Archive for May, 2011

My Truth, Part 7

I am going to try to wrap up the story today, in order to do so I may gloss over a few things but I will try to be specific with the things I feel I most want to express.

To recap, I am on my way home from the hospital (actually from a party after leaving the hospital) and Brad and I find a message from Dan.

Dan had been living with this monster, I mean girl. Every one of his friends and his entire family hated her, me especially. I admit that there isn’t anyone he could have dated that I was going to be thrilled about but this chick was pure bad news. They started dating shortly after Brad and I did so we had all been trying to deal with her for years. This had put a real strain on every relationship Dan had including ours. I am not going to go into details but trust me when I say that hearing his message and finding out that they had broken up, Brad and I cheered as I am sure everyone did.

We called him back immediately and had him meet us back at our place. Brad had a lot going on with work and paramedic school and I needed a lot of help during my recovery. My mom took a week off of work for my first week back, like with my dad, hardly left my side. She was newly married and I hated taking up so much of her time. Within a few days of being home I was able to do almost everything for myself except take the dog outside. The way our place was situated we had to go downstairs to take him out and I couldn’t do steps yet. Everything else, I could manage.  So in the evenings when Dan got off work he came straight over to our place to give mom a break. The first couple of days she refused to leave but she eased up after she could see I was progressing quickly. Again, I think the over protectiveness was partly just her instincts but I can’t discount that losing my dad had something to do with her fear of another loss. I was certainly not even close to death but as a mom I don’t know how much that actually matters. Because of Brad’s schedule he didn’t really have time to do much of anything for me. Mom did have to arrange all of my doctor visits and did all of our grocery shopping. She had actually been taking care of all of that for us for a couple of months. She had devoted so much time to me that summer that I was grateful to have Dan there to ease her burden. I know she would have kept right on going at that pace for as long as I needed her but I think she was relieved a little too.

Dan took up the role of my caregiver naturally from the beginning. Even on the rare night that Brad was home Dan came over. I don’t think that there has been a day from the time I got home from the hospital until now that we have been apart.

I can not speak to what was happening in Brad’s head at this time because I simply don’t know. But our relationship was crumbling. I can’t even say that I know when it started or specifically why. By September 2004 it was clear that things between us were not working out. He had to put up with a lot over our years together. It seemed at first that we were going to get married and live happily ever after but that didn’t happen. We lost my dad and three grandparents in a matter of a couple of years and then we find out that I have Crohn’s and I spent an entire summer very sick. He was becoming a paramedic he knew full well what a life with a spouse with Crohn’s could become. I have no idea if any of these things entered into the equation or not. I know that losing my dad changed me profoundly and I was no longer the person he thought he was getting.

There has been much speculation from family and friends that Brad wasn’t happy long before I realized and possibly having Dan back in our lives he discovered a way out. Brad certainly knew about my feelings for Dan and as a close friend of Dan’s for many years probably even knew his for me. Now that we were spending every day together, at Brad’s request, he thought it was time to bring us together. Brad wouldn’t have just left me high and dry while I was recovering from surgery. It is possible that he did try to push us together so he could have the peace of mind that I was going to be cared for. Again, I have no idea if this is true. If it is than there are no words to express how much I appreciate his kindness and sacrifice in doing so.

The night Brad left I had been out of the hospital for just over a month. I wasn’t yet allowed to drive or go back to work. He hugged me and told me to call Dan as soon as he left. He made it very clear to me that I was not to wait he didn’t want me to be alone. Dan lived only a couple streets away and I was to call him immediately, I did. Dan was at my place before I knew it. Brad had called in that time and asked that I have Dan take a couple of his things over to him that he forgot. Brad had gone to his parents who didn’t live far from us. Dan got his items and ran them over to him. The way that Dan tells it the conversation they had made it clear to him that Brad expected Dan to take care of me. It is sad to me that this would be the last time these good friends would see each other and I think they both knew it.

I was lost, I had no idea what I was going to do. My mom and step-dad took me in. I wasn’t released to work for another couple of weeks. I was still working part time at the nursing home didn’t make nearly enough to pay the few bills I did have. I started looking for full time employment. It wasn’t until January that I finally secured a good paying full time job. As soon as I did, Dan and I started looking for our own place.

Yes, of course, Brad was right. After he left, Dan took care of me and in the course of all of this we finally found our way to each other after all of those years. It all started with a kiss. It was a kiss we still both talk about. Whenever we see some amazing first kiss on TV or in a movie we always comment, “Not as good as ours.”  We were watching Lord of the Rings (for the hundredth time) it was the battle of Helm’s Deep, Dan was rubbing my shoulders and I was leaning forward. Nothing had been said between us to this point about having feelings or dating. As far as we both knew the other was thinking of only friendship. Apparently though the tension was high. We each claim this part happened differently. I will give both sides. His side is that all of a sudden I turned around and kissed him. The truth (I kid) is that he pulled me back towards him, then I turned around and kissed him. Either way, he didn’t put up a fight. We kissed. It was truly the best kiss of my life. It was the most intense moment of my life. It was years of pent up love and desire finally having the chance to express itself. He put his arms around me and pulled my head to his chest. His heart was pounding so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He told me later that he thought he was going to too. You would think that at this point we were start having a deep conversation about our friendship and what this meant, blah blah blah. We didn’t. Instead, I lifted my head and looked him in the eyes and simply said, “I love you.”  He replied, “I have always loved you.” Nothing more needed to be said.

We got our apartment as quickly as possible. We were both living with our parents after coming out of long relationships so we were both starting over, together. We found a place and had the keys by March 1, 2005. We were so excited to live together finally that we spent the first night in our new place on a borrowed inflatable mattress in the middle of the living room.  I don’t remember the exact timing but about somewhere around here my divorce from Brad became final.

August 26, 2005 Dan and I were married. We weren’t wasting any more time. From the moment we kissed we knew that we were finally where we needed to be. We didn’t have a big wedding. I had done that twice before and I didn’t get me the marriage I wanted. This time, it was just us and our parents at the North Canton City Hall with the Mayor officiating.  We all went to lunch at Longhorn and then we went off to Cincinnati for our honeymoon. Actually, what we were doing was zoo hopping. We went to Cincinnati, Kentucky, Columbus, The Wilds and wherever else we wanted.

Dan & I getting married

Two weeks before the wedding I quit working again. After my recovery had gone so smoothly things started to get bad again. I was having pain and fevers. My doctors started to get concerned that another flare up was starting. One of the biggest problems with Crohn’s patients is stress. It is terrible for the immune system and for people like me who don’t deal with it very well it tends to cause problems. I hated my job and was under more stress because of it than I anticipated. It was crucial in allowing for Dan and I to get on our feet but by now we made enough that we were able to pay things off and get a good head start. Plus, Dan had a good paying job working for the Sheet Metal Union and made enough for us to live off of. After a lot of conversations and doctor’s visits it became clear to Dan and I that perhaps it was best that I not work. I was surprised to discover that this, very personal decision seemed to rub a lot of people the wrong way. For some reason I found that I was having to defend myself over and over again about this. At the time I felt the need to explain my actions to other people. I don’t know why they would care or more importantly, what business it was of theirs at all?  But all of this negativity started me on a downward spiral.

*Just a quick note. I have not worked since the summer of 2005 and have had no significant flare up with my Crohn’s since then. I don’t know that it is solely because of not working but whatever we are doing has been working for me so far.

At first my mom was one of the people not so sure about this decision. I had worked so hard to get a college education why would I throw it away? But it took her all of 5 minutes to decide that it was my life and she was going to support me.  After losing my dad I think my mom’s view of the world changed, as would be expected, and she started to see how short life could be. She tried many times over the next couple of years to teach me a few things she learned but I was having trouble getting myself to the right place emotionally to take it all in. She felt strongly that I could no longer live my life defending myself to people. My decisions about my life were my own and no one else had the right to judge them or make me feel like less than because of them. I wish I could have taken that in more at that time but I just couldn’t get myself to live like that. I took very much to heart everything other people said. I cared a great deal about what other people thought of me and how I chose to live my life. I wanted everyone to like me and be okay with every thing I was doing. Of course, I was just setting myself up to be disappointed.

I got more and more depressed. My weight got completely out of control. I hardly left the house and didn’t want to face the world. I also began to realize that I hadn’t dealt at all with my feeling about losing my dad because I didn’t get the chance to. Everything started piling up on itself and I was only becoming more and more miserable. My mom and Dan were becoming alarmed at the severe transformation in me. They finally convinced me that I needed to talk to my doctor and see a therapist. My doctor started me on an antidepressant and a sleeping pill because my insomnia was terrible. She also suggested strongly that I needed therapy.

My OCD was now completely controlling every aspect of my life. I spent hours every day cleaning. I would wipe down all the doors in the house two or three times a week. Our place wasn’t that big and I cleaned it nearly into oblivion. The worst part was the  invading thoughts. I told myself over and over how useless I was, how fat I was, how much everyone hated me and how much better off Dan would be without such a miserable drain. I hated myself more than I would have thought possible. I refused to look in the mirror. I felt terrible guilt over every moment that I ever spent upsetting my dad. I was convinced that I had been a horrible daughter and that he never knew how much I loved him. I was constantly apologizing for myself to everyone who ever came near me. I wanted nothing more than to die. I tried everyday to find a way to kill myself. It got so bad that Dan had to hide my sleeping pills and give me one every night before bed.

When I finally started therapy was the first time that I found out exactly what OCD was. We often joked about me being OCD because of my cleaning and organizing but this was when I found out that it wasn’t a joke. My therapist helped me sort out a lot of my feelings about my dad and helped me to find ways of coming to terms with his death. She encouraged me to start going out into the world and overcoming my fear of not meeting the expectations of others. I did start to get a little better until another bomb was dropped on me.

My mom stopped by my house one day which wasn’t all that unusual.  This time it wasn’t just to spend time together. She had bad news. Her breast cancer had come back and had spread into her bones. I was devastated. I knew she had been going through some illness but the last I had heard they thought she was diabetic. I didn’t expect to hear this. I could not believe it. All I could think was “not again”.

As time went on my mom started to retreat more and more into herself. She rarely wanted to talk about it and was pushing away the people she loved. She spent more time at home and was less willing to spend time around people. I don’t blame her. I can not even begin to think how I would handle being in a similar situation. It was made clear that this was going to take her life. We were told she could have as many has four years. How do you face the world or your life under those circumstances? How do you say goodbye? I don’t know. She did what she could. Not only was this an emotional nightmare but she was getting more and more frail. She was tiny and I could tell whenever we were out in public that she was uncomfortable almost to the point of being afraid. I give her a lot of credit though. I think her instinct was to curl up in a ball and never leave bed. She fought that as much as she could and tried to stay in the world as best as she was able to manage.

November 5, 2010 she was admitted to the hospital. Most of us knew that this was going to be the end. She had lost so much weight and was so sick all the time, there was no coming back from this. My aunt Celiene and I spent many hours in the hospital by her side. We could see how she was fading. She was getting confused and slept more and more. However, the doctors didn’t seem to be on the same page we were. They were looking at numbers on a page and were not beside her watching her for hours at a time. All the while we are preparing ourselves they are talking like they are going to get her better. It became its own nightmare. Celiene and I knew what we were seeing we knew that she was not going to get better and we were relaying this information to the rest of the family. But then the doctors would make claims about getting her better that were in direct conflict from what we were seeing clearly. I don’t know about Celiene but I started to feel like I was going crazy. My aunts in Oklahoma were understandably confused about what was happening because they were getting two very different stories. Thankfully, my Aunt Judy could tell pretty clearly from her phone conversations with mom that we weren’t nuts. This went on for a week. If I hadn’t had Celiene with me I don’t know how I would have survived. We clung to each other. I felt like she was my sanity anchor in a crazy storm. Judy was my other rock, I would stand in the hall at the hospital losing reception and just cry to her. I was so frustrated and upset I didn’t know what to do. It felt like Celiene and I were screaming to the world that she was not getting better and weren’t being heard. Judy knew, she could tell. My step-dad wanted to hear that she was going to be better so I think that was what he chose to believe. We would tell everyone she was getting worse than he would tell them she was fine. It was unbelievable.  Celiene and I were about at our breaking point when my Aunt Noel decided that we needed help.

November 11 our cavalry arrived, at least I saw it that way. Noel flew in from Oklahoma. I don’t think it took her long to see for herself that Celiene, Judy and I weren’t crazy. Not that she thought we were or she wouldn’t have made the trip but it was so nice to have someone else there to help us get some real information. The next day the doctor confirmed that the cancer was in her brain and that there was nothing more they could do. She would be released to hospice. I knew this was coming but it was still a blow.  I didn’t know what we were going to do. She would need someone with her 24/7 and my step-dad didn’t think he could take time off of work. I knew it would fall to Celiene and me. Then, completely unexpectedly my Aunt Noel told us that she wasn’t leaving. She wasn’t going home. She would stay for as long as she could. She would live with mom and Norm and be her full time caregiver. She stayed until December 8th. She gave up nearly an entire month of her life to stay here and care for her sister and her family. I will never, in my life, forget that. I will never get over the love that took or the extraordinary strength that had to have taken.

During this time my family amazed me daily. My uncle from Florida drove up in one day to see her. My other uncle also came up days before his own surgery. Noel’s husband drove Judy and my cousin up here from Oklahoma. Every one pitched it. Celiene house’s is about 2 minutes from my mom’s and eventually became our “home base” with everyone in town we could become overwhelming to mom so we would take turns at her house but mostly hang out close by at Celiene’s. She and Uncle Brian would prepare dinner for all of us and pretty much host everyone. All of our lives were completely on hold. Everyone pitched in where they could. I can not imagine going through this without them. The love and strength they gave to me at that time still makes to cry (as I am now) just thinking about it. We had lost Nana a few years earlier and all we had was each other. I will never get over the way every one just dropped whatever was happening in their lives and made their way here. Their parents would have been so proud to see the way they all came together to carry each other through this. I know they carried me.

The incredible women

Mom passed away December 16, 2010. Norm was kneeling beside her holding her hand. Dan, Celiene, Kevin and I were holding each other on the couch next to her.  She hasn’t been gone long but her passing has changed me more than I could have ever expected.  Those lessons she tried to teach me after losing my dad have finally sunk in. I am no longer a slave to other people’s opinions on my own life. I am not afraid of the world because I don’t know how much more time I have to be in it and I want just that, to be in it. I feel once again that I have a support system that will have my back more than I ever expected in my family and knowing that gives me strength. I have decided that it is time for me to take back control of my life and to decide every day how I want to face the world. I am no longer a victim of my circumstances. I am finally living a complete and full life and am leaving all of those fears and insecurities behind. Not to get cliche but I truly have decided to stop living as and explanation and start living as an exclamation.

That is why I wanted to tell my story. My readers who knew me and my writing a few months ago will see a remarkable change and I wanted them to know why. I also wanted to acknowledge all the amazing people that have come and gone in my life. I have had some incredible role models and I haven’t been honoring them properly but that is all changing for me. My parents and grandparents were all strong, capable people and I feel I have been letting them down by being afraid to actively participate in the life they have given to me, no more. I didn’t always know how to love them or appreciate them but as I have grown I have learned that you only ever really know half of the story, this is my half.

