My hands

What are your hands like?
Someone asked me this question and this is my response…

Well, my hands have done many things in my lifetime. As a child, they covered my face to hide my tears, my fears, and my insecurities. As a young adult, they held my babies and helped me tenderly and lovingly care for them. They have rarely been balled into fists of anger or rage though they do still remember how.

My hands have toiled in the sun and in the earth, tending gardens of food as well as gardens of beauty. They have held other hands in times of sickness and comforted fevered brows. They have held the hands of the elderly as I’ve sat and listened to stories I’veImage heard a hundred times before. They have made mud pies and delighted in doing so. They have tended wounded knees, wiped salty tears, and applauded many for a job well done. They have sought solace in another pair of hands and found comfort doing so.

My hands have written letters of love, letters of cheer and encouragement, and, regrettably even letters of anger. They have waved goodbye to family, hello to strangers, and so long to those who would never return. They have helped me move in a hurry, they have helped me unpack with a vision, and they have smoothed out the bed linens a million times.

My hands have caressed cheeks with the lightest of touches, spanked asses with the firmest of touches, and have been my sight when darkness has surrounded me. They have been beautiful and not so beautiful throughout the many different stages of my life; they have seen me through ragged, bleeding nails when I was a child and they have seen me through strong, beautiful nails as an adult woman. They have caressed a lover’s cheek, teased another’s breast, and sought the wetness that only a woman has.

My hands have seen me through every imaginable suffering a soul should ever have to see and still they are here…strong, calloused, sensitive, and care-worn. They have also been with me through joys and triumphs. They have wiped my tears at funerals and clapped together at weddings.

They ache occasionally now as they’ve grown older but I love them for they are mine and, even now, as they type words on blank screen, they are still sustaining my life by connecting me to you.

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My Eyes.

My eyes are important to me. They are not spectacularly beautiful or unique. They are an ordinary, deep brown. I’ve been told I have pretty eyes but they only look somehow sad when I look into the mirror. They are important to me because they were the first part of my body that got the absolute joy of beholding the beauty of my children’s faces, in the first moments following their births, and, although my eyes have taken a thousand snap-shot memories for me since, none will ever be as important to me as those still-hauntingly beautiful images are.

Thinking of all that my eyes have been witness to, I came to an understanding of just how very important they are to me. My eyes have saw the beauty of an early morning’s sunrise over the Pacific and marveled at it also over the Atlantic; they have also watched that same sun slip slowly behind those Great Smoky Mountains as well as dip out of sight in my own backyard.

My eyes have seen the homeless wandering the cold streets, appearing frightened at times, without seeing the tragedy that befell them. My eyes have known the sight of newborn kittens whose own eyes can’t yet see. My eyes have seen death up close and personal and, although horrified, they were still there, accomplished professionals, always doing their job, snapping photographs I wished I hadn’t seen and ones I wish I could forget.

My eyes have almost drowned before, after falling into the liquid pools of gold that you call your eyes and my eyes were first on the scene when we met, drinking in your beauty and sharing with me that feeling of rapture at your nearness. My eyes were there, too, taking photographs on the night of our first kiss and they were the first to see your lips coming towards me and the first to see your last wave of goodbye.

My eyes have studied my daughter’s face as she has lain sleeping and have taken thousands upon thousands of such photographs as witness of her rise to adulthood. They have watched her cry over loves gone awry and they have watched her joys of receiving accolades and recognition for work well done. My eyes were there to witness her sorrow and, thus cried with her when her grandmother died and these same eyes saw her laughter and laughed with her over Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. My eyes watched her leave on the first day of school and, just as intently, watched her give the Salutatorian speech on Graduation day.

My eyes have watched in wonder at my son’s squealing delight as the trapeze artists balanced on the high-wire above him at the circus. They also captured the obvious thrill on his face as he waved his checkered flag eagerly the day we went to the races. My eyes took notice too, of his tender, brotherly love for his baby sister. My eyes were there, as usual, snapping heartbreakingly poignant photographs on the afternoon he left this world. They saw much too clearly the last glimpse of his tiny coffin being lowered into the cold, damp ground and they were overcome with sadness for our loss on that last dark day.

