no fault of their own, have been subjected to and somehow survived unconscionable circumstances which have scarred their souls so badly, that they are unable to function in society as we know it. These children cannot live in a home, neither with family of origin nor foster home. These children cannot attend school due to their disintegrated hearts.

These children are locked away in an institution, both for their safety and for the safety of the community, or because they are the most emotionally fragile of children. They simply cannot handle life as we know it. They are there to mend their hearts and souls, and remain there until they are fit for society. This may take days or weeks for those in acute care; months, or even years in the long-term residential facilities…all of which are eternities, in a child’s eyes.

There they spend their days and nights, eating and sleeping, playing and fighting, wondering how they got there, and contemplating what they need to do to get out. There they try their hardest to get through each day with the shadows of their past following and haunting them, trying to do what schoolwork they can, trying to get along with others, with varying levels of success.

Some try their hardest because they have hope. Others do not try because they have given up hope, and need encouragement from one moment to the next. Still others try their hardest to show others their very worst, because if they can be disliked or violent enough, they can reject others before others have yet another chance to reject them…at least it is one thing in life they can control.

Their angel tree sits quietly in the corner of the small, empty lobby, the only unlocked room in the building. Other than the receptionist, it is only seen by the few still connected to these children who are able to visit: the state worker who must ask the child to choose between a voucher for clothing or a voucher for toys and who will be home with their family on Christmas; the ashamed, distant relative who is reluctant to be involved but wants to make a good show, the occasional lost driver who took the wrong turn down the end of the long road; the tireless staff and nurses doctors. Oh, and the UPS guy and mail carrier, neither of whom bring things addressed to specific children living there, except on rare occasions.

The requests for needs for these children seem somewhat unusual. The angels on this tree bear wishes for things like socks, because their roommate flushed their last good pair down the toilet during another one of his nightly rages, with enough bone-rattling shrieking to create a new nightmare for another child down the hall on the unit, unable to sleep…and not a shred of memory of the crisis, come sunup.

Like playing cards, since many of the games on the market, electronic or otherwise, further cause them to be unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, and may trigger violent flashbacks. Or reinforce their tendency to want to solve problems with disconnected sarcasm and indifferent violence.

Like soft, stuffed animals or dolls, since anything battery-operated requires batteries – and anyone who’s been behind those locked doors long enough knows that if you slam a battery in the door near the hinges just right, it will expose a very sharp object that can be found in the core of the battery, which can then be used as a weapon to hurt someone. Or, for the self-harmers, to cut on themselves and draw blood, and wind up wearing scrubs and on 24/7 observation for days as a result. It is unfathomable to think how a young child might learn such behavior, but there it is.

Hygiene products are also popular, since the hospital-issued products are not exactly kid-friendly, and it is much more fun by far to brush your teeth with sparkly bubble gum toothpaste, like most other children enjoy on a daily basis. A pretty ribbon for her hair. An emery board, since nail clippers are not allowed on the premises, and long nails can be used to gauge eyes in a sneak attack from behind. A SpongeBob blanket for a bed instead of the typical ho-hum hospital sheets. Warm Cinderella footie jammies. Or a visit from a volunteer big brother/big sister or mentor, an objective other who will play a game with them and listen to their story…a story most can’t bear to hear, a story which defies common sense and human rationality.

Food item requests are never found on this angel tree; some children are on strict diets due to side effects of medications. And besides, the child who roamed the streets for his next meal has been known to wheel deals with other children: “I’ll give you the coupon I earned for extra game room time, if you give me your snack.” Snacks are then discovered hoarded under mattresses, up in ceiling tiles or in the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom which the adults all assumed were locked and childproof.

Some children ask for earmuffs to block out the incessant noise, which may come from either side of their skull at any given moment.

How did they get there, anyway? It may be because their parents sold them for sex in exchange for drugs. Or left them for long periods of time to fend for themselves. Or perhaps they locked them in closets or entertainment cabinets for their convenience. Or molested them repeatedly over the course of years.

These are the children who don’t know where their parents are, and the parents are either dead from their misdeeds or are happily homeless, preferring drugs and alcohol over their child….or simply abandoned the child and left the state, never to be heard from again. Some children may know where their parents are, but their parents voluntarily turn them over to the state because they don’t want them anymore. These children may have been in 15 foster homes, with no stability or sense of permanency. These children may have been along for the ride and witnessed a drug deal gone bad, resulting in murder. Or witnessed murder in their very own living room. Or tried to murder their family during a psychotic episode.