The most important thing to know about the new me is this new mantra that I tell myself over and over again every day.  “The people who matter don’t mind. The people who mind don’t matter.” -Dr. Seuss

The people in my life who I honor these are my heros:

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My Truth, Part 6

To pick up where I left off I was in college, living with my parents and separated from my first husband. It was the summer of 1999.

When James moved out he took every one of our friends with him. To this day I have not seen a single one of them. They were his friends initially and I had hurt him. I don’t blame any of them for how things went down but I did miss them all and still do. Thankfully, I had a small but determined band of people still standing with me. Without their support I doubt I would have survived. I, as always, had my parents who would have never abandoned me no matter what I did. I also had Christen, Candace and my rock, Dan. It probably sounds like this would have been a low time in my life but it really wasn’t. I was sad about my relationship with James and it was hard to realize that we weren’t likely to remain friends as I had hoped. But I loved school and the friends I did have were amazing. My parents were now seeing me as an adult and that made our relationship a lot of fun. Dan and I were nearly inseparable at this point and pretty much everyone was certain that this was finally the time we were going to end up together, so did I.

During this time I was doing my level best to try to figure out if Dan’s feelings for me were what I hoped they were. I was convinced that they were but wasn’t finding enough hard evidence to be fully convinced. After what happened before I got married I wasn’t willing to stick my neck out like that again. So, I waited and watched. He on the other hand had no idea what I was doing. According to him, he saw no motion on my end pointing toward anything in our relationship changing so he started dating a girl I knew from a bar we frequented. I was not happy. I didn’t particularly like her and wasn’t thrilled he was with her. I had no idea at the time that the relationship was only going to last a very short time so I decided that it was time I find a way to let go and move on. I thought it was clear that nothing was ever going to happen and I was being pathetic.

I don’t want it to sound like “then there was Brad” because it wasn’t like that. I didn’t just turn to Brad as a last resort. I really did like him. He was a good looking, single guy my age and we had fun together. It seemed like a natural direction to go.  We started dating. The relationship was pretty much like any other. We dated, enjoyed each other, and we had our ups and downs. Things were looking good for me.

In January of 2001 I discovered that I was close to having everything I needed to graduate from Kent. I was distraught, I didn’t want to leave. I loved school and never wanted to go out into the real world but things were moving along with Brad and I knew it was time to get a real job and start life as an adult. I wasn’t going to be able to graduate that May which is traditional, I was going to need one more semester. I decided to hit the summer semester hard and graduate in August. If you are paying attention to the dates something may or may not have gone off in your head yet; I graduated from college and starting looking for a career at the end of August 2001. How is that for bad timing?

I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about how September 11, 2001 impacted me as a person or as a citizen. I was devastated much like everyone else. I was scared and sad and horrified. I was also a new college graduate with an English degree trying to find work as the world around me was ending. Needless to say, finding a job was not easy. I got lucky though. Brad’s aunt worked at Verizon Wireless and the District Manager needed an administrative assistant. It was a great place to work with good pay and incredible benefits. I was so fortunate to have this opportunity present itself to me. It also reinforcement my life-long belief that “it’s not what you know but who you know.” I started my new job that November.

As I was getting settled into my new job and things were going good for Brad and I, sometime around Christmas or in January, he proposed.  We had been together for a year and a half and were happy. I could see that this was the direction in which was life was heading and I was happy to accept. We planned to be married later that summer.

Along this same time was dad was suffering form some sort of illness. It seemed at first like his Crohn’s was flaring up but it became clear that wasn’t the case.  I don’t know all the details but he was having pain with his stomach and/or abdomen. It seemed like this was going on for some time. I think it was because I was starting a new job or because my parents didn’t think it was a big deal but I wasn’t really informed of every detail of what was going on at the time. I would get calls about this doctors appointment or that, some new test was being run or the result from the last one were in. It was a confusing  jumbled mess. I started to take more notice when it was decided that his gall bladder needed to come out. He would have a fairly simple procedure and that should take care of the pain. It seemed as though the mystery had been solved. Unfortunately, that wasn’t it.  After removing the gall bladder only eased a few symptoms more tests were run. Finally, we were told. He had pancreatic cancer. I didn’t have a full understanding of what this meant. My family faced cancer once before and survived so I thought we were going to have to pull together again and get through it. I wasn’t told the mortality rate until later. I didn’t know that there wasn’t much that could be done to save him. I wasn’t emotionally able to prepare myself for his death. I am not saying it wasn’t clear that we were headed that way I am saying that no matter what happened I kept convincing myself that somehow something was going to fix it. I was not going to lose my dad when he was only 49. We had been through too much, survived too much to have something like this take him down. Even the few times I acknowledged out loud to other people that I knew he was dying in the back of my head I was insistent that there was just no way, no way was my family breaking apart.

On January 11, 2002 my dad’s dad was turning 80.  A big 80th birthday party was planned and it was decided that my grandparents were not going to be told about my dad’s diagnosis until after the party. I can not imagine the pain and horror my grandparents had to have felt when they found out their son was dying.  So, I certainly can not imagine the pain or horror they felt when within a month they would find out that grandpa also had pancreatic cancer.

The next few months are such a blur of pain and sadness. Brad and I had moved into our own place in North Canton. We were about 20 minutes away from my parents but I worked halfway between the two and could get to their house from there in about 10. Most days, I went straight from my job to their house. I left them around 10 to go home to sleep. My dad was on hospice and slept in a hospital bed in the living room. My mom did nothing but take care of my dad. I don’t think she hardly left the house for a couple months if at all. She was completely devoted to him and never left him. Sean and I would have to force her to shower or nap. My dad had no appetite and was losing weight quickly. All of his life he was a big eater and we knew this was upsetting for him. It was also a sign of how bad he was getting. We would bring food around to the back porch and into the kitchen and eat with the windows open so he wouldn’t have to smell the food. Unless someone brought her food, my mom wouldn’t even eat there was no way she was going to cook in that house. Aside from the hospice nurses, my brother, my aunt Celiene and I were her only help. I never during that time or since once heard her complain. She was laser focused on my dad and his needs and his needs only. A more loving or attentive nurse could never have been found.

My dad was determined to be there for my wedding. At first he was going to walk me down the aisle. Then it became clear that he may have to use a wheelchair. When it got to this point he became nervous about it and asked if we could consider moving the wedding up. Brad and his parents were completely understanding and willing to accommodate my family in whatever way necessary. My bridesmaids, Tami (Dan’s sister) and Christen, were also happy to oblige even though the dresses had already been picked out and ordered.  For a week we rushed around getting as much done for a much more time sensitive wedding. The last thing I needed to do was order a cake. I stopped at the cake shop and placed an order for a new cake. Once the final piece of the puzzle was in place I triumphantly went directly to my parents’ house to tell them the good news. We were going to pull this off. As soon as I finished telling them what all was accomplished and ready to go I could see the stress on my dad’s face, something was wrong. I knew he wasn’t going to admit it to me so I would have to find a time to pull my mom aside and ask her but getting her to even go in a different room away from him wasn’t easy. Luckily,  someone arrived and allowed us some time to go into the kitchen. Before I could even open m mouth my mom put her arms around me in tears and told me that he changed his mind about the wedding. There were important two reasons. He was getting worse fast. He wasn’t even sure that he would be able to sit in a wheelchair and he didn’t want everyone to see him like that nor did he want all my wedding pictures to have him looking so frail. The other was, a lot of people knew we were getting married and that dad was very sick; they starting asking to be invited to the wedding. My dad was afraid it was going to turn into something it wasn’t supposed to be. I immediately understood and didn’t want to do anything to stress him out. I didn’t want him to have to worry about my wedding. He had already walked me down the aisle once and even though that marriage didn’t work out it is something I will never forget. Besides, I didn’t know it then but this one wasn’t going to work out either. I called Brad and he told him what happened, he didn’t even flinch. Whatever we needed was fine, we would cancel all the new plans and go back to the old ones. My bridal party was again, gracious and so were my soon to be in-laws. When I told my dad the new old plans the relief was easy to see. He thanked me, then cried. He was sorry he told me, he knew he wouldn’t be there.

While my dad was fighting his battle so was his dad. I wanted to be a bigger help to my Uncle Denny and Aunt Linda taking care of my grandparents but we were so focused on my dad that I rarely found the time. This has been a strong regret I have dealt with since that time. I know how much time they were devoting to my grandparents and it wasn’t fair to them that there was more family in town that were not able to offer assistance. How hard this time had to have been on my whole family. Losing their brother and dad at the same time of the same disease. The incredible thing is this isn’t usually a long illness. My dad was diagnosed at the beginning of January and passed away at the beginning or May. My grandpa was diagnosed about a month later and passed away 8 weeks after my dad. It sometimes seems so unfair that all of this had to happen within the same few months.

Grandma & Grandpa Clark

I wasn’t there when my dad died. I think he wouldn’t have wanted his kids to see that. He was alone with my mom on a sunny Sunday morning. I hate that she had to go through that by herself  but I do think it was inevitable that they would say goodbye alone together.

Mom & Dad

My dad passed away on May 5, 2002, eight weeks later we lost his dad on July 21, 2002. The family didn’t even have time to catch their breath after losing my dad and we were hit again. It was devastating.

A few weeks after my grandpa died, Brad and I got married. My mom did everything possible to make the event as wonderful as she could. She was my rock during that time and I tried to be hers as much as I could. Losing your best friend and spouse is not something I can even venture to imagine how impossible it had to have been to go on. She was such a fighter though. She did rely more on us kids which I think was a great strength of hers. I feared that she would try to be Wonder Woman and do it is all herself but she was good about letting us help. I don’t doubt she could have done it without us but she knew we needed her to need us much as she needed us. After dad died mom moved into a apartment right by her parents. I think it was the best move she could have made. Having them close by was a comfort to her and I think having her close was a comfort to them. Not wanting to be left out of the love I moved into the same complex. Leaving my front door I could go across the court yard to my mom’s or to the left to my grandparent’s. We made the shape of a “U”. How I ever talked my new husband into moving within spitting distance of his in-laws I will never know. I am guessing that he figured since I was with her most of the time anyway we might as well cut out the drive home. I loved living by them but wasn’t a fan of our actual apartment. I liked my grandparents and my mom’s but ours was different. Brad was an EMT and worked 24 hours on and 48 hours off. I ended up with a lot of alone time and didn’t like to be alone. Thankfully, I could walk my beagle, Winston, over to see mom.

Things were starting to be settled again. We were in the new apartment, mom was close by and so were my grandparents. I didn’t stop over at their place as often as I should have but I did on occasion.  I thought life was going to keeping moving forward after all. That was something I was sure would never happen when dad died. I was pretty certain the entire world was going to stop turning. Mine did at least. As 2003 dawned I tried to be optimistic, I told myself that this was a new year and hoped it would turn out much better than the last. I thought it was going to until the end of February. I already told most of this story so I am only going to point it out in the timeline, this is when my mom’s father battled so hard to give me a birthday gift I would never forget. I had just lost my dad and his dad a few months earlier and now I was saying goodbye again. All the male figures in my life were gone. The blow was almost more than I or my mom could bare. Now, I would have to watch the other side of my family suffer. It was awful.

With Brad working so much it felt like it was just my mom, her mom (who I called Nana) and I left there in that apartment complex. We started spending more time together, more and more often I found myself  taking Winston on a walk to see Nana. I hadn’t even realized how much more time I was spending over then until one day crossing the court yard, I said out loud, “Mom’s not home. We should go see Nana.” (I could tell because her apartment was dark) Winston took off like a flash, changing direction and marched me straight to her sliding glass door. She was sitting in her chair reading. She must have heard our commotion or felt our presence because she looked up, waved and came to let us in.

My relationship with her when I was a kid was almost non-existent. I didn’t understand her and we didn’t spend much time together. She wasn’t the grandma that baked you cookies but that isn’t to say she didn’t love us. I was too young to know it then but sometimes people show love in non-conventional ways and it is up to you to recognize it as love. It isn’t necessarily up to the person showing the love to make sure the message is received.  It was during these visits that I got to know her much better. I was able to see more of who she was as a person. She wasn’t ever going to throw her arms around me and pinch my checks, that just wasn’t her style. To be honest, it isn’t mine either. But if you were willing she would sit down and have a conversation with you, she would tell you about her life when she was younger, she would make you laugh. She would also shatter ever preconceived notion you would ever have about a “little old lady”. She was tough, she didn’t take anybody’s shit no matter who you are or think you are; you mean nothing to her and she isn’t afraid of your sorry ass. She was fierce before being fierce was even a thing. If you stepped out of line, she would have none of it. It wasn’t until these conversations that I started to see just how much I wanted to be like her. I learned about her incredible childhood. She would talk about horrible things that happened in her life with such nonchalance that you couldn’t believe she wasn’t struggling to choke back the tears. She was born with something wrong with her hip. As I understand it grew together off in the joint itself. This caused her legs to not be even. She never gave me the whole story in chronological order but some of the tidbits I put together are; at some point, I don’t know for how long, she stayed at a place called a “house for crippled children”. I don’t know if it was an extended stay or just for a recovery. It seems as though she possibly had multiple surgeries or was at least in a pretty serious cast for quite some time, may more than once. I have seen many pictures of her as a child with a crutch and she had a cane all of my life. I don’t know for sure but I don’t think she ever walked without some assistance. Keep in mind, she was born in 1927.  I can’t think what it must have been like for her growing up but to hear her tell it, it was just life. It was just her truth, good or bad it is what it is. This attitude is something I strive for every day of my life. It is what it is. It was what it was, it is only good or bad if you place judgement on it. But if you do that outcome is your own fault. She had to be tough, she had to be strong or she wouldn’t have survived.

Nana was not disabled, don’t even think for a minute that she was. If you did think that she would kick your ass to prove you wrong (and yes she could have). She was so smart, I mean incredibly. I like to think I got a fraction of that brain of hers. I got grandpa’s sense of humor and storytelling and her brain and strength, in my dreams, but it is not bad to aim high. She was also beautiful. She was a fiery redhead. In every picture I have seen of her from her youth, what a body! That, I didn’t inherit.

I did built a much better relationship with her in those years but it was never what I wish it could have been. Life happened and we moved out of the complex so the visits stopped. I was only a few streets away but it was my fault for not continuing to stop over and I regret very much not staying closer to her. I cherish those times we spent together. I gained so much more respect for her then. I think I just needed to be older to see her in a different light. Yes, she wasn’t everything a little girl wants from a grandma but she was offering to be a strong role model for a woman. I just didn’t see it right away.  That was my loss.

I have been lucky to have been surrounded by a lot of strong women in my days. Both of my grandmothers, my mom and my aunts. I have always known how important it is to be independent thanks mostly to their example. One other thing all these super women taught me is that being tough isn’t armor, it isn’t a shield and you shouldn’t hide behind it. At this time in my life I was falling apart. I never grieved my dad properly or fully and then lost both of my grandfathers so quickly after that I wasn’t able to process it all.  Work was going down the drain quickly and it was getting harder and harder to deal with getting out of bed everyday. I had finished my first semester at Ashland Seminary and decided to transfer back to Kent in the fall so was off for the spring semester. I was feeling sick a lot and had started losing weight. At first, I thought I was just doing a good job of dieting but I had the constant pain in the lower right part of my gut. Finally, in March of 2004 I decided it was time to see my doctor.