My eyes have seen so many great things in their lifetime. They remember searching the night sky when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon and they remember also, all too well, watching the Challenger begin its ascent into space. They won’t forget the awe of looking out of an airplane window for the first time and they won’t forget how tiny the mighty Mississippi looked from way up there above it.

Though they grow dim at times and occasionally mist over with tears when told of a friend’s passing, I hope they will continue to take snap-shots for me for as long as I live.

Thank you, Eyes, for giving me so much joy. And, even though mixed in with so much pain, you’ve truly given me a well-rounded collection from which to choose my favorites when I sit down to flip through my mind’s memory album from bygone days…

My grandmother…

How can you describe in a few simple paragraphs a woman that, I realized as an adult, I barely knew.  Blessie Davis died at 100 years old when I was 21.  Of the 13 children she gave birth to, only four were still alive at her funeral.  It took me a few years to figure this out as I never saw her cry or be afraid or be anything really other than a strong woman.  Yet she buried nine children.  Burying one son 30 years ago still causes me pain.

I was her favorite.  She probably had around 50 to 60 grandchildren but I know, without a doubt, I was her favorite.  My father, George, was her youngest son and died suddenly and tragically in a car accident.  I was his only child.  Even at 100 years old, when she could no longer see and was unaware of a lot of things, she knew my voice and spoke clearly to me hours before she passed away.  I firmly believe she waited to see me before she died.  She was my granny always and my ‘mama’ before I knew better.  I can remember calling her that when I was about four.

I also can remember when she was too sick to get out of bed when I was about five.  I stood on an orange crate to cook us breakfast as she told me what to do from her bed.  I made oatmeal, raisin bread toast and coffee.  The raisin bread toast was my one thing that I got to pick from the grocery store.  Looking back with adult eyes, I wonder what she gave up so that she could indulge me this luxury.

For my fifth birthday, she bought me a TV.  I realize now that she probably bought “us” a TV but she said it was my birthday present and, when I had to go live with my uncle and his wife, I insisted that my TV go with me.  But I was not allowed to watch it and I realize now, I had taken it from her.  The things we do as children, the things adults do for us children, the little things that you never notice – there were probably hundreds of things I never noticed that my grandmother gave to me.

We had a calf once that grew into a cow.  Her name was Buttercup.  One day when I came home from first grade, Buttercup was gone.  I was told she had needed a bigger farm to live on.  I understand now, the meat we had afterwards was Buttercup.  But at the time, I was content with what I was told.  And life went on.

My grandmother was born in 1882.  I wish I’d been old enough to have asked all the right questions about what life was like back then, about what my grandfather was like, etc. I didn’t even realize that there were such things as grandfathers until I was much older.  It just simply never occurred to me.  She gave me laughter and discipline and love, much much love.  There were hugs and kisses and I never once doubted that she was my protector, my mother, my entire world for those first six years.  What I wouldn’t give for a single day to sit and talk with her again.

Emotions

Emotions,

deeply rooted like an old oak tree,

at once our downfall and our savior.

Words becoming like a voice in the wilderness,

seeking a place to land.

The versatility of the human spirit,

dashed again and again,

yet inspired and challenged

with each new heartbeat of hope.

Renewed again,

life uplifts,

awakening latent passions,

sharing secrets,

always seeking to know more.

Are you listening yet?

Just to see you smile…

Tim McGraw’s song, Just To See You Smile, has these lines in it…

Cause leavin didn’t hurt me near as badly
As the tears I saw rollin’ down your face.

These two lines make me remember October 2010.  I had just started a new relationship with a woman I’d been friends with for a year.  She was married but was obviously in love with me.  I asked her to leave her husband; she told me she never would as he had always been there for her and she couldn’t hurt him.  I told her I understood and was going to start dating someone else.  She said okay.  I ended it that day.  She came crying to my house on the day before Halloween and it broke my heart.  I waited until Christmas eve to get back together with her and, even though I wasn’t sleeping with anyone, she thought I was and she has never loved me again the way she did before.  We are still together and every day I wish for a go-back button to that day I ended it.  Her husband left in September of 2011.  Never say never.

