I Fear I was Never Normal

In the fourth grade I developed a fear of the rapture. I was scared of crickets, granddaddy long legs, and the second coming of the Lord. This was no small fear. This was a lay in bed and worry how, if we were called to heaven, my body will make it through the light blue canopy of my bed fear. I don’t have memories of being told the story of Noah and Moses, although I know I was taught them. What I remember was the Children’s Church leaders who gasped when I asked questions about sin and God. I remember one of them saying, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The problem was that I was a sinner; I had bad thoughts and could never be Christ- like enough to make my way to Heaven. I lay in my bed with the blue canopy, and begged Jesus not to come back. I begged for him to not come back until I could be better. As a child I don’t remember God’s love in a way that was comforting; it was not about a relationship with Jesus, it was about rules and fear for me.

When I asked about sin and forgiveness, “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven,” was quoted to me and I literally believed that I could only sin 490 times before God would stop forgiving me. At that point I started a notepad full of my presumed sins each little tally mark bringing me closer to the magic number. I did not understand parables and nuance. The Bible said this and therefore it was true as it was stated. They talked endlessly about the rapture and God calling home his children. My fear of the rapture and hell grew as I did. They helped to set in motion a lifelong fear.

Sleep is both my best friend and my greatest enemy. A couch nap is one of the best things ever and I wake up rested with contact lenses adhered to my corneas. However, when my real bedtime rolls around I know that anxiety and panic attacks will creep their way in. After I was divorced in my mid-twenties, I had what we will call an “episode.” Lack of sleep and worry, endless worry, brought back my fear of the rapture. This was how a normal evening went: Tuck the kids in and climb into bed. Fall into a light sleep. Hear the sound of the upstairs neighbor walking and assume it was the horns calling us home. Go to the kids’ room and make sure they were still there. Touch each of their soft little bellies and climb back into bed. Repeat four or five more times. This was every night. It sounds funny to read it now, but at the time I felt like I was losing myself in a toilet of despair. I also had compulsions and they were just as random as the rapture fear. I would be in public and have a consuming desire to touch a wall on the opposite side of whatever room I was in. There was something about the coolness of the wall that I found soothing. It was time to seek professional help.

The doctor and then therapist I started to see diagnosed me with a multitude of mental illnesses. At first I was a manic depressive. Then it was major depressive disorder. Next they tried obsessive compulsive disorder. We finally landed at a personality disorder. In hindsight I am not sure if I really had any of the above-mentioned disorders but I took the medicine and attended therapy. We talked about my childhood and if I drank. The answers were normal and I had some sort of peach drink at a friend’s house. These were not the answers of someone who had a deep dark secret. Nope, these answers were much worse, because they say, “crazy can happen to anyone.” I believe in generational curses. I believe that families are often stuck in a cycle of questionable brain chemistry. Depression and anxiety can pass, one by one, down a line of family members much like alcoholism and dependence. My family has a history of depression and each of us has chosen a different way to deal with it. Some pray and others take medication. My way, of course, is to make fun of it.

The all-time best crazy compulsion I ever developed was when I decided that my answering machine could save lives. This is how it worked: If I believed your life was in danger for any reason and you left a voice mail on the answering machine then you would be saved. An example would be if Trey called and left a message. “Uh, yeah, so call me back.” I would save that message so that he could not die in a freak snow sledding accident. If a bill collector called, “Mrs. Warren, this is an attempt to collect a debt.” I could immediately delete the message because them dying in a lake of alligators was of no real interest to me. I am crazy but also a pragmatist which seems to be the best combination. So every day that Trey’s voice stayed on my machine and he didn’t die in a snow sledding accident reinforced the belief that the answering machine worked. Saved on the answering machine were Mom, Trey, Kara, Lisa, and Neil Diamond (please notice that all but one of these people are still with us).

My compulsions have shifted and changed, but the desire to control the uncontrollable has remained. On September 11, 2001, I walked out of my apartment without my jewelry on. In the hustle to get two elementary school aged children out the door and me to work by eight, I did not grab the assortment of rings and bracelets that I wore every day. A short time later the first plane hit the first WorldTradeCenter. I told my best friend that night that my rings and bracelets may have been the cause. The event was too large and scary to understand and I needed a way to control it and make it my burden to bear. After a friend suffered a devastating loss I decided that not moving the items thumbtacked to my cubicle wall would sustain her next pregnancy. I was hyper vigilant in checking the items every day. She gave birth and all was well. While I logically understand my thumbtacked items had nothing to do with it, I still believe that my thumbtacks had everything to do with it.

So now I wonder all these years later how much of my crazy is related to brain chemistry and how much is related to an inadequacy that I feel as a Christian?  Is my inability to be Christ-like enough in direct relation to the desire I have to control the uncontrollable? In my mind I weigh the consequences of my actions. If I choose to masturbate, I must acknowledge that my sink will back up. If I buy the tee shirt I want, I have to accept that my car battery will be dead the next morning.

Brain chemistry is a bitch, isn’t it?

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The Original Eight

Have you ever sat down and thought about what the bios of Santa’s reindeer would sound like?
Oddly, I have.

Dasher: Dasher was raised by a single mother who was never one to take his smart mouth. It was in Baltimore where he was raised in one of the poorer housing units. His Momma was a no non-sense reindeer who tried to raise her boy up right; working two jobs and cleaning houses on the upper side to make sure that her boy would understand that you have to sacrifice for those you love. It was after an impressive college career that Dasher was drafted into the pros. He was an elite athlete who had an instinctive ability to know what move Santa would call next. Sadly, his flying career was cut short when a pack of geese flew into the sleigh and damaged his ACL. Dasher now helps train the new recruit reindeer starting every October.