I made a typical mistake and diagnosed myself. I announced to the doctor, “I pulled a muscle.” I showed him where it was and he agreed that I may have pulled a groin muscle so he gave me muscle relaxers and told me to give it a couple weeks. By then the pain was much worse. We decided that perhaps it wasn’t just a pulled muscle maybe I had a hernia. I was so completely miserable at work that I was now throwing up randomly throughout the day. I knew the stress was getting beyond my control and Brad and I agreed that it was best if I just quit. I usually wouldn’t ever do that without another job lined up but it was easy to see how physically upset things were making me. My mom was starting to get very concerned about my health and was the main proponent for me leaving my job immediately. In the middle of March I gave notice and was done working by the end of the month. At this time Brad was a full time EMT and going to school to become a paramedic. That meant a lot of time away from home, in class and doing clinicas. Within the first week off of work I was getting to the point that I knew there was much more wrong with me than stress and a hernia. I was no longer able to walk up straight. The pain in my gut was like someone was pulling a string inside me not letting me stand up. One morning Brad was leaving home to go to Massillon Hospital to do his clinicals. I was so sick when I woke up that he decided it was time to go to the hospital. He took me with him to the ER. A couple of hours later it was determined that I needed to have an emergency appendectomy. There was an infection and it had to come out. Usually I am not a fan of needles or hospitals but I was hurting so bad they could have used a rusty spoon and scooped it out and I wouldn’t have cared. Brad called my mom who was by my bed faster than I want to think of how she drove, she made it before they started the surgery. There must have been a helicopter involved. I know she was in a panic even though she tried not to let me see it. You lose your husband, father-in-law and father, then your kid gets sick; you are going to panic.

I know that at some point this day before surgery two things were discussed. Pancreatic cancer and Crohn’s disease. My mom made sure to make the doctor and surgeon very aware that these were a concern. The doctor didn’t seem to worried but the surgeon heard her loud and clear, he was the one that took out my dad’s gall bladder. We were all assured that this wasn’t going to be a big deal. They were pretty sure they could do it laparoscopically and the recovery time was no more than a couple of days. I would have a tiny incision around my bellybutton and one on my side. When I woke up from surgery I could tell not all was well. The surgery had gone fine but the appendix hadn’t ruptured or gotten infected from the inside out. A fistula had formed from the outside and the infection was pretty bad. This surgery would make me feel much better but the surgeon was convinced there was more to it. He suggested I see a Gastrointestinal specialist if I was 100% in a couple weeks. As he left the room I saw my mom start to follow him out. I heard him say before leaving, “Don’t worry there is no reason to think there is anything wrong with her pancreas.” I hate for her to have had to have that worry at all.

My speedy recovery ended up not being so at all. I had my surgery on Thursday and didn’t get out of the hospital until the following Wednesday and that was only because they were afraid of my mom. The infection had to be gotten under control before I could leave which meant IV antibiotics. I also seemed to be running a fever that wouldn’t go away. I hardly slept the entire time I was there and was so hot I had to have two fans on me at all times. My veins weren’t taking to all the IVs so well and they had to keep moving them. That meant lots of pricks and since my veins never seem to want to cooperate it was like being a human pincushion. The final straw was when I was there alone and they had to move my IV again. I only have one spot left and they were threatening to go between my toes next. I was poked over and over and was in tears almost begging her to stop. She was sweet about it and I could tell felt awful but was determined to get it in. Unluckily for her my mom walked in the room right then. She was like a wild bear protecting her cub. She ran to my bed and asked what was going on. The nurse explained the situation and my mom understood but her baby was sick, hurting and in tears, there was no way this lady was bringing that needle near me again or my mom was going to stab her with it. The nurse could see this was a no-win for her. After a little calming down time a surgeon was brought in to try again. After a couple failed attempts he quickly apologized and disappeared (he must have been warned about mom).

Finally, the doctor came in and explained that we had a problem. The infection wasn’t as cleared up as he would like but without an IV I would have to take a lot of strong antibiotics orally. This wasn’t going to be pleasant. I think his goal was to persuade us to agree to the toes or maybe a port, boy was he wrong. She completely out foxed him even beyond anything I would have thought of. She said she understood and announced that it was clear that my veins were “just done” and quite frankly so was she. Since I no longer needed an IV for the antibiotics there was no need for me to stay in the hospital as I could handle the pills on my own at home. She assured him that we would go straight to the pharmacy then home and could he please write out the prescriptions. I don’t know for sure what his intentions were when he came into the room, maybe this was his plan but it was clear that a choice had been made. She reminded him that my husband was a paramedic (not yet but she left that out) and that she would be with me whenever he was not. I went home that day. Taking those pills was a nightmare. I am sure I wasn’t on them too long but it seemed like forever. I had to take them every 4 hours day and night, with food. They made me very sick to my stomach which meant all I could eat was soda crackers. I remember waking up every 4 hours all night, half asleep chomping on soda crackers and taking my pills.  I had my surgery on April 1, by the end of the month I was starting to realize that I needed to call a Gastrointestinal doctor.

Momma and her baby bear

The summer of 2004 would be a jumble to me. I was feeling better after the appendectomy but not even close to 100%. I knew I had to go to the specialist but dreaded the whole thing so I put it off.  I started working very part time at the nursing home where my mom worked. I was in the activity department, a job I had when I was in college and really loved. Mom had been dating Norm. He was a friend of the family for many years. We went to church together and he and my dad had been good friends. We all really like him and I was happy they found each other. Mom and Norm decided to get married and the wedding was scheduled for the end of May. Again, I was trying to be hopeful life was looking up but again, death just couldn’t leave well enough alone. I got a call one night telling me my dad’s mom was in the hospital and it wasn’t looking good. My mom picked me up and drove me to the hospital. There my family stayed by her bed all night. She passed away the next morning with us huddled around.

By July my pain was getting so bad that I knew I had to find out what was going on, I knew in the back of my head from what the surgeon told us that it was likely I had Crohn’s. I didn’t want to face the possibility. A few tests were scheduled to find out what was going on for sure. I never gave up hope that it wasn’t going to turn out to be Crohn’s, I had myself convinced that it was just IBS. I arrived at the doctor’s office to find out what the test results indicated and to find out where we go from here. I was fully expecting a big smile and a “It’s only IBS.”  The doctor I had chosen treated my dad, and for some time, my mom’s sister, Judy who also had Crohn’s. So, we were very familiar with each other. He walked into the exam room, put one hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, you have your daddy’s disease.”  I was stunned. He kept going on without giving me a moment to process. I am sure it was because pretty much everyone, except me, already knew this was the most likely outcome. I am sure he didn’t think I would need a minute. I heard him talking about my blood work and say something to Brad about the infection would need to get under control but how about the beginning of September? Brad asked if it was wise to wait that long and the doctor confirmed that it would be good to get some meds in me for awhile first and that I didn’t appear to be in any danger. I had no idea what they were talking about. I zoned out and missed the beginning of the conversation, was this another test?  Brad could probably see that I wasn’t picking up on what all was happening so he smiled at the doctor and asked, “What surgeon do you recommend?” I finally realized what they were saying. I was going to have to have another surgery. Brad and the doctor worked out the logistics of the surgery and what new and exciting medications I would be taking, mostly Prednisone which I had already been on for a couple of months and some more antibiotics which would no doubt make me sick.  I don’t remember much more of the rest of the visit, I was too busy swimming around my own brain remembering everything my dad and aunt went through with this disease, all the pain, the surgeries, the food they could and couldn’t eat I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do this. I don’t know why I kept going over and over that in my head as if I had an option. I just kept weighing out the consequences of what I just found out and was certain that I simply wasn’t going to be able to have this disease. They were going to have to come up with something else. I was not strong enough to live with Crohn’s, I was not strong enough to go through what my dad and aunt went through. So he better check again because my answer is “no, thank you.”

“You’re going to have to call your mom.” Brad reminded me. My heart sank. How do I tell her this? As with a lot of diseases, when you have Crohn’s you aren’t the only one “living with” this disease, it will impact all those that love you. She had already had to endure all my dad’s illness and nearly losing her sister it to how could I tell her I had the same thing? That it was all starting up again? It was one of the worse phone calls of my life. She cried, I cried.  I told her about the surgery and that I was scared. She left work as soon as the words left my mouth and met us at our place. She sat with me all night trying to tell me what kinds of things I might have to deal with in the future. She recounted a few stories of what all happened to my dad and a little about my aunt.  This was when it hit me the hardest that not only was I going to have to go through this but I didn’t even get to have the comfort of my dad being by my side. Someone who could practically walk me through this new life and he had already been taken from me. The only bright side to it is that he never knew. I can’t say for certain how he would have reacted but I know it would have been hard for him.  My mom and I talked about this many times and she agreed that he would have felt guilty about it.

As July carried on I was in the doctor’s office weekly and was having what seemed like constant blood withdrawals. It became clear at the beginning of August that things weren’t going the way the doctor had hoped and it was determined that I wouldn’t be able to wait until September for my surgery.  It was a Thursday and the doctor was looking over the newest round of information. He looked up at me and said, “have any plans next week?” I, in fact did, it was our anniversary on Tuesday. I could tell he was surprised to hear that. He apparently wasn’t just making conversation. “Oh, I’m sorry but I meant, I’m going to need you in the hospital Monday morning.”   The new plan was I had to get to the hospital Monday morning to start the prep for a colonoscopy which I would have on Tuesday, my anniversary. Wednesday would be the surgery. Brad and I were a little taken aback at first but agreed to defer to whatever he felt was necessary. I apologized over and over to Brad that I would going to be spending our 2nd anniversary in the hospital but he was an EMT and being at a hospital wasn’t as horrific to him as it was to me.

After the colonoscopy the surgeon and doctor met with us to tell us that they weren’t able to visualize everything because of too severe a blockage due to the Crohn’s. This wasn’t uncommon and only met that they wouldn’t know until they got in there exactly the extent of it. It was also entirely possible, depending on the location and extent of the Crohn’s, that they may have to perform an Illeostomy like my dad had. This meant I could wake up with a bag. I, of course, wasn’t thrilled by the idea but I remembered how much better my dad was after his Illeostomy so I agreed that I would learn to live with it and told them not to feel the need to go to any extraordinary lengths to avoid that, if it had to be then it had to be. In my room before the surgery with loved one around me I was terrified. I had no idea what I was going to wake up to, if at all. This wasn’t a dangerous procedure but I was still scared. It was the unknown which was most upsetting. How would my life change after this? Could I handle whatever might be waiting for me? They pulled me onto the elevator, no contact, no glasses so all I could see was a blur of family waving goodbye. I tried not to let them see my tears as I told them I loved them and waved goodbye back.

As I came to in the recovery room the nurse was standing over me. I don’t know if I had been stirring already or if her job was to just stare at me but there she was. “Hi Lisa, everything went great, you are doing great.” She patted my shoulder, I fell back to sleep. When I came around again it was to the surgeon grasping a hold of my feet. I don’t know if this is SOP or if there was a logical reason for it but it got my attention. He asked me a couple questions about how I was feeling and by my vague answers I think he knew I was pretty groggy. I tried to move my hands to feel my side, he knew what I was looking for. “Nope, no bag. You were very lucky. Things were very severe but only in one small area. We were able to remove the bad part of bowel and reattach with no trouble. Congratulations.”  I am not sure why he was congratulating me all I had to do was sleep he was the one with a knife in my guts and it sounds like he got me back together in one piece. He is the one who need the congratulations. I’m sure I just fell back to sleep though. The rest of that day is a blur. I got back to my room and saw my relieved family. I do remember a few moments of lucidity. I was astonished at how much better I felt. I had a lot of anesthesia in me still and plenty of pain meds which may have had something to do with the euphoria but I could definitely tell a big difference in how my insides felt. By the next morning I was ready to be walking around. The nurses kept telling me I wasn’t supposed to be that active yet but I felt great. After months of being sick and not able to even walk upright this was a whole new world to me. I had actually forgotten that I could feel so good. But there was an incision from my bellybutton straight down and I had to take it a little easy.

This was not going to happen, not with me. I wanted up and moving. I could have danced, if I could dance. The nurses could see I wasn’t to be detered and finally got permission to remove the cath and allow me to walk around. If I wanted to be up they we going to let me up. They could barely get me to hold still long enough to get the cath out and get the IVs and everything situated for my first walk. My mom was a nervous wreck. “Your dad never got out of bed the first day, this is too soon.”  She followed me around with her arms out ready to catch me if I fell. Had I fallen I doubt the catch would have worked out the way she was envisioning but the “mom” never goes away in you, I guess.

Thursday I drove the nurses on my floor crazy insisting I could walk myself to and from the bathroom and considering all the IV fluids it was a day of hourly trips back and forth.  I wasn’t making any land speed records but I chugged along as best as I could. I was recovering faster than expected and wanted nothing more than real food and to go home. The surgeon came to see me on Friday evening and was surprised to see how well everything was going. My mom couldn’t believe how fast I was up and about compared to how my dad ever was. This was likely because I had a relatively  little bit removed and it didn’t spread much beyond one small area. I was very lucky. After much begging the surgeon agreed that I could have a little more to eat that night and we would see how I dealt with it and we would talk the next day.  All went well that night. The surgeon was back very early the  next morning he said if I could eat solid food and be okay for a few hours after he would send me home that day. I woke Brad up at home and told him to come right away but to stop at McDonald’s and get me some pancakes. As soon as he walked in the room I was ready to pounce. I swallowed the pancakes with very little chewing. I hadn’t eaten at all in over a week and for months before I was so sick I was hardly able to nibble here and there. That afternoon I was given the go ahead. I was free, I was allowed to go home as long as I take it easy and see him in a few days. We got out to the car and Brad headed for home. Until I said, “is that guy from work still having that party tonight?” He knew what I was thinking and after much begging and convincing he drove me straight there. No one could believe it when they saw us pull in. I figured I was safe at a party of EMTs, paramedics and nurses, I was probably better off here than at home. My whole midsection was bandaged like a mummy but I was ready to party. I most just sat in a chair but I was thrilled.

When we got back into the car to head home that night Brad had a message waiting on his phone. We didn’t know it at the time but it was a message that would change our lives. It was Dan.

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My Truth, Part 5

My story is going to jump off the tracks a little here in the timeline. This is because what I want to talk about was happening over a longer period of time than I usually discuss in one post. Also, the effects of what had been happening are most fully felt in the next section.

I have mentioned my mom, obviously, in my previous posts. I only briefly touched on when her life (from what I saw of it) changed. This is, of course, in reference to before my dad died which again would change her life dramatically.

When both of my parents were very sick when I was in 8th grade something changed in my mom. She never talked very openly with me about it but it was plain to see. I can only give what actual information I do know from what she told me and my own impressions of it.

My mom had a difficult childhood. I don’t know the specifics of it but I do know that much. I wouldn’t say it was entirely miserable because that simply isn’t true. I know that from all the great stories she was willing to share but there were hardships. When I was much younger some of those issues did seep into her adult life, as would be expected. I see it more clearly now looking back then I did at the time.