Brian…my son.

Pictured below is my son, Brian and his father, Willie Neil.  I lost them both in the same day, in different ways.  On a random Wednesday, I was a mother to two children, a boy and a girl, with a husband and a house in the suburbs.  The very next day, I had a daughter and precious little else.  My son was four when I lost him.  I actually rarely use that phrase, “lost”, because to me it seems like I misplaced him a store somewhere when in fact he drowned in the pool of a house we’d only lived in for six days.  Most of our belongings were still packed from the move.  My friends all encouraged me to “sue the owner”.  And do what with the money, I always wondered, buy myself a new car so that I could look sharp, driving around, grieving for my son??  Silly.  Money wouldn’t bring him back.  Prayer sure didn’t.  The EMTs sure couldn’t.  I failed to protect him.  It’s all on me. 

Brian slipped running around the pool, as I called them for lunch, and hit his head.  I was 22, unable to swim and had barely heard of CPR.  My friend pulled him out.  I ran for a neighbor who tried to revive him.  My husband was devastated as well.  I’m not sure if we spoke more than two sentences afterward and separated immediately on coming home from the funeral.  I never returned to the house; he wasn’t ‘going to lose his down payment’.  Instead he lost his wife and daughter as well as his son.  In the end, he only lived another two months in the house and then let it be repossessed.  By that time, I was two counties away and drowning in sorrow.  I have only seen him one other time, six years later.  

In my opinion, as I look back, we were simply too young to deal with something of this magnitude.  No one should have to bury their children.  No one. 

My surviving relatives at the time sent flowers.  No one I knew attended the funeral except my husband’s family and people from the church that opened their doors for the funeral service.  The local fire department took up donations for the casket.  A woman I barely knew and her lover bought Brian a white suit.  I don’t remember very much from that time; it all seems like a blur of something that was happening to someone else.  After all that had happened in my lifetime thus far, it was so hard to believe this was actually real.

Included exclusions…

So I’ve been trying for the past few days to recall, recollect, relive old memories.  Whichever synonym you choose, I’m trying to trace the roots of my recent mental conundrum.  Maybe some forms of dementia start environmentally or maybe it’s hereditary.  Or maybe it isn’t dementia at all.  I’m reasonably certain I could pass any kind of cognitive exam I might be asked to take.  But at this late date, who needs another test?

I was going to try and keep an accurate timeline for all this but maybe mixing and matching my thoughts, old and new, will keep this blog from becoming stale as I try to sort through childhood, adulthood, and middle age.  Grievances, celebrations, disappointments, etc. in random order.  How does that sound?

This is from January 29, 2011…something I wrote to pass the time.

DEATH BECOMES ME.

I knew she was expecting so much more from me than I was capable of giving at the moment.  Blinded by everything around me, I could only see her love for me and my love for her.  The rest of the world did not exist to me.  In fact, I refused to even acknowledge its existence.  The sun didn’t shine; she did.  The rains never poured down; she nourished me.

I realized in brief episodes of sanity that I was losing my grip on reality, consumed as I was by this fire that burned constantly in my chest.  She kept saying, “I need time.”  She didn’t seem to realize that I didn’t have time on my side.  The disease inside of me was growing at an alarming rate.  This winter had been particularly bad to me.  The very pills she brought me for my arthritis were the very pills that were bringing my death closer and closer.

Congestive heart failure is one of the killers in my family.  You were earmarked early for either death by a heart attack or by lung cancer.  I’d watched my family members pass away at early ages, one by one, as disease singled them out with cross-hairs on their chest.  You’re next.  The words had been breathlessly whispered in my ear by the Grim Reaper himself.  No surprise, though; I knew I was next, because there was no one left except me.