Dancer: His name said it all. All he wanted to do was dance, dance and make romance. Dancer was a ladies man who was equally comfortable leading the sleigh and dropping it like it was hot in a local club. Many have felt it was dance moves that first attracted Mrs. Claus who had taken to spending her nights dancing at the local club, Cookies and Cream. While no one knows for sure it is rumored that Dancer may have originally been a back up dancer for Usher and the inspiration for TLC’s hit “Waterfalls.”

Prancer: Since being one of the elite eight, Prancer has become a well known LGBT activist. He has staged many rallies and events to spread the word about LGBT issues. It was Prancer that pushed the issue of same sex marriage in the North Pole. While it was originally met with hesitation health insurance is now offered to same sex reindeer partners. Prancer was legally married to Hector a reindeer of Cuban descent last year. The couple works during the off season for the NOH8 campaign.

Vixen: A little known fact about Vixen is that she was the founding member of the all girl rock band from the 1980s. “Edge of a Broken Heart” was reportedly written about her ill fated relationship with Dancer. Vixen was forced to leave the band after an argument involving the use of raccoon tails that the other members were clipping in their hair. Vixen felt that it was offensive to the raccoon population. A reindeer/girl fight broke out and the band split ways. VH1 has discussed doing a Behind the Music about the band and their split, but Santa is blocking the production as of this publication.

Comet: Little is known of what happened to Comet. He was last seen leaving a Las Vegas casino in 1997. If you have any information regarding his disappearance please contact the Las Vegas Police Department.

Cupid: She has a heart of gold and can often be found working with polar bears with special needs. Her gentle spirit has made her a favorite of everyone at the North Pole. Santa often uses Cupid when it is time to tell the new recruits whether they will stay for further training. Cupid’s parents divorced when she was young, but she has a loving relationship with her stepmother and stepsister Olive. Olive is Cupids biggest fan and cheers her on every Christmas Eve.

Donner: Donner or Donder as he was originally referred is a large and secretive reindeer of German descent. Not much is known of his past, but there are whispered stories of an underground boxing society that is ran by a group of elves who may “owe” Donner a favor or two. Those around the North Pole don’t say to much about Donner and when they do it is with hushed tones. One elf was quoted as saying, “Donner is the kind of reindeer that you visit if you have a very specific problem.”

Blitzen: One can most often find Blitzen sitting in a local coffee shop listening to Elvis Costello. During the off season Blitzen is a contributor for entertainment weekly and writes a popular blog. He is currently working on his first novel about a young missing elf in his home town. Gillian Flynn has hired an attorney because she believes that Blitzen has stolen the idea from her novel Sharp Objects. Of course Blitzen disagrees and has stated that people who listen to Elvis Costello are unable to steal ideas.

Little Blips

My life is full of little blips. Little moments where life seems to stop or pause, and then starts back up. My life would resemble the EKG of a heart patient if we could print the details. The decline and then the pause followed by an upswing. I always think there is an upswing, it may be almost unperceivable, but there will be an upswing. Your blips help to make you who you are; they change and mold you, and you have to try to find the upswing in the situation.

Blip

I was in first grade when I found out that prayer doesn’t always work. School was difficult for me at best. Concentration was a problem. I could zone out and look at the ceiling tiles for hours. Counting each square in the line and then counting how many squares it took to cover the width of the room, by the time I was done dissecting the individual details of each square, the lesson would be over and I would have no idea what was happening. The teacher would have us do our assignment at home and would give us Muppet stickers if we did well. I would lie in my bed at night and pray that the next day would be the day that I would get a Miss Piggy sticker. I would tell God that I was trying to do good and if I just had that sticker it would mean the world to me. The next day we would get back our graded assignments and there would be no sticker for me. I would start to cry a little; my 6 year old heart, broken, over God’s slight. I never did get the Miss Piggy sticker, but I got other things. I learned that day dreaming and making up stories was fun for me. I learned that when I looked out the window I could see shapes and pictures in the clouds that my mother was never able to see. I learned to read and I became fast and good at it. My skills may not always get me the Miss Piggy sticker I want, but they may get me something that I didn’t know I needed. Upswing.

Blip

I fell in love when I was in high school. He was older. He was a bad boy. He had a bad home life. I was a teenage vixen full of hormones. I was pregnant and I was terrified to tell my parents. I was about four months pregnant when mom finally broke down and said, “Heather, I haven’t bought tampons in a while. Are you pregnant?” There was some crying, snorting, and snotting that quickly took place, but I was relieved that mom had finally said something, because I know that I would have waited until the last possible minute. The problem with teenagers is they don’t think logically. My friends laugh hysterically when it is brought up, but my original birth plan involved a Taco Bell. “I’ll have two chicken soft tacos, a pintos and cheese, and a newborn, please.” I worked there a couple nights a week and in my teenage pregnant vixen brain I devised a plan. When I went into labor I would tell my parents that I had to work. I would give birth in the Taco Bell bathroom, and then bring the baby home and tell them someone had left it by my car. My parents were kind people so it seemed obvious that they would just let me keep the newborn. Mind you they wouldn’t let me have a dog. This plan was conceived and destroyed in a flash, but now when I hear about a baby being born in a college dorm or a bathroom, for a split second I understand how this happened. I know the revulsion of having to admit your sins to the people you want to please the most. Being afraid is serious business and leads people to do strange things. I was one of the lucky ones. The love my parents showed me never dipped. There was no blip; just a steady love that I feel to this day. I gave birth (in a sterile hospital) to a dark haired baby girl who changed our family forever. She is smart and funny. She is weird and obsessive. She is loved and beautiful. Upswing.

Life is full of blips.

I moved out and quickly got