Again, I wish I could be more specific but I just don’t know what was going on inside her head but something was triggered around the time of all the illnesses. I can only imagine what it would do to a parent to not only yourself be very sick but your spouse at the same time. Was it fear of losing my dad or the possibility of her own mortality or something else completely? I don’t know, but my mom changed, a lot.

I do know that she started seeing a therapist but I don’t know how often or even for how long. I don’t know if this was the cause of the change or part of it or what. Here is what I do know. Something made my mom decide to become a very different person.  I do mean “decide”.  I can’t say that other people saw it as much as I did or even maybe if it was more of a change in our relationship than it was in her as a whole but this is my story from my point of view and this is how I see what happened.

My mom laughed more. She smiled more. She never again, for the rest of her life, commented in any way about my weight (even when she would have been justified in doing so). She and I spent more time together having two-way conversations. She became my friend. My entire high school life (and my whole life thereafter) with my mom was vastly different from my life with her before. Again, it is entirely possible that the change was in our relationship but I don’t think that is true. When most girls become teenagers and strive only to separate themselves from their mom I was getting closer to mine. Come to think of it maybe the change was in me. Maybe the thought of losing her changed me.

Actually, I believe, as the case tends to be, that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It was probably all of those things. I know my mom changed, I know I changed and I know our relationship changed. Don’t get me wrong I was still a teenaged girl, we fought. I asserted my independence. I drove her crazy, as was my duty, but her reactions to all those things wasn’t what it would have been before. She was more willing to talk things out. She wanted to hear and understand my side of things. She became my advocate. I am not trying to claim that she wouldn’t have been when I was younger; my mother loved me fiercely from the moment she knew I existed. I am not going to take that away. I also never doubted it. She would have killed anyone from the time I was born who even looked at me sideways. I always knew that. But there was a time when I was younger that she struggled with me. She struggled with herself, she later told me. I believe it was this struggle that brought us together. I was in high school and I was changing, I was becoming an adult person. At the same time, my mom was changing. I think she was able to see that we had these things in common and knew she could share things with me to help me avoid mistakes. Sadly, I was sure that I already knew everything so I didn’t listen as often as I should have. The fact remains, she was becoming a more secure, happy person.

I know this may not seem extraordinary to everyone but it really is to me and warrants it’s own post for a few reasons. First, I believe that she saw things about herself that she didn’t like and actively endeavored to change them. Not just superficial things but the hard stuff, the deep down emotional, tough-to-face stuff. She took these things head on and chose to become the person she wanted to be instead of the person her childhood set her up to be.  I find this incredibly brave. I have struggled with these things myself (not that my childhood was anything like hers) and I know how incredibly hard that can be. I find myself slipping back and forth between the “old” me and the “new” me constantly. I didn’t ever see her do that. She seemed to push straight ahead with such strength and courage, two traits which she would exhibit in abundance over and over in her life. They are also the two traits of her I most try to emulate. The one I tend to have most strong is stubbornness but you take what you can get. The fact that mom my was able to make such deep and profound changes has been a source of  encouragement for me for many years. I often take looks at my life and am not happy with what I see, whenever that happens, I think of my mom and I know that I can make the decision to be whoever I want to be, like she did. You know I love to foreshadow so let me say this, she was not the only person in her family to endure such a transformation. More on that later.

The best way to explain who my mom and I became together is to ask this; do you know who Lucy and Ethel are? Yeah, we became thick as thieves. My poor dad. I don’t even want to admit to myself the number of shopping trips that ended with us pulling into the garage and my mom saying, “Don’t tell your dad.” She probably told him herself but I liked feeling like we had our little secrets.  My mom had gone from a “mother” to a “mom” but she had a nice balance of not accidentally slipping strictly into being just a “friend”. She was my friend on many levels but she was never willing to relinquish her role as mom. That is one of the things for which I am most grateful. I was 32 when she died and at no point in my life was I ready to not have a mom, I’m still not.

There is one other possible reason why my mom changed that I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention. As usual, it will take a little back story. My mom, was 1 of 6. Her parents had 4 children fairly close together and then had 2 more later in life. I think my mom was a teen when the younger girls were born. I don’t have dates in front of me so I am estimating. I have heard many stories of the way my mom and her sister, Noel cared for the younger sisters, Celiene and Judy. They were, as Noel put it “our baby dolls”.  Because of the age difference and the family dynamic Judy and Celiene have always been more like older sisters than aunts to me. I have heard many stories of how my parents were like second parents to them. In fact, my dad taught my Aunt Celiene to drive. They had a very special relationship.  Well, again, no dates in front of me but around the time my parents were going through all the illness my cousin was born. Kevin, he was Celiene’s first. (He is the baby in the picture of my mom from the previous post when she had no hair.) Kevin was more of a first grandchild than a nephew and I know my parents saw all my cousins the same way. Kevin and my mom would have probably about the most special relationship of two people that I have ever seen. (You will hear more about this later.) Therefore,  I can’t fairly discount the very real possibility of Kevin coming into her life as having a huge impact. Of course, I am just speculating about all of this. I did once discuss with my mom this period of her life and the fact that I felt that she changed a lot and she definitely agreed but when I asked what happened she didn’t seem to know. I could tell when it was something she knew but didn’t want to talk about but during this conversation she didn’t really have one reason to point to.  I am sure it was a combination of things.  Also, remember the names Noel, Judy and Celiene few people or times in my life would have greater impact on me than what they did and how they gave of themselves when we would all have to face losing my mom, together.

I don’t want it to seem like the only formative moment I ever had with my mom was a bad one because that is far from true and would do a great disservice to the actual relationship we would grow to enjoy. One of the most important lessons I ever learned in my life was from her. It is one for which I even thanked her once. She didn’t remember ever saying it but it had a huge and lasting impact on me. I was a freshman in high school and still unsure of myself. I never admitted it out loud or told anyone, as most people don’t. Somehow this was obviously something that she was able to see in me. I was pretty easy for her to read, as I guess most kids can be to a good mom.  Seemingly out of the blue she said to me, “You know, just because people are talking it doesn’t me they are talking about you and just because people are laughing it doesn’t mean they are laughing at you.” This was the first but not the last time in my life I thought my mom was a mind reader (another trait of a good mom).  She seemed to recognize in that moment that I needed something and knew exactly what it was and how to present it in a way that I would take to heart and keep with me for the rest of my life. To this day there are times that I will walk past a group of people who will suddenly laugh out loud and I remember those words. They have brought me great comfort for many years.

I don’t know what prompted her to say that and when I asked about it years later she couldn’t remember the conversation at all so she didn’t know either. At first I was befuddled to discover that she didn’t even recall the scene at all but then she pointed out to me, “I guess you never know what you might say to someone that will stick in their heart. Have to be careful about that.”  I don’t want to oversell it but seriously, who could come up with two life lessons stacked on each other like that?

There will be much more on my mom in the rest of the story. But I wanted to put this out separately because it becomes important to know how my relationship with her changed so much as will be clear in the next section. I also feel that she deserves her own section and I wanted this to be a bit of a love letter within a love letter.

If you hadn’t noticed yet that is what this whole thing is, a love letter. It is a love letter to all those people in my life which have changed me for the better. Those people who have loved me no matter what. It is for those people who have and would drop everything to be by my side. In that I have an embarrassment of riches. (Remember the 3 names I mentioned earlier?) It is also my way of honoring all of my family that I have lost. I know at times it seems I have been harsh on a few of them but the story isn’t over and I love all of the dearly. Some of the best “characters” (I mean that in every way) are yet to come and sadly, some are to go.

*Happy Mother’s Day mom. I miss you more than you will ever know. Thank you for the courage and insistence that I tell my story (our story). I love you.

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My Truth, Part 4

Before we move on to husband number 1 I want to back up and tell a couple of stories I didn’t get in earlier.  But first I want to explain my title “My Truth”. The reason I am using this is because I believe that two or more people can be in the same place at the same time but because of their life experiences they can see things very differently. That isn’t to say either of them get it wrong, just different. For each of them it is their truth. Because I can not possibly tell my story without including other people that were there and influenced me, I think it is important that I recognize that they may not have seen it the same way I did. I don’t want to discount their interpretation of it I simply want to say, this is mine.

First, I am going to tell a funny story about the time my dad got struck by lightning. Oh yes, you read that right. My dad got struck by lightning, nearly died even. But man, it was funny. Everything in my family was fair game for being laughed at, even near death. Hey, if you survived and the hair on your head was still standing straight up and smoking hours later, sorry we were going to laugh.

I was working at Fuddrucker’s one night and it was storming (obviously) and I see my brother’s beauty queen girlfriend walk in wearing old clothes and no make-up. I know right away something was wrong. I  am not being a smart ass she really was a beauty queen. Anyway, she walks up to the counter and says in all seriousness, “your dad’s okay.”

I did mention she was a beauty queen, right? It took me all of a split second to say, “Well, obviously he isn’t. What happened.” I was in a panic.

“Umm…well… he got struck by lightning on the golf course.”

I laughed. Not my I’m -so-stressed-out all-I-can-do-is-laugh laugh but my she’s-fucking-with-me laugh. Denise and I were friends and I was off the clock in a little bit so I figured she was really there to pick me up or suggest we go do something. But after staring at her for what seemed like an eternity I realized she wasn’t kidding.

“I am here to take you to the hospital. Your mom didn’t want you to drive yourself.”

I don’t remember anything from then until I got to the hospital and saw my mom.

“He’s in a room now so we can go see him but I have to warn you,” I knew this was going to be bad. He was burnt or something awful. If after everything we went through when they were both sick didn’t warrent a warning but this did, it couldn’t be good.

“Don’t laugh.” I was stunned. Why on earth would I laugh? I mean it did at work when Denise told me but my god I thought that was a joke. I couldn’t possibly see why she thought to tell me that. Until we walked into the room.

It is one of those scenes in your life that you can replay in your head with insane accuracy many years later.

My dad was in a two person room but the bed closest to the door was empty. Walking just past the threshold I can see that his hair is still standing straight up and smoking. At first glance this was very upsetting. But then he did it. Sound asleep, he did it. His arms and legs lifted straight up off the hospital bed and back down. He looked like he was doing a straight sit up or a Herman Munster impression laying down. That was it, mom and I were in hysterics. Apparently, this had been happening for a little while and he was pretty sensitive about it. He woke up, looked at us and yelled, “Fuck you both.”

We never let him live that down. Nor did we stop teasing him when he joined the Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Victims club. They meet in Dollywood every year for a convention. I swear, I am not making this up. He even got a hat with their logo.

So we all survived that. Although my dad never looked at thunderstorms the same way again. Seriously, I’m not kidding. He didn’t.

Remember those couple of jerks I dated that I mentioned earlier. Well, I am picking up right about the point where one of them dumped me. We dated for quite a long time and he was, gasp, my First.  When he dumped me my senior year I was completely destroyed. When I say dumped I am not exaggerating.  He literally showed up at my house with some guy I had never seen before and told me it was over, just like that. This was not long after the Air Force told me they couldn’t take me either. I was pretty hysterical in my best teen girl fashion. This was pretty unusual for me because with a few exceptions I handled break ups pretty easily. I didn’t get too invested and within a day was back into it ready to move on. But when you are a teenage, Christian girl and you think you love someone so much that you are finally ready to… well I can’t find a way to say this that doesn’t make me want to puke, have sex, it makes you very vulnerable. I was also a believer that you don’t have sex until marriage and I was so sure he was The One (thankfully, I was wrong) that it was a real blow to see that I was wrong.

I want to point out right now, that Dan HATED this guy the entire time we dated. He was never even allowed to meet him face to face because I knew how much he hated him. He claims it has nothing to do with the fact that, “you were having sex with that jack ass instead of me.” This guy just wasn’t a nice guy. Like I said before I really did usually date nice guys but this one played an unusually good game. Most every guy I had dated before him were just nice, not only from the beginning but the entire way through the relationship. This guy was only nice in the beginning. I was too naive at the time to realize that this was even an option.

After he dumped me I was very unsure of myself. I no longer trusted my own instincts when it came to guys. I was so wrong with him that I figured I was going to screw up and end up with another jerk unless I was very careful. Yes, there was Dan and this was the time that I wrote him the “I Love You” poem that fell on deaf ears. So, there was one other guy. A guy from work. He was truly about the nicest guy I had ever met. His name was James.

I wasn’t necessarily attracted to James and I don’t mean to be cruel but I just wasn’t. However, he was such a good guy that I felt safe dating him. I don’t know why I felt the need to date anyone but I did. James and I started dating and I loved his energy and attitude. He was always happy and upbeat. His friends were about the best people I had ever met. They all went to Hoover and were so insanely welcoming that I never wanted to be without them. Almost every single one of the hugged me the first time we met and every time we saw each other after that. My friends at Jackson were falling apart all over the place. Most of the friendships had been severed for a million different reasons and it wasn’t fun. We weren’t a group any more. Here was a new group. A lively and loving group of people who adored each other and me. I got completely swept up into them. The second half of my senior year was pretty well wrapped up in them and a few people, Dan for one and Joey, Sherra and Christen, from Jackson but I was already separating myself from them. I don’t know if this was natural because we knew we were all going our separate ways and were disconnecting in a self preservation sort of way or not. Either way, I was all about my new Hoover friends. I loved them and that love kind of transferred itself on to James. Now I did love him, I always did but I wasn’t in love with him and I wasn’t passionate about him as an individual. I didn’t real realize it at the time but what I was doing wasn’t fair to him.

About a month before I graduated he told me he wanted to get married. I said yes. I have no idea why so don’t ask. I think I really thought it was never going to happen because I would be away at school. But life would get in the way of that. James was in the same year that I was but took AP classes and was actually able to finish school in January. This isn’t something my school did so I don’t fully understand how it worked. He was already out of school for a few months and ready to move on with life but I was a few steps behind. When he told his parents about the engagement they freaked and kicked him out. Took away his car and kicked him out. So I was a couple months out of high school and my fiance was kicked out of his house with no car because of me. What was I supposed to do? My parents let him move in and it was clear that college wasn’t going to happen. That first semester that I should have been away at school I was instead moving out of my parents’ house and into an apartment with someone I didn’t want to be with any more. Yes, about a week before this whole thing went down I decided to break it off. I wasn’t in love and was ready to move on with my life.  I was completely stuck. I didn’t think he had the option of going back to his parents and he didn’t even have a freaking car. I couldn’t just say, “oh well, sucks to be you.” So, I closed my mouth and stayed.

As we were living together my religion was getting the better of me. I hated that I was “living in sin” and felt awful about myself. I was a horrible person in every way. I wasn’t in school, I was with someone I didn’t love and we were living in sin. I didn’t know what to do to make any of this right. So, I just tried to start where I could. I enrolled at Kent State, I was only a semester behind and knew I could make it up in the summer. It was also a nice distraction from my life. The agreement was for me to go to school full time and work part time while he worked full time and went to school at night part time. The transportation was tricky but we worked it out.  The next thing I decided was there was no way out of this and I didn’t see one ever coming up so it was time to get married. If we were married then living together was okay. Now I see that as fuzzy logic but at the time it was the only thing I could figure out. Being married also meant we could use our own income on my FAFSA form and that would mean a lot more money for school. The wedding was set for December 20th. I wouldn’t be very big.