The end result is a child who is unable to make sense out of the world, who relates to others as they have been related to, and who does not and may never know childhood, as it is supposed to be known.

These are the children we forget about because they are quietly locked away from the rest of us while they pick up the pieces of their bewildered, shattered lives. You will not see them in schools or on sports teams. You may spot them briefly at the store, at McDonald’s or on a playground closely monitored by staff, if they are deemed well enough to go out into public at the time and their medication and behavior are stable. If that is the case, you will likely not know it is them you are seeing, and it likely will not register in the moment you see them, just where it is they lay their head at night – a place where they must be to work out their raw feelings of depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis…their fear, their disappointment, their confusion, their rage

The angels on their tree represent a completely different type of need – a need that is real but often goes unknown and unheard by most.

Still needing and wanting to believe in something despite their inability to trust mankind, the younger ones hold fast to their belief in Santa. No, there is no chimney in this place, but they are assured that Santa has keys to the joint, nonetheless. Their lives may have taken an unthinkable course, but their anticipation and hope in being loved and cared for like any other human is entitled to, is no different from yours or mine.

I urge readers (and writers) to locate the nearest children’s psychiatric hospital in your area (and they are there, somewhere…I cannot point you in the direction of the children I know due to privacy and confidentiality issues). Please consider dropping off a small gift  for one of these children who will wake up Christmas morning behind locked doors…on the inside looking out, never sure when they will be ready, if ever, to be the one on the outside looking in.

This gift needn’t be material…write them an anonymous letter and tell them how brave they are, how proud you are of them for enduring all they have. Tell these children that they can do it, that they are loved, admired and respected. That they are believed, that their feelings are real and important. Tell them that they matter. Color them a rainbow with your words, that they might be assured that their world will hopefully not flood like that again.

Such a small gesture has incredibly meaningful ramifications.

For what is small to us, is huge to them, bigger than we might ever guess…whether or not we remember about their angel tree now and in years to come. Like a standout, cherished childhood memory, they will remember, and it may just be the one memory of hope and love that will help heal them on their horrific journey. It may be the one thing they have, hold, hang on to and refer back to as the biggest spark of light that brought them through their darkness.

God, help us all help the sequestered and forgotten children of the world, the ones least seen in our communities – the ones who most need miracles and a reason to believe again.

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Everyone was talking about it for weeks, with great anticipation. Nonetheless, the date somehow slipped her awareness when it crept up unexpectedly; she’d been caught up in the day-to-day busy-ness of her own little world and all it entailed. When it was far off, it was too far away on the calendar to take any details seriously. But when it was a day away, it came like a surprise. It was everyone else’s talking about it that jerked her into reality that it was time. Tomorrow. And it was then she realized she hadn’t been invited.

“So, what are your weekend plans?” one gingerly asked, poking around to see if she was going, too. Another commented about how much he and everybody else were looking forward to it, talking as if he assumed she, too, was invited.

But she wasn’t.

It seemed like everyone was except her.

How could that possibly happen? We were all supposed to be in this together. Everyone spoke the same language. Did the same things. Shared the same goals and values. She thought she had been close; close enough anyway, to these people. She had been under the impression that they had all been like-minded and that she had been one of them. The thought of quietly being omitted from the Big Event flooded her with a mix of melancholy, insult, shock, a tinge of bitterness and a ton of bewilderment. This rocked her world. She would have to look at herself in a way that would force her to reclassify her perception of herself, her perception of how others saw her, and her sense of value and worth.

Now worthless, she grappled with what it meant to be officially excluded. She had never really been in any inner circle of anything she’d ever encountered anyway – always an outsider. Always a sort-of. Ever the not-quite. She had even grown comfortable with outsider-ness. People had always been so gracious, and she always tried to be grateful and equally gracious, and then some. Leave everything a little better than you find it. But to be an outsider to an event in which inclusion was presumed to be a given, left her alone and despaired.

What went wrong, she wondered? She had done all the “right” things and she could not discern a difference between them getting to go, and her being left out. Sometimes she was a little lazy or careless, writing it off as human nature, and occasionally not having the energy or will to do right. Right was hard, sometimes. Forgiveness is plentiful. A little bad, yes. But good enough – she’d always assumed.