Ibuprofen is the first drug on the list of medications to avoid, but the sweet release from the painful throbbing in my knee, coupled with the brief respite in the swelling, made me lose sight of the toll the drug was taking on my body.  Only when I would reach the top of the stairs, out of breath, did those realizations pop into my mind.  I banished them quickly enough, with laughter at my own situation and another small handful of sweet release.

Alone.  What a joke.  I had sought solitude my whole life, until I found it.  Solitude now meant dying alone, something which terrified me almost as much as it excited me.  Since I was a small child, I had been fascinated by death.  My father and mother dying within two months of each other was my first encounter with the mysteriousness of death and all that surrounded it.  Was there really peace?  That thought made me smile.  Or was there a place where you went and saw everyone who had gone before you?  That thought terrified me horribly.  The very not knowing made me embrace it and push it away at the same time.

The fact that I had faced my own death on several occasions, and had not only lived but thrived, only deepened my innermost childhood belief that I was somehow immortal and/or invincible, depending on when you asked me.  Falling from a height of almost two stories, I didn’t even get a scratch or a broken bone.  I recalled lying there, flat on my back, waiting for my breath to return, wondering if my bones were jelly; I wondered sometimes now if those types of narrow escapes were why my body was racked with daily pain.

My drowning was another escaped death sentence.  I slipped into unconsciousness in the water, only to awaken sometime later surrounded by two EMTs and their life-saving equipment.  I wasn’t allowed near the water for another eleven years.  Scars from a brutal rape still lingered on my body, the white lines of imprinted terror still visible over three decades later, but I’d lived.  That was the important part.  Wasn’t it?

A car accident with head trauma – plastic surgery covered up everything except the memory of running through the rain amidst downed electrical wires, and surviving.  Blackout nights of boozing, while being the designated driver, never resulted in anything more harmful than a hangover.  Toxemia when my son was born dropped my heartbeat to 43 beats a minute, but hey, thanks to my fabulous doctors, I survived.

So why now, after all those close encounters with death, was the Grim Reaper so anxious to finally claim me as another willing…victim?  Somehow that doesn’t seem like the right word.  Victim.  I looked it up.  My handy dandy Webster’s was never far from my side.

Victim (n):  1) A person fooled, cheated, or injured.  2) An individual injured or killed.  3) A living being offered as a religious sacrifice in a rite.  Hmmm….I did feel a tad bit fooled, cheated even, definitely injured upon.  But life is not here for my benefit; it’s simply here.  Number two certainly applies, but eh, seems weak in structure as a statement of fact.  Number three, though, yes, if the Grim Reaper was behind the heinousness of this act, then surely religion played a part, didn’t it?  Still, I felt for me personally, number one most adequately suited the situation before me.

I had played a fool and created this disease.  Oh, I’m not saying genetics, predetermined or otherwise, didn’t play a huge part, but I sincerely believe I aggravated and coaxed it into life, the way you might a campfire from a single match and some dry bits of paper.  Except what I was lighting on fire was drugs.  Methamphetamines, to be exact.  They are very bad for the heart muscles, weakening, destroying with each pull on the pipe.  I smoked it for two years, praying nightly for death to claim me before morning.  But death is sneaky.  It waits to surprise you, like a precocious child during a game of peek-a-boo.  This time, it had waited for two years after I had quit ingesting the drugs.  Surprise!  Peek-a-boo!  It’s almost time!

Still, I can’t claim that I was duped.  I was taught in school that drugs are bad for you.  Any first grader knows that.  The D.A.R.E. program taught my daughter.  And I was quick to tell her, “if anyone offers you drugs at school, bring them straight home to Mama!”  Of course, we both laughed and she never brought me home anything like that.  Darn it.

But back to the question at hand.  My insanity versus my impending death, and which will overtake me first.  I had moments of clarity, such as now, which is why I’m typing so fast and furious before the craziness consumes me again.  I will confess I had thought of taking matters into my own hands – cheating death, if you will – by rendering the peek-a-boo game obsolete but my own mother had died of a shotgun blast through the mouth, thus taking the surprise effect away from me.  If people expect you to do it, ha, where’s the fun in that, you know?!