My life was not turning out at all the way I had planned or wanted it. I kept making bad decision to make up for other bad decisions but I couldn’t seem to find a way out of the hole I was digging, deeper and deeper. Before the wedding I became more and more panicked. I knew I didn’t want this but had no idea how to fix it. One of my only friends at this time was Dan. He and James got along really well, not a surprise since they both get along well with everyone. Dan spent a lot of time at our apartment. I would make us all dinner and we’d play video games or watch movies. I was realizing more and more that the wrong guy was going home at night. I even got up the courage to tell Dan, kind of, how I felt. It was the month of the wedding and we were doing our annual Christmas shopping at the mall. I didn’t have the right way of going about it so instead of saying, “I don’t want to marry him” or “I’m in love with you” I said, “we have never kissed.” Brilliant, I know. Dan confirmed that we had never kissed. I don’t know if he wasn’t getting my point or was trying to avoid it but he started to drive us back to my place. “Before I am married and not allowed to ever kiss anyone again, I would like to know what it is like to kiss you.” I could not believe I was being so bold. Dan just stared ahead probably thankful to be driving. He very politely explained that he really liked James and thought I was just nervous about the wedding. It was dropped.

To this day he claims that he didn’t think my feeling at that time had anything to do with him necessarily. He thought I had pre-wedding jitters and he was just there.

I think that was my only cry for help. Something had to have tipped off my dad though because the last thing he said to me before we walked down the aisle was, “it isn’t too late.” Everyone was there, what did he mean it wasn’t too late? I thought he was making more of a joke and less of a legitimate way out. James and I got married. The wedding itself was a great time. The marriage, not so much. I really can’t fault James in anything. He was a good guy. He was good to me and tried hard to make it work. There was just no way it was going to. I was 19 when we got married, I did it out of feeling trapped and I didn’t love him enough. He could not have fixed any of that no matter how hard he tried.

I remember a few months after getting married I was at Trivium with a friend between classes and I said to her, “the only way out of this is for one of us to die. I really hope it’s me.”

I am sure it isn’t necessary to say this but my OCD was running wild during this time. My apartment had to be spotless at all times. The bed made, no dirty dishes ever and I vacuumed twice a day. Every thing in our cabinets were alphabetical with the labels facing front. The refrigerator was no better. This was all a way for me to feel in control of an out of control situation. This is also the first time I ever began to have a legitimate weight problem. I felt so hopeless that I completely gave up on myself physically. I ate anything and everything. Yes, on the bright side I did beat the anorexia (bad taste?). Seriously, I didn’t care about that anymore. As far as I could see it my life was now about just getting by. We had no money which goes without saying. Everything was a struggle. My intrusive thoughts got worse than I ever thought possible although not as bad as they would become years later. I would go over and over in my head that I was going to die. Every time James left the house I was sure he wouldn’t make it home. I didn’t want to be his wife but I certainly didn’t want anything to happen to him. It got to the point where I became obsessed with the fear that one of us was going to die. I had terrible insomnia sometimes not sleeping for days. I thought God was going to make me pay for all the bad things I had done and was going to kill someone I loved. When I did sleep the night terrors were so bad I woke up screaming sometimes in a cold sweat. There was no escape, I could not get my brain to stop torturing me. The only times I felt at ease was when Dan was over. For some reason his presence seemed to calm my brain but eventually my brain seemed to catch on and I became convinced that Dan was the one God was going to take to make me pay for my crimes. These thoughts bombarded me almost non stop for months.

Having a lot of people around also seemed to lessen the fear. We had a lot of friends they spent most of their time at our place. We had lots of parties because no one else had moved out of their parents’ house yet. Some of our friends were still in high school. I can’t say everything then was miserable, it wasn’t. I loved our friends and we all had a great time together but James and I were not happy.

This was the first time I ever drank and started to do it a lot but it didn’t really become too much of a problem because I didn’t really like the taste of anything enough to get very drunk. Not that I never did, but not very often. We did drink most days and our friends were like fish. When I say “we” I do not mean James. He never touched it. His dad was an alcoholic and James wasn’t willing to take any chance of going down that road. I don’t think I ever saw him take so much as a sip.

The most fun we would have was playing Magic (the Gathering), N64 or having a Grease sing-a-long. So, yes there was drinking and a lot of them smoked pot (I never tried it, the smell gave me a headache) we were also doing other fun stuff. We went on like this for about a year. Then everyone else who was still here left for college. It was left to Dan, James and I. We spent a lot of nights just the three of us. At some point Dan started to bring over a friend of his I knew from high school, Brad. The four of us would play Bond and watch the Indians (only Brad and I watch the games) or we would play poker. Dan and I would sit on the floor while the other two were on the couch and we would pass cards back and forth to each other cheating. This will become more ironic later in the story. For those of you who don’t know, Brad = husband number 2. So yes, it was me and my three husbands hanging out playing poker. (you can’t make this shit up!) If you think that is strange imagine how it feels to me looking back on it. With everyone else gone it became even more clear that the only reason we had made it that far was because of the other people around us acting as buffers. This was the beginning of the end.

First, my parents and James and I decided to move in together. This might sound odd but it is how it happened. My parents wanted to move and found a very nice duplex in Jackson but it was pretty expensive. So my mom and I decided that there was enough room for all of us and if we paid a little rent too it would be easier on them. We moved in with them. James and I were in contact with his family more and more even though they were horrible to me and made no bones about the fact that they. The feeling was mutual, no doubt.

I want to be writing about my big epiphany right now but I don’t know that I really had one. I think I just realized at some point that it was him or me. I was too young to have to face the rest of my life so unhappy. It wasn’t that we fought because we really didn’t. He wasn’t the fighting kind and I just didn’t care enough to fight with him. Finally, one day I just told him I didn’t want this any more. I wasn’t happy and the fact was we were nothing more than roommates. I know it hurt him deeply because I don’t think he was even aware of how miserable I was. He was the only one. I don’t think I told one person we were breaking up that was in the least bit surprised but it was a big shock to him.  By this time we had been married for about 18 months and lived together for about 2 years. I can probably count with my fingers the number of times we actually had sex in that time. I was 19-20, in my own place with a husband and having no sex. This wasn’t an indication? A week after our second anniversary the dissolution was final. James had moved back in with his parents who rewarded him with a big brand new truck, I am not kidding. I have not seen him since then. I do hope he has found happiness.

I want to point out one thing here. This whole marriage only took place because his horrid mother kicked him out. If she would have acted like a normal human being, the whole thing would have ended in about a week. Instead, it took two years and a lot of misery.

There are no pictures of this time, because I honestly don’t have any.

My life was starting over. I was still in school and loved every minute of it. I was thrilled that the marriage was over and finally thought that I might have a chance at a happy future. I had no idea who much more awful things were about to get.

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My Truth, Part 3

So, I am on to high school now. I am going to be covering this time as all one period instead of dealing with each grade. This is mostly because it was a long time ago and I don’t necessarily remember the timing that clearly but also because a lot of it spanned more than one year.

Most people from my high school probably remember me as friendly, outgoing and overly involved in extra curricular activities. All of this was true. (You may remember other things about me but I can’t speak to any of that.) I am one of those sad adults whose best times were when they were in high school. I hate to admit it but it is the truth. There are aspects of that person that I am desperate to get back but there are also a lot of things I am glad to have left behind me.

First, I am going to cover the boyfriends, for the most part. I look back on myself then and I think that I was probably a nightmare as a girlfriend. I apologize for that. I was insecure and jealous, I was often too busy to give of my time and my friends were always more important. Most of my friends probably thought of me as being very loving but a few boyfriends didn’t see me that way. I wasn’t able to easily fall in love and often refused to become very emotionally invested. I had 3 guys break up with me all citing the same thing; I wasn’t a very loving person. I think that is all in who you ask but this is something I have struggled with a lot since then. All and all, this is what I have to say about my relationships from that time; I was usually the one found lacking. I wasn’t always the one being dumped and I know I broke a few hearts. But the fault really was often my own. I was a teenager, that is really the only excuse I feel necessary to put forth. Generally, I was incredibly lucky to have dated some of the guys I did. Most of them were very kind, gentle and most importantly; funny. I did in some way or another love them all.  Were they all wonderful, hell no. There were a couple complete jerks that hurt me deeply and cruelly but those few are certainly the exception and I chose not to focus on them. I know I was a pain in the ass and worse yet I didn’t even put out (well not to 99% of you) and I am sure that to a teenage boy that made me even less appealing. Again, I am sorry. I couldn’t have been too bad because I did usually remain friends with almost every guy I dated and it is really that of which I am most proud.

Now I can’t talk about the boys I dated in high school and not mention the most important boy I never dated, my husband. Half of the people from high school just read that and think it is a typo but it isn’t, Dan and I never dated in high school. We were together a lot and yes, I did wear his class ring but we never dated. Strange, I know. Anyway, this fairy tale will unfold throughout the rest of the story but here is some general background. Dan and I met in middle school. Was it love at first sight? I have no idea. I honestly don’t recall the exact moment we met. At this point in my life it just feels like Dan as always been around. I do know for a fact that I did have a crush on Dan from the beginning as I have found hearts around his photo in more than one old yearbook as well as doodles of him in old diaries. We really became friends in 7th grade. He was one of the first boy’s bedroom I ever saw (hey, it was a big deal). We talked on the phone and went to each other’s houses a lot. We started a tradition our Freshman year that we do our Christmas shopping at the mall together. We have only missed 1 year since that started 18 years ago. He was my go to guy for opinions on how I was screwing up whatever current relationship I was in. Poor Dan had to listen to my boy problems and help me sort them out all the while wishing that I would open my eyes and see him. The fact was, I did see him. I saw him, very  clearly, but I didn’t think he felt the same way. To be fair, it isn’t like he ever asked me out or made any move on me at all. I, one the other hand, did try to make my feeling known. He still claims I wasn’t clear enough. After he broke up with this girl I got his class ring back from her and refused to give it back to him until he “made better dating decisions.” I have had it ever since. I wore that ring often while we were in school and was even dumped by a boyfriend because I wouldn’t take it off (I don’t blame him). I wrote Dan a poem one year. He thought it was lovely and kept it for many years but assumed it was only about friendship, apparently the title “I Love You” wasn’t clear enough. To give Dan’s argument: I never flat out asked him out nor did I do apparently the one thing he always dreamed of me doing (I mean dreamed literally) that would have shown my devotion to him; I never jumped on top of him and disrobed. Silly me.

Dan, Brian, Joey, Sherra and Me Last Day of Senior Year

The fact is, even though it does seem like a lot of wasted time it is certainly for the best that we didn’t date earlier. We wouldn’t have likely made it this far if we had. The thought of Dan being included in my earlier paragraph about the guys I dated in high school is more than I can stand. Dan is more than a paragraph in my life. He has been a main pillar of support to me for 20 years now. So, just keep in mind that through all of the rest of my story Dan was there. Not just in the background but an active part of my everyday life. How it transitioned to what it is now gets more bizarre than you can even imagine.

So, I get to high school and start to become very involved in just about everything.  It becomes clear to me that I can’t hide in the background anymore and by now I am ready to have the sun on my face, so to speak. I have amassed a group of friends that I completely adored and made me feel safe. I didn’t realize it at the time but they were the key to my dramatic transformation.  When you have a support system like that it makes it easier to stand on your own because you know that if you make a fool of yourself, while they will laugh, it will be with you instead of at you. I have always had a strong sense of humor which I “got honestly” through my family. My friends were the same. We all loved the ironic and found humor in just about everything. It was my a very close friend, Shannon, that first showed me a way of introducing actual intelligence into humor. She used words better than anyone I knew and I made it my mission to learn our language just to keep up with her. I can’t say she is the reason I became a writer but she is the reason I became obsessed with language and how to manipulate it. As I mentioned before, my friends were all smart and I didn’t think I measured up to them but I loved being around them and found them more interesting than anyone else. At my school the smart kids were a niche group just like the jocks or cheerleaders. Somehow, I was in the niche even if only by luck and association. This is important because they made me want to be better. They made me develop my thirst for knowledge. Before this I didn’t really care too much about the world around me. History and science were just classes to survive not something that I might find interesting and actually want to explore for just the pure joy of it. Unfortunately, I was too busy in high school to ever do so but that drive would stick with me and serve me well.

As I mentioned I did join a bunch of different groups in high school but 2 in particular took up the most of my time and had the greatest influence on me.  The first was called TI (Teen Institute). It was an anti- drug and alcohol organization. To say this group changed my life is a gross understatement. This is the primary force behind what built me up and made me so much more confident and outgoing.  What happened in a typical meeting was this: We would met in a large room with the entire group. We would talk about whatever was coming up and at times have a guest speaker. We would then break up into our smaller “family group” and would move to a different classroom for more privacy. The family group would have 2 co-leaders made up from the student elected Council. We would then talk about pretty much anything and everything. It was a safe place. (You will find many references to safe places throughout because I believe strongly in the vital importance of having them and the more the better.) I believe the council was 10 or 12 students. It was an honor to be on council. My first year I looked up to the council members. They would do skits and take turns talking in front of the group, with the help of the faculty advisor they ran the show. I thought there was no way I could ever do that. I was getting more brave but to stand up in front of everyone and act goofy, not happening. That is until the next year when I was voted on the Council were I remained until graduation. Not only did I join the Council at my school but was also elected to the County Board which was made up of about 8-10 students from different schools in the county. We got together and basically did the same things as my school’s Council but on a bigger scale. Every year (possibly twice a year I don’t recall) students from around the different schools went to a week long camp. The County Board performed what was called a “Medicine Show” (a group of skits) and were responsible for Family Group and basically ran the whole thing with the help of more advisors. I did this for 2 years. One of the years my group was so popular that a few of the local schools asked us to perform the show at their lock-in which was an annual sleep over at the school. So, we traveled around doing lock-ins for that year. Once all the lock-ins were done. It was decided that the local mall was going to set up a stage and allow us to perform there for shoppers. Two students were going to be chosen to head the show. You guessed it, I was one of them. The other was a close friend, Kristen.  Also, my Junior year I was sent to Columbus to represent my area in the state-wide gathering. Things for me had certainly changed.  It is clear to see how much I changed and how much more fearless and comfortable in my own skin I had begun to become. Not only was I performing in front of people but I had a very strong leadership role.  I found out then that being a leader was something that did come naturally to me and I enjoyed it greatly.