At the very last-minute, she was encouraged to go, but it was sort of an after-the-fact deal, since some of the original guests were unable to attend – other plans, they had. It was the sort of thing that you don’t want to be rude and decline even though you weren’t on the original guest list, and you’re appreciative of the chance, no doubt about that. But nevertheless, you will always know you weren’t part of the “real” group. You question whether the host is being tacky in recycling the invites, trying to fill seats, hoping not to let anything go to waste. Self-serving reasons. Or if the motives are truly genuine. And if they are genuine, why the second-hand invite?

Why always second? Why always outsider? Where’s my original invite?

She went anyway, wanting to be appropriate and sociable, yearning to be inside but not wanting to too much to look that way. It would be fun to see the festivities that everyone had talked up. The food would be exquisite, the décor breathtaking, and the outfits to die for.

Damn, the outfits! She didn’t have anything proper, nor did she have the means to get anything suitable. That was her dirty little secret, and maybe they knew that – maybe that was why she was always an outsider and they noticed but were too polite to say anything. But it showed, and there was no hiding it, yet she passed it off with flair and impressed people with her bold, self-assured style, making the best of what she’d been dealt. With this same style, she assembled an outfit that she thought would cut the mustard. She’d pulled this sort of thing off before, and had confidence that the host would not regret having invited her. She conquered the challenge with zeal. She’d be the life of the party, and she had such high hopes of having a fabulous time.

On her way in, it started out well enough – mutual compliments and well-wishing, saying and doing the right things, being the right way, and aspiring to be better. Somewhere along the way in the guest line, though, a stiff look dampened her moment. A bit down the line, a pleasantly disguised insult was imparted, the full impact of which wouldn’t register for days. A well-meaning sympathizer knowing full well she was a secondhand invite, delivered an ominous nonverbal gesture to direct her to get the absent-minded lipstick smudge off her teeth while engaging in a lively conversation. She could tell something was askew, but couldn’t put her finger on it. Had to be more than the smudge.

Suddenly the host appeared, and appeared a little stressed out. He forewent the introductions and welcomes, and got right down to business. She had not been wearing a proper wedding garment, was not a designer name he knew. This did not get past him, and she was immediately shown the door, ceremoniously tossed and skidding out the door. What garment she did have was rendered to rags as a result of the forceful ejection across the hard and abrasive bricks leading up to the grand establishment. The door slammed behind her and she could hear the loud music and talking and laughing going on behind the now-closed door, fading as she gathered herself up and, achingly, slinking away. Back to the rock she crawled out from under. Like good grief, she went through the shock, the anger, the bargaining, the denial. There was even a little egotistical justifying thrown in, rationalizing briefly that it was okay, bigger fish to fry anyhow. Nothing wrong with her, they could never understand life on the fringes, didn’t need ‘em anyway. All that stuff.

But no, there was no denying she had missed the boat on this one. What, was she sleeping? Had she been dreaming? Why hadn’t anyone stopped her and told her she wasn’t going to be invited? Or that there was a chance of getting bounced out after she was? Why had it seemed like everything was always fine, if it wasn’t? Why had everyone acted like everything was okay? Was this some kind of parallel universe? She quickly grew weary of trying to make sense of that which seemed senseless.

She didn’t know what to think, so she thought nothing. Not now, it was too painful. Just don’t think, she paradoxically thought. But it relentlessly haunted her and kept creeping back, and she helplessly thought anyway. She thought about all the fun the others were having, having with each other, celebrating and cutting up and having a big ‘ol time. And about her losing her chance, losing her sense of what was real, and losing her mind.

It was quiet now; she was farther away, lost and hungry. Dirty and ragged. She didn’t know where to go, so when the din of the party was well out of earshot and she had gone as far as she could, she found a tree with big, bulky roots, two of them forming a sort of cradle, and she fell in a crumpled heap between the roots, which supported her spent body and mind, both of which were at dead ends. The roots were hard, but welcoming.

She began to drift off to sleep, roused once by a breeze which carried a mocking sliver of the sound of the party ever so briefly – or was she imagining? And she tumbled down, down, down into a deep dream, more haunting, periodically jerking awake into the reality of her plight. There was no escape from reality or dream; both were equally tortuous to face, and there was no line between either.

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