The other life altering group was called Young Life it was a Christian organization. Because it couldn’t be directly connected with the school we met at students’ houses. Every week a map to the next meeting was left in the main office where we could pick it up. First, this obviously went a long way to helping me learn my way around town when I got my license which is the least of what this group had to offer me. Young Life was by far the most time consuming part of my high school life. We met twice a week. Tuesday night for “Campaign” which was a small group with a more concentrated Bible study and Thursday night for “Club” which was the big event. We had usually pretty large groups 20-50. We started with a few songs. The first 3 were something fun and upbeat, usually not religious based at all, the next 3 still upbeat but a little more serious then the last 3 full on Jesus freak. Then would would be a goofy skit, usually with a meaning sometimes not at all. Then the speaker would get up and do a mini sermon not usually more than a few minutes. We would pray and that was it. Well, usually then we would all go to Taco Bell. We also got together often on the weekends to do whatever was off the wall and fun anything from mall hide and go seek, Chinese fire-drills and flying cars. Unless it was warm then we were at the park playing beach volleyball (a Young Life favorite.) We were absolutely a family. In the summer we got together nearly everyday but this time with other schools in the area. Between Young Life and TI I ended up with a great many friends from all around the area not just in my little world at Jackson. Young Life did do major outings.  Twice a year we did weekend trips and every summer we had a week long out of state summer camp. I lived for these. We were a very physical group. We did white water rafting, hiking, dirt bikes, ropes course (as seen in the picture of Shannon and me hanging from a tree). The camps had water skiing, para-sailing, tubing, canoing, zip lining it was the most physical I had ever been or ever would probably be in my life. At camp we would meet other kids from all over. I became particularly close to a guy from Canada one year and we continued to write to each other for 4 years until he started college. The basis behind Young Life was always religion but the spirit of it was having a wholesome good time with like minded friends. Young Life really introduced me to myself for the first time. It made me not afraid of the world or of pushing myself.

I can’t mention Young Life and not go into religion. Especially considering the great impact this has had on my life and who I am as a person. My mom was raised in a Catholic family but I don’t think it ever really stuck with her. My dad, on the other hand, was very full of faith. I used that expression instead of religious because I do think there is a difference. My dad was the type of Christian that I wish all Christians could be and I think they should be. (If they have to be at all.) He believed strongly in God and Jesus. He felt he had a personal relationship with God and lived accordingly.  He was kind, gentle, loving, forgiving, humble and gracious. He was strong willed but open minded. He didn’t look down on anyone and didn’t judge. My dad practiced his religion with his whole heart but felt no need to chastise any one whose belief’s were not similar. He believed in Christianity as being the one true way for him but accepted that it didn’t work for everybody.

We attended church every week but I can’t say it meant much to me. It wasn’t until Young Life that I started to really believe. It wasn’t until I heard those hymns and stories and read the Bible that I began to become completely immersed in the faith. I too felt a deep and direct connection with my God and His son. I cried at the thought of Jesus on that cross for me. I prayed daily. I read my Bible cover to cover 3 times. I walked around school in my “witness” t-shirts and no way, I was not ashamed. I did get a lot of flak for them but I just felt more pride in what I was doing. Again, through Young Life I had a strong support team behind me so no one could hurt me.

My faith stayed strong after high school and into college. I became the Youth Director at my church. I read my Bible everyday and leaned on God when times were tough. My religion dictated a lot of my life and even lead me to some poor decisions. I don’t blame my religion for them, mind you, they were my decisions but they were made based on my religious beliefs.

When my dad found out that he had pancreatic cancer and that there was basically no hope he found great comfort in his belief in an afterlife. I did too. I would sit with him on his hospital bed in the living room and read passages from scripture. He would close his eyes and smile.  When he died I felt that on some level he would still be around. I could talk to him and he would hear me. This belief is not uncommon among Christians. Eventually, I began to notice that I was no longer praying to God, I was praying to my dad. I completely pushed God aside and my dad had taken His place. This realization shook me up and I became uncomfortable with what was happening. The real fact of it was that ever since college I was having a difficult time getting my head around the acceptance of my religious beliefs and with the new scientific world which I had just discovered. I struggled a lot with finding a way for the two to co-exist. As I began to think that it may not be possible for me to do that is when my dad got sick. The only way I could survive this was to push my doubts aside and focus on the situation at hand and cling to whatever comfort I could find, which was God. But after I noticed that God had slipped out of the center of my daily thoughts to be replaced by the pain and desperate desire to have my dad back it became harder to ignore the things deep within me.

It was clear that my mom was also finding great comfort in church and I was happy to join along for awhile. As I would sit there listening to my minister, doubt kept creeping in. I was constantly reminding myself of what a Young Life leader had once told me.

“So, what if none of it is true? What if it’s all a lie?” I asked.

“Even if it is this still isn’t a bad way to live.”

I kept holding on to the “isn’t a bad way to live” part. No, it wasn’t. It is a great comfort to think there is someone out there watching over you. Someone to talk to whenever you are alone. Someone who will be there to greet you when you die and to promise that it actually only gets better from there. But that doesn’t make any of it true or real. I was desperate to find a way to stop these feelings in me. I wanted to believe. Why on earth would I want to give all that up?

So, I decided to dedicate myself even more. I signed up for Master’s program at Ashland Seminary. I figured since my brain had gotten me into this mess I was going to use it to prove to myself without a doubt that there was a God and that everything I believed was true. I needed it to be true.

Well, by the end of my second semester I was pretty much certain that it wasn’t. None of it. I dropped out of Ashland and enrolled back at Kent. It was now, not right after my dad died, that I began to let go of God. I tried with all desperation to hold on. I didn’t simply get pissed off like an insulate child at God because He took my dad. I truly had already begun to lose faith. I pushed it aside for as long as I could but the truth became more and more clear to me. I didn’t have a hissy fit and say “Fine then!” and stomp my feet and cross my arms and turn my back on anything. The process of letting go was a long and very painful one. I struggled and fought to hold on for as long as I could but you can’t make yourself believe something is real if you just don’t. There was no malice or anger on my part, it was just a matter of no longer believing in something. I know this reference tends to piss off religious people and I don’t mean it with disrespect from my point of view it really is the same as no longer believing in Santa or the Easter bunny. I just don’t believe anymore and it really was like losing a friend.

The most ironic part of all of this is that until I became an atheist I was never afraid to tell someone my religious beliefs. In all my time as a full fledged Jesus freak I never felt so hated or looked down on as I do when someone finds out that I am an atheist.  I have people who found out and no longer speak to me, including family. I don’t believe that would have been my dad’s reaction to someone. Also, people tend to forget that I know what Christianity is and what it is supposed to be and I have a lot of trouble seeing it in many people these days when they hear where I stand. I never try to push my beliefs onto anyone else. After having been a believer and knowing the pain in letting go I would never want to take that from someone else. However, one thing I can not abide nor respect are “Christians” who feel they have some God-given right to judge or condemn. I know what it is all supposed to be about and that is not it and it never was for me or my dad. So if you are a believer then more power to you I respect having that faith and I didn’t let go of it willingly but remember that it is meant to have a foundation in love of all.

I hate to jump out of something so heavy abruptly but I promised not to let this take too long to finish so there are a few more things I want to cover today. Which means we are flashing back to high school again.

While I was in high school my counting continued. It didn’t worsen but it continued. I started to add to it even more obsessive behavior. It started with what are called “intrusive thoughts”. Basically, my brain would think things over and over without my having control over them. These weren’t nice things either. No rainbows or chocolate bunnies. No, I was thinking horrible things. Overwhelming fears that I was going to die or that something horrible was going to happened to people I love. It was around this time that the night terrors began and are something I still deal with regularly. It is also when my weight issues got completely out of my control. Ironically, it was then that I actually felt most in control of it but that was because I have OCD and defined control differently.  I was anorexic. There is no more polite way of saying it. I didn’t count my calories then but I am guessing I didn’t clock in at more than 500-700 a day, if that. I only drank water and usually only ate an apple and a few wheat thins every day. I would pick at food if I was with friends but rarely actually ate much of it. Most of the time I was in high school, my weight stayed around 100-110 lbs. The real insane part of it; I, at no point, thought of myself as being anything other than fat. On a good day I might downgrade to overweight.

Me being "fat" freshman year

Me being "huge" sophomore year

junior year

You can tell from the pictures that only a twisted view of one’s self could make that girl think she was fat. Well, that is pretty much what is was. No matter what, I did I couldn’t think of myself as being anything other than heavy. I already had it in my head that I was fat and there was no telling me otherwise. This is how the anorexia crept in. No, I did not one day think to myself, I am just going to stop eating. It doesn’t work like that. I started off just cutting down what I ate which can be a perfectly fine way to lose weight but not when you have OCD. What happens then with OCD is I have the overwhelming urge to be perfect at it. How can I do this better? How much can I control this? Slowly, it pushes you more and more until you only think you are in control. No disorder in the world is better named than OCD. It really is an obsession and a complusion. I could not see that I was doing anything wrong. I thought I was in complete control of everything that went into my mouth. I knew I had lost weight which only confirmed in my head that I was doing the right thing. In our world the reality is simple to a teenage girl; thin = good fat = bad. It didn’t matter how you got there. I know it may seem contradictory to be saying I was so much more confident but at the same time anorexic which is basically the epitome of self-loathing but it was two different things to me. Because for me the anorexia wasn’t just an emotional issue it was steeped in the OCD. The constant drive for perfection and control. I got very sick my junior year and my dad started to realize what was going on. I think my parents believed I was losing weight because I was so busy and active. But when I started passing out and losing my hair my dad knew something more was wrong. He confronted me about it and I could see the fear in his eyes. We agreed for me to go to a therapist but that only lasted a few sessions. I wasn’t very open with her and I don’t know that she ever realized the presence of the OCD. I think to her I was a teenage girl with anorexia so it must be for all the same reasons as every other teenage girl with anorexia. I don’t think she said much to change my thinking but one thing did, the hair loss. I know it sounds odd but losing my hair freaked me out more than being fat. As soon as I knew that was a possibility I started to straighten up but not much. I gain 10 lbs by my senior year and was okay with it but still kept a very close eye on my intake. Even today when I decide to lose weight I can feel the impulse to eat less and less. I know that I have to be constantly vigilant with my anorexia, it is still so close under the surface. Only a few weeks ago I caught myself going days with not eating more than 500 calories, intentionally. My brain tells me that it is a show of control and that less is better because I will lose it faster. I am a pretty smart person and I know my head is lying to me but the obsession and compulsion is so strong. It is a constant struggle.

Senior picture

Two important things happened that would effect/ruin the rest of my life. (Okay, that is being a little dramatic).

After I turned 18 my senior year I found out that because of medical reasons the Air Force didn’t want me. I was shocked and devastated. I didn’t know what to do. That was my plan. Anyone who knows me knows that you don’t mess with my plan. Really, it was obvious that it just meant that I had to skip that part and move on to college but my plan had been screwed with and it had me in a bit of a tailspin.

I started to shift my focus to colleges but had no idea how I was going to pay for it. Yes, I had my 34 but since I didn’t much pay attention to the school part of high school my grades were dismal. I was a social butterfly, baby. That was what school was for me. I did get accepted into all the colleges I applied to but to be honest I wasn’t really shooting for the stars there either. I had my choice down to two;  Notre Dame (of Ohio) or Allegheny College in Pa. So, how did I end up at Kent State? How else? There was this guy…

Alright, so my junior or senior year I got my first job working at Fuddrucker’s. I admit that I did love it but it ended up changing my life, not for the good, more than a typical first job. It was here that I met my first husband, James. First husband? Yes, Dan is actually number 3.

* Ironic tidbit, Dan was in all 3 of my weddings. I just took him a couple tries to get himself standing in the right spot.

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My Truth, Part 2

So here comes part 2, if you didn’t read part 1 yet, close your eyes and scroll all the way down. Otherwise, here we go.

As I am sure you have noticed my mentions of 6th grade as if it was going to be a turning point, it was. I can’t pinpoint any one reason for this. It may have been because I was now in the middle school which in our area was a combination of all 3 elementary schools. Maybe it was because it was then that I started to grasp the concept of boys (not the truth of them just the basic concept). Or it may have been because it was when I was first starting to establish real friendships. It was probably a little bit of all of them.

Here is a brief look at how I was spending my time. At school I was trying not to be noticed. All I wanted to do was to slip into the background and be let alone, not completely alone but just enough. After school I was transitioning from hanging out in the neighborhood on my bike to spending more time on the phone. On the weekend there was The Skatery (guess what we did there). It was the closest thing to The Max (Saved by the Bell reference) that we had in Jackson. I was always there on skate night and was quite good. I was even on the speed skating time for a bit. Of course, like any good hang out, you didn’t really go to skate. No, we were there for one reason, the boys. They acted like they were there to skate but I know now they were just there for one reason, us. Yes, it was through The Skatery that I got my first boyfriend, Eric. But that wouldn’t be for another couple of years.

There was another transition happening in my life at this time. I had been best friends with a girl who lived across the street from us, Amy. She was a couple of years older than me and until this point it really didn’t seem to matter. However, when you are in 8th grade and about to start high school it becomes harder to have a best friend who was still in the middle school. She had discovered boys long before I did and her older friends were tolerant of me but it wasn’t the same. We started to drift apart. It happened very naturally and slowly so it wasn’t too painful but I think of her often and she was a big influence in my life.

Now, this is the time that the best friend I ever had came into my life. Her name was Jill and we were hatched from the same egg (or so my dad would claim). We were inseparable.

Myself and Jill in 8th grade

She was the first friend I ever had that truly became my safe place. It was through this relationship that I learned the importance of having that one person who understood me and was fine with me being exactly who I was. There was no pretending with her. I was just me and she loved me as I was. Jill was the first person not of relation that I truly loved.

Middle school was an interesting time for me. In some ways I was coming to my own and in other ways I was becoming more and more self conscious as I was seeing how important physical beauty was going to be in life. I was also feeling that I was incredibly lacking in that area. In reality I wasn’t the ugly duckling but I certainly wasn’t a swan either. I fell somewhere in the middle but if you would have asked me at the time I would have sworn that I was akin to Quasimodo. This is also the time that my very distorted view of myself began to hinder the person I wanted to be. I wanted to walk down the halls with my head up.  I wanted to look people in the eye. I wanted to raise my hand in class when I knew the question and I certainly wished I had the courage to admit when I didn’t understand something. But it wasn’t until high school that I would be able to do those things.

Now if you ask just about anyone who knows me how I feel about math you will get a resounding, “UGH!”  Math was the enemy to me all through school. Well, let me be more clear, from middle school on, math was my arch nemesis. I make the distinction because I was perfectly average in math before that point. What changed? Two things. My 6th grade math teacher was strangely obsessed with that damned over-head projector. Second, my mom thought I was a liar looking for attention. As you wonder what the hell I am talking about let me set the scene a little more.

At some point in school they provided little eye exams for the students. I don’t know for certain if they did that in grade school but I do know they did it in middle school. Sixth grade to be certain. I recall this so clearly because I didn’t do so hot. I had very bad eyesight. This was something I didn’t even realize because I never had good eyesight and since I don’t know what the world looks like through other people’s eyes how was I supposed to know it looked any clearer than through mine? Well, the school eye people knew it and send an urgent letter home to my parents explaining that I had terrible vision. How did my mom respond to this? She got angry, very angry…with me. She claimed that I lied through the whole test and that I didn’t really need glasses. I was just trying to get attention and that there would be no more talk of it. Again, anyone who really knew me at the time would have known that the last thing in the world I wanted was attention. As you can see from the picture above I did eventually glasses. That was only after my dad started to notice that I couldn’t see worth a crap and often would hand him the wrong thing when he asked me to get him something. So in 8th graded I picked out the bitchin’ red rimmed glasses that the girl from Life Goes On wore. However, by then I had already gone through two years of math without being able to see anything the teacher was talking about. No one ever made the connection. I got no additional help or was ever able to make it up. I simply never learned. I was behind in math the rest of my learning career. Even in college, I usurped taking math classes for as long as I could. When I finally did take my logic class the teacher assumed I was a natural at math and was shocked to hear how much I had struggle with it. It would be until just a few years ago why he would have thought that. But I am certain my troubles had less to do with natural ability and more to do with the way that math builds on itself and since I completely missed out on two important years of it I could cacth up.  This did have a huge impact on me as a person. I felt inadequate when it came to learning, not just math. I assumed that my lack of ability in math was a sign of a lack of overall mental acuity. I basically thought that I must just not be very smart. This stuck with me for many years in school until my Sophomore year in high school. Even after that really.

I had my life planned out from an early age. I was going to join the Air Force out of high school then go to college when I got out. It was that simple. The only thing I had to do to prepare for that while I was in high school was to survive school and take the ACT.  Most of my friends were pretty smart and I was usually pretty intimidated around them. I rarely knew what they were talking about and thought they all assumed I was only marginally intelligent. I just figured they knew better than I did so it must be. I never thought I was stupid but I also knew I wasn’t at the level of Andrew, Rachel, Yod, Jordan and Shannon.  So, I mostly just kept quiet when they got all smart on me. Now, that I look back on it I am not sure that they really felt the way about me as I interpreted it at the time. I think now that they were including me in these conversations because they did think I was bright and could contribute to them.  But at the time I thought they were just talking to each other while I was in the vicinity. Anyway, back to it. I knew I needed to take the ACT but didn’t really plan to worry about it until later. But my good friend Josh convinced me that it would be a good idea to take it our Sophomore year so we could get familiar with it and then take it again Junior year with a good chance to increase our score. This made sense and Josh was a smart one so I trusted that this was a good plan. I looked at this as basically recon, I was just going to see the test, get a feel for it and then be ready to take it again next year. So, I didn’t study at all. The score wasn’t important this time around so I wasn’t going to stress about it. Josh and I went together to take the test and I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I chuckled to myself when I got to the dreaded math because some of them I couldn’t even tell what they wanted from me or sure but muddled my way through to come up with an answer that they actually had as an option.  After the test, I called my boyfriend, Alex and was giving him the rundown on how it went.

“What is sin and cos?” I asked. I pronounced them sin (as in as sin against God) and cos ( as in the first syllable in Bill Cosby’s last name).

He just kept repeating “sin and cos, sin and cos? Where was that in the test?”

“In the math section, s-i-n and c-o-s”

“Oh! You mean sign and co-sign?”

I knew right then this test didn’t go very well. Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later the results arrived. Alex, opened the envelope with one arm around me and told me not to worry about it. His eyes scanned the page over and over not saying a word. He just kept mumbling “This can’t be right, this is impossible.” Finally, he looked up at me and said, “My God, you got a fucking 35.” I was frozen. I was thinking in my head, “What does that mean?” I knew full well already that the high score was either a 35 or 36 but couldn’t recall for certain. I started to doubt my own sanity. Suddenly, I thought that perhaps it actually was out of 100 but I knew that wasn’t true and I certainly wouldn’t have done so bad out of 100. I just couldn’t make sense of what was happening or what he was saying. I got a 35. 35 out of what!? I just could not remember. Deep down I knew that was incredible but I couldn’t let myself believe it. I was sure I was getting it mixed up in my head. He handed me the paper and I stared at the percentiles. I was in something like the top 1% for the state. I still just couldn’t get my head around it. Top 1%, that’s good right? Or wait, that wasn’t average so maybe that was bad. I couldn’t think.  But I could tell from Alex’s response that his shock was not because I had done poorly.  By this point he kept saying, “She doesn’t even know sign and co-sign.”

This was the very first indication in my life that I might actually be kind of smart. Sadly, I was still a stupid teenager and didn’t realize what this could mean for my future. Instead, I swore Alex to secrecy and lied to my friends about it. I don’t remember what I told them. I know it was something high enough to explain why I wasn’t going to take it again next year but left it at that. Of course, the high school knew about it because the scores were sent to them and they went into a frenzy wanting to sign me up forAP everything. I would have to be in class with my smart friends. Part of my thought it would be nice to know what they were talking about but mostly I was sure I wasn’t as smart as any of them and would sink.  I insisted that I couldn’t handle the work load and stayed where I was comfortable. The rest of my high school career and the first few semesters of college I was convinced that my score was a fluke so I never tried to capitalize on it in any way. I had no idea then that having my brain be my best asset was perfectly acceptable.

Back to middle school. I stayed safely in my little shell most of the time. I really only came out when Jill drug me out. She was much more self confident and out going. She was also about the funniest person I had ever known. She liked doing things and being involved. I didn’t mind so long as she was with me and I wasn’t being noticed. Jill and I pretty much went through middle school attached at the hip.  So much so that even to this day if you ask people we went to school with particulars about either one of us they will get us confused. Jill played volleyball and the flute. I never did either but people still think that was me. It is a natural assumption, I can see why it happens.

Jill taking a picture of me taking a picture of her

So, I can’t talk about Jill and me and not mention one of our most notorious ideas. Actually, it is only notorious with our families because we didn’t really ever want to admit it to the rest of the world. First, I want to start by blaming this whole thing on my friend Chrissy. This may sound convoluted but trust me it was her fault.

Here is how it went. I was also friends with a girl in my neighborhood, Chrissy. She was just like me in so many ways, she not overly girly, loved animals, was very physical and we got along great. Chrissy decided she wanted to take Tae Kwon Do but wanted me to take it with her. I was totally on board. I knew I wanted to learn to be more assertive and thought this would be perfect. Well, the classes were too expensive and my parents sad it couldn’t happen. Now, I can’t say for sure how this worked out on Jill’s end but at the same time (maybe to cheer me up, maybe for different reasons) Jill or possibly her mom got the great idea that we should take some sort of class together. A cheaper, less physical one. I don’t know which came first; the idea to take a class or this class in particular. Honestly, I think that it may have even started out as a joke. Either way, we signed up for it… charm school. Yes, you read it right. We were going to take classes for charm. Stop laughing. No, I am not making this up not even I am that good of a fictionalist. Jill and I were going to charm school.  What did I learn in charm school? Two things; I would never walk in high heels with a book on my head and that Jill could have a filthy mouth when she tried walking in high heals with a book on her head. I also learned that as long as there was someone you loved with you anything could be fun, even charm school.

It was around this time in middle school that I started counting. I don’t know if there is a more clinical term for it. Basically, what happens is my head becomes obsessed with counting. I say my head because when this happens I do feel very disconnected from my brain. Like it is pulling me to something I don’t want. It didn’t become a real tug-of-war until later in my life. At this point, I just allowed it to happen. I did get annoyed with the whole thing but mostly surrendered to it. I became preoccupied with even and round numbers. I am not sure if I can properly explain this to someone whose brain doesn’t do this to them. Stacks of things have to be in even piles. If it is a multiple of 10 than that is even better. I had to open and close doors at least twice. If it happened 3 times I had to do it once more to make it 4.  (I want to quickly point out that throughout this discussion you will notice my tense change, sometimes it will be past tense sometimes it will be present tense. I am a good enough writer to know this is a no-no but it is because some of these obsessions are still with me and some I have overcome.) I also noticed that this is when I started to do a lot of number factoring in my head. If I saw two numbers, like a score, I would feel the compulsion to factor the two numbers. I needed to see them in my head as being round numbers. I always had to know how far away a number was from being a factor of 10. So, if I saw a score of 17, 26 I would be physically and mentally ill at ease with the number 17. 26 was ok, I would rather it be 30 but I can handle 26. But 17, I want to add 3. I know this probably sounds completely insane and I have no explanation for it. It isn’t just when I look at a number it is when I see a stack of something or a row of things or even a group of any kind. Something in me needs it to be a comfortable number. This constant adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing and even factoring has actually made me a better math student then most people would ever think. I often surprise my husband, the human calculator, at how often I am faster than he is when it comes to this simple math. Now you throw in an equation and I am lost but you give me a number and I can work it any which way for you and fast. When this all first started I had no idea what it was or that it meant anything. I had never heard of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I really just thought that my brain worked weird. This was the beginning of one of the greatest challenges of my life. I had no idea then how this disease would eventually take over my life to the point of causing me to attempt suicide multiple times before seeking professional help and realizing that this was in fact a disease. Much more on this later but this was the beginning.

Now middle school went by fairly quickly with Jill and I staying mostly out of trouble and getting by pretty well unnoticed. But I could tell things were going to change. Jill liked to be out there and involved and I just wanted to hang on to her. She had an older brother who made Jill privy to the fact that in high school there was a club for everything and I could tell from the way she talked about them that she planned on joining them all. Well, anything Jill was going to do I was there. I don’t want it to sound like she forced me into all this. By the time we started high school she had me pretty excited about it all too and I was completely on board.  Freshman year we signed up for everything we could manage into our schedule. PGP (People for a Greener Planet), TI (Teen Institute an anti drug and alcohol group), Young Life (a Christian group), Polar Bear Backers (school spirit group) and I know there were more. We didn’t stick with all of them but we tried everything out that first year.

Part of the reason for this turn around for me certainly was Jill but that wasn’t all. A couple of other huge life changes happened to me my 8th grade year that made me look at the world and my life very differently.

As I have mentioned my dad suffered from Crohn’s disease. When he was diagnosed not a lot was well understood about the disease or what caused it.  I was diagnosed almost 30 year after he had been and honestly it was still pretty sketchy. All I knew at the time was that no one ever knew what I was talking about when I said my dad had Crohn’s and that there were a lot of things my dad couldn’t eat because of it. No nuts, no popcorn, no corn, very rarely could he have salad, things like that. I also knew that it meant that at any time (seemingly out of the blue) he could get sick and end up in the hospital often having surgery. It seemed like it happened must around the holidays. One Christmas and one Easter he had to be rushed to the hospital.

Dad sick at a holiday, ended up in the hospital the next day

I was young and just didn’t know that much about it. Then, when I was in 8th grade and my brother was a senior in high school my dad got very sick. He lost a bunch of weight and was in the hospital. I gathered from conversations that there was a surgery called an Ileostomy which was supposed to make him better but he didn’t want it. My mom wanted him to have it. I didn’t know anything about it but it seemed clear to me that he should do whatever was going to make him better. Most people have heard of a Colostomy. It is the same basic idea but they remove your ileum instead of your colon. It is just a different part of your digestive system. The result being about the same, you have to wear a bag. Yeah, it is just want you are thinking, you have to wear a bag to collect your waste. I didn’t know this then so I didn’t understand why my dad wasn’t in a hurry to sign up for this. Now, as someone who has faced the possibility of having this same surgery and knowing there is still the possibility I could face it again in my future I have a much better understand of his apprehension. But let me say this, he never regretted having the surgery. Yes, the bag sucked but it improved his life and his Crohn’s so much that it was well worth it for him. It is also the reason that during my first surgery when they said it was possibly necessary and that I could wake up with a bag I told them to do whatever needed to be done. During this whole time with my dad being off work and very sick another disaster struck.

My mom found a lump on her breast. After having it checked out it was determined to be cancer. So, to recap, I am in 8th grade my brother is about to graduate high school, my dad is very sick and in need of a major surgery and my mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say this will change a person. I know that I don’t have all of what happened at the time completely straight, it was emotional and terrifying and a jumbled in my head. I can tell you most of it though. My dad decided to have the surgery I think in part to just get better so he could be there for my mom. When Crohn’s flares it cause an infection which has to be gotten under control before surgery. When mom was diagnosed this is the stage dad was in at the time, getting the infection under control. Mom had to have a Mastectomy and chemo, I can’t remember if she had radiation or not. I am not sure of all the timing but I do know for sure that there was a time when they were both in the hospital at the same time. The reason timing is unclear is because the chemo nearly killed my mom and she ended up back in the hospital. I think it was then that my dad was having surgery. Dad was up at the Cleveland Clinic and mom was down here at Aultman or Mercy. So it was just Sean and I.  He held us together.

Mom during chemo, she looked good bald but hated it

I remember spending a lot of time at my friends’ houses. I spent almost a week with my friend Christen and a was at Jill’s house a lot. I am not sure if my parents arranged all that or not but it seemed to me I was just always with one of them. My brother was completely in charge of taking care of me and for a high school senior I am sure it was not what he wanted to be doing but he did. This was the setting for another formative moment in my life. A simple conversation that I will never forget.

Sean and I were eating a lot of hospital food those days. One of the times we were having our dinner in a hospital cafeteria while both parents were in their respective hospital beds. Sean said to me, “Are you scared?”

“Yes,” I cried, thinking that I could lose both of my parents. All I could think about was all those foster kids. I had pitied them and now I was on the verge of becoming one of them. At that point we weren’t very close with many of my family because most of them didn’t live around us. I didn’t think any of them would want to take me in. I was going to be alone out there in the world.

“Me too,” I was surprised he was so honest about it. “But I have thought about it and if we lose them I will take care of you.”

I don’t know when in the year it was but Sean was 18 in February. He made it clear that no matter what it took I was not going into the system and no one else was taking me away from him. He was going to raise me. I think I mumbled a “thank you” or “good” or “okay” I am not sure what I said. To be honest, at the time, it did make me feel safer but the magnitude of it wasn’t able to sink in. I was too young to really understand what my brother had just declared to me, how much selfless love he had just shown. He had just told me that he was in essence going to but aside his own life and future for me. Thankfully, it didn’t come down to that but I know without a doubt that he would have done it. He definitely would have.

Sean’s graduation, you can tell she is wearing a wig

You may wonder why it would be up to my brother to take care of  me at such a young age. Well, when it came to my extended family it was…complicated. Let’s start with mom’s side. She was on of 6. Two boys, four girls. Her childhood was never as carefree as mine had been. Her parents drank and there was some level of at least certainly emotional abuse. She rarely talked about her childhood and what I do know of it has been relayed from my aunts. This is only my understanding of it. I don’t know if there was any actual physical abuse but I have no doubt there was emotional abuse from both grandparents. I do know that when she told them she was pregnant they basically threw her out. They didn’t speak for some time but I don’t know for how long. I always remember her parents being in my life so it was before I was born. But her parents lived in town not far from us yet I rarely saw them any time other than holidays. They were not outwardly affectionate. I never heard either of them say they loved me or ever hug me. I was never allowed to spend the night at their house. If you pissed of my mom’s mom she would cut you out of her life in a flash. This applied to her own children and even her grandchildren. I remember being in school and knowing everything as I did at the time I was talking to her about my history or government lesson. I was pleased to announce that I had learned that income tax was technically unconstitutional. This was apparently an  unforgivable comment because she didn’t speak to me for 3 years. I was a teenager and my grandmother didn’t speak to me for 3 years. It was always made very obvious when she wasn’t speaking to you. She would walk around you to greet other people. I couldn’t figure out what horrible thing a person could possibly do to make their own grandmother hate them. I didn’t make the connection to that conversation until years late when she told me that was what it was all about. I just thought I was a person to be hated. Something about me was awful, my teenage logic told me it must have been my weight. Like my mom, she was embarrassed by me.

My mom’s parents and Me at my graduation party

My mom’s dad was different, to me. He was a born salesman and would try to convince you of the most outlandish things. If you have ever seen the movie Big Fish, that was my grandfather. We always had to get confirmation from my grandmother as to which stories were true.  He was an alcoholic plain and simple but I didn’t know this for years. I did notice that he took the trash out a lot when we were over but I never made the connection. He was always fun and upbeat when I was around him.

I have all good memories of him. Believe it or not the best is from the day he died. It sounds so awful but it was truly one of the most clear expressions of love I ever got from him. It was late February 2003. I had already lost my dad and grandpa Clark. Grandpa Boylan was in the veteran’s

Grandpa Boylan & Me

hospital in Cleveland for what I thought started out as a bad cold or something. Within a few days it seemed he was dying. There was nothing more they could do for him. I am still not clear on the how events lead to this. The decision was made that it was time to turn off his pacemaker. It was February 27, my birthday. He was pretty much comatose and we weren’t sure he could hear any of us but we kept talking to him. Everyone that walked in the room, practically, told him that it was my birthday. At noon they brought in the machine and turned it off. We were told he would be gone in about 45 minutes to an hour tops. We were huddled around his bed crying and holding on to him saying goodbye. Hour after hour went by but he was hanging on. Nurses and doctors kept coming into the room in awe that he was still alive. We waited. I was fully preparing myself that my grandfather was going to die on my birthday. After a very long emotionally draining day of staring at his monitors without them changing one bit my aunt looked up at the clock and said, “Well, Lisa it is 12:15 your birthday is over.”  Within about 1 minute after her saying that out loud he began to crash. He was gone before 1 am, February 28. I don’t believe in much but you will never convince me that he didn’t hold on for me.

My dad’s parents were very different from my mom’s parents. Here is a prime example and a cute story. One of the times one of my parents were in the hospital my mom’s dad showed up in a suit and tie. I don’t think I had ever seen him dressed like this for such a casual occasion. Apparently, someone else noticed too and asked what it was all about. He replied, “Well, every time I see Max (my grandpa Clark) he’s dressed like this so I thought I should be too.” I think that speaks volumes about both of my grandfathers. My grandpa Boylan’s humor and my grandpa Clark’s dressing habits at least.  When I was young my dad’s parents lived in Columbus so we didn’t see much of them. I don’t know at what age the moved back to Canton but I was probably in grade school so it wasn’t much of my life that they were away. My parents were closer to my dad’s parent than my mom’s. While I do know that they weren’t much more thrilled with the pregnancy and elopement it does seem to me that they handled it much better than the Boylan’s. The thing about the Clark’s is that they weren’t overly affectionate either, again not much hugging or “I love you”‘s. I think the word “repressed” would fit in nicely. My mom’s family were Irish Catholic. If there wasn’t screaming, yelling and crying then something was up. But with my dad’s family it was just the opposite. If someone rubbed you the wrong way, shut up and keep it to yourself. Be polite and smile and for heaven’s sake don’t case a scene or stir the pot. My husband is always amazed when I tell stories of our childhood Christmases. A gift was given out, the receiver read the tag aloud  everyone watched as that person opened their gift, we all oooed and aaaaed over it, a proper “thank you” was given and the gift was put aside. Even the children followed this procedure. It may sound incredibly dull to most people but to be honest, I much prefer it that way to how I have seen other family’s. We go to Dan’s parents’ house and it is so insane I get physically uncomfortable. No one knows what is going on, gifts are flying through the room, people don’t even know who gave them what (which really annoys me). It is pandemonium. I hate it. Give me my slow, proper Clark Christmas any day.

Every year had the Clark Christmas family photo

We would spend the night with my dad’s parent on occasion and grandpa Clark would always make his “special” pancakes. I am sure it was probably just Bisquick but they were special to me. It was my grandpa Clark that I credit with helping to first develop my love for reading and books. I remember sitting on his lap with my head on his chest listening to the reverberation in his rib cage as he read to me, the table-side lamp hot on the top of my head. I still like to read very close to a lamp even though I don’t necessarily need the light. He died 8 weeks after my dad of the same disease. I was there with him. He just slowly drifted away very peacefully. It was the first time I saw someone I love die. But it wouldn’t be the last. Not even close.

Grandma & Grandpa Clark

High school is when everything changed for me. After everything my family just survived we were closer than ever. My mom changed so much then too. She completely backed off with the weight but the damage was already done. She seemed to have a new lease on life and was seeing a therapist. I think she realized she couldn’t go to her grave with all the lasting effects of her childhood still holding her down. By the end of the summer after my 8th grade, I was starting high school a whole new person with a much closer and healthier family. But the past was not as far behind me as I thought.

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My Truth, Part 1

As many of you have noticed I have been away for awhile. Aside from a few book reviews, I haven’t had much to say lately. The reason is because I wasn’t sure what to say. Some of my readers are friends who have some understanding as to what has been going on in my personal life while others are strangers who found me through the Internet and know nothing about me. Aside from my husband and a couple of close family members no one really knows the “whole story” so to speak. I have decided that it is time to tell it. Not that I think many of you are terribly interested but because I find it healing to write it out and because it will explain the very new and different direction in which this blog will be going.

The most important thing about making any art; music, painting and even writing is one simple rule: be honest. This isn’t always easy because most people aren’t even able to be honest with themselves. Also, it can be uncomfortable because people are very judgmental and feel that they have some inalienable right to give you their two cents on your life. Well, after 33 years I have finally come to one vitality important truth; screw them.

So in honor of that new attitude here it is, my truth:

I will basically be telling the story of my life (obviously only up to this point) so don’t expect it all in one post. I will be spreading it out over a few. I promise to try to include only what has lead me to the person that I am today. But there is a lot to say. I hope to have it done in a week or so which will make for a few long posts. I apologize for that but I want to get it out there and then move on. If you already feel you don’t want to invest the time, I respect that, but consider for a moment that it is very possible you will find some of your own truth spelled out here in my story. It is incredible how we find similarities in our lives regardless of the often very different circumstances. Just a thought, take it or leave it.

Well, I started off as a poor black child… (First The Jerk reference down). No, seriously I was born to two seemingly average Christian hippies in 1978.

Hippie Parents

They eloped when my mom discovered she was pregnant with my brother, Sean. He and I are so much alike in many ways but still at times seem to be worlds apart.

Sean & I

Neither of my parents finished college and both had pretty crappy jobs. My mom was a nurse aid in a nursing home working nights and my dad worked for a build-board company. My dad had Crohn’s Disease (which I now have as well). Money was always very tight for a number of reasons. First, their jobs didn’t pay well. Second, my dad’s constant illness was expensive and took a lot of time from work. Third, my parents were determined to give my brother and myself the best possible education and insisted on living in the very expensive Jackson Township for the privilege. As a child I didn’t notice anything about money and I didn’t realize that we had any less than anyone else until I was in middle school.

At some point in my young life (I don’t recall when for certain but I was in grade school) my parents decided that they would like to foster children. If you don’t know what this is it is when a child has been removed from their parents for what is meant to be a temporary time. These kids were often abused and/or neglected. In other words, screwed up. I know that sounds mean but it isn’t a judgment it is just the facts of being a child in a bad situation, it will screw you up to no fault of your own. Anyway, some of these kids were now going to be coming to live with me and my family. I don’t mean to gloss over what would seem like to most people to be a major point in my life but honestly it just wasn’t. We had kids come and go for about 5 years, I guess. But I was very young, our last foster kid moved out when I was in 6th grade, so I was pretty resilient through the whole thing. I never felt my parents’ time or affection was being taken from me, none of the kids were terribly misbehaved and in fact most were about my age and just grateful to have a safe stable place. I know this should seem like more of a big deal but it really wasn’t for me. I had a few built in friends and if spending time with us gave them any amount of happiness than that is great. I can’t say that it had absolutely no consequence in my life but not as major a one as some might assume. Either way, it took place over a decent part of my childhood so I wanted to mention it.

Two of my foster brothers and dad

Now, as a child, I was not at all your typical little girl. I never played with dolls. I didn’t like make-up or dressing up. I wanted to be on my bike with the wind in my hair or climbing a tree and making forts. Up until 6th grade my life was pretty carefree (as I am sure is the case with most people). But there are a couple of events that happened before that time which had a big impact on me as a person.

First, in the middle of second grade we moved within the same school district but to a different elementary school. I was at Lake Cable and moved to Amherst. I was nervous about a new school with no friends. But my dad golfed with a guy named Keith who had a daughter, Regan who went to my new school. I had never met her but they arranged for me to be in her class and she was instructed to watch out for me. Since we would actually only be living a couple of streets away she was responsible for getting me on and off the right bus for the first week or so. I never got lost so she must have done a great job. I know it seems like I should be saying that we became the best of friends but that isn’t what happened. I always liked her and she was a nice person but we were never in the same social circle. She took care of me throughout the rest of second grade but that was about it.

I don’t remember very many distinct details from my childhood but a few things do stick out. My mom and I spent the morning in the principal’s office my first day so I ended up actually arriving in my new classroom while everyone else was at lunch. The teacher let me in the room and showed me my seat (next to Regan) and for whatever reason left me alone in the room. It was around Christmastime and I still clearly remember seeing that every desk around me had one of those clothes pin reindeer drying on their desk. Everyone but me. I also saw that every desk had a little tent shaped name tag that they had personalized. Mine was just “Lisa” in black. I sat there looking around at everything that symbolized that one of these things was not like the others (me). As a kid all I wanted was to be like everyone else. I didn’t want to stand out in anyway and everything in this room seemed to be big electric signs pointing to me “new girl!” As all the kids came running back in the room from lunch and settled in to their seats a few started to notice me sitting there silently. I began to feel like a two headed freak the way they stared. No one came near, not one person introduced themselves or wanted to do anything other than stare. Now as an adult I am sure it was because they were as unsure of me as I was of them but at the time it was unnerving. The teacher, thankfully, returned and introduced me to the class who all fained a welcome “hello” in unison. The whole thing was unbearable and I wanted to crawl under my desk until it was time to go home. Then, there was a loud knock on the classroom door. As the teacher went to see about it the class felt safe to continue the gawking at me. I was trying to will myself to turn invisible when suddenly I heard the teacher behind me say, “Well, isn’t this nice.” As he placed what I remember as being a HUGE floral arrangement on my desk. The first thing I noticed about it was the teddy bear. I just sat there stunned. The teacher could see that I was at a loss. I had never received flowers before and didn’t know even for sure if they were really for just me. So, he kindly reached down and pointed to the card gently explaining. “Someone thinks you’re special. Go ahead and read the card.” I realized he was saying that these were a gift for me. My mind raced trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was something the school did for new students. I was shocked to read a lovely little message hand written by my dad. I was so grateful to have a moment to focus on something other than all those sets of staring eyes. Suddenly, I became very aware that all this was doing was drawing more attention to me. I smiled at my teacher and looked at the basket taking up my whole desk with no idea what to do with it. I think he understood. He sweetly took the bear out, handed it to me and announced, “Why don’t we put the rest of this right over here out of the way.” I had a death grip on that bear the rest of the day. The best part was, since I didn’t read the card out loud to the whole class everyone’s curiosity got the best of them and by the end of the day almost every person in that class came up to me and asked who sent the flowers and what they were for. I don’t know if it was my dad’s intention but it made for a great ice breaker.

Second, I was a very self-conscious kid. I don’t know if it came across as shy per se but I didn’t like to be the center of attention. The main reason for this was quite frankly my mother. She was constantly on me for as far back as I can remember about my weight. She had me convinced that I was fat.

Looking back at pictures of my self from my childhood (a few I have posted) I have no idea where she could have possibly gotten this idea. The fact is, my mom was tiny, absolutely tiny as a teenager but after having two kids (understandably) she gained some weight.

Mom as a skinny teen.

I truly believe that she was projecting her insecurities about her weight on to me. I was too young to understand that or to even know if she was right, if she said it was so than I thought that it must have been the truth. This issue would haunt me for the rest of my life.

So, in 4th grade I had a teacher who liked to have the students read out loud from the text book in class. He would randomly call on a student to start reading then out of the blue call on the next to continue. I hated this. I hated being put in front of everyone like that. This insecurity manifested itself in a complete and utter loss for my ability to read out loud. I stumbled, stared at the page voiceless and often pretended I didn’t know how to read the words in front of me. The ability to read it wasn’t really an issue it was the reading out loud and taking the risk that everyone was looking at me and my (supposedly) fat ass. Eventually, the adults all took notice of my apparent inability to read, a meeting was called, it became a big issue. So to determine just how illiterate I was they decided to test my reading comprehension to see at what level I was and how to progress from there. When the test came back saying I could read at an 8th grade level they were positively stymied. Of course, no one thought to just ask me why it was that a fumbled around with reading so much in class but was reading at twice my grade level, that would be too easy. Instead, somehow, which is beyond me, they came to the conclusion that I was obviously enamored with my teacher. My 4th grade self was so in love with my 40 something, not terribly attractive teacher that I lost the ability to read out loud. Talk about adding insult to injury. I felt like a Salem witch, the more I denied it the more certain they all were of it being true. That was the first time in my life I felt that I couldn’t find a way to have myself heard. Everyone was so sure that they had me figured out and nothing I said would change what they knew to be true about me. Of course, the real issue was never realized or addressed. Finding my own voice and speaking up when I know something is wrong has been something I have struggled with all of my life since then. There have been periods of my life when it was impossible to do so but there have also been times when it came easily but that isn’t until later in the story.

You will see this issue of my weight come up again and again. When I get to my high school years and my struggle with anorexia you will not be surprised. So, I am going to tell you now the most formative moment of my life. It happened when I was in about 7th or 8th grade. My parents had a group of friends with whom they (and I) spent most of their time. One couple had a pool and gave pool parties from time to time. It was not uncommon for The Group to have certain activities or nights set aside as an adults only thing. So, I didn’t think anything of it when my mom told me that there was going to be a no kids pool party with The Group. I was a natural born fish and loved to swim so I was a little disappointed but didn’t really think too much of it until…

A few weeks or months (not sure) later to prove her point about how fat I was my mom pulled me into her bedroom and sat me down on her bed for one of her talks. She told me that the party was not in fact for the adults only. She made that up because she was too embarrassed to have me in front of her friends in a bathing suit. That conversation has never left my mind. For many years it was the driving reason for my self hatred and shame. It popped into my head for years any time I even thought about food. Those words beat me up again and again for the majority of my life. It took a lot of convincing to even decide to include that scene in this writing. However, I made it clear from the beginning that this was going to me full on no editing and I can not leave out the most influential moment of my life. I did not add it because I want to trash my mom either. I am simply relaying the facts of my life and the effect all these moments have had on me and in some cases still do have on me. This particular moment no longer has the power over me that it once did. It doesn’t beat me up any more, it doesn’t make me feel bad about myself or say anything to me about who I am or was. Eventually, it got to the point that it simply made me very angry but it doesn’t even do that any more. Now it is nothing more than sad a memory.

(More to come tomorrow.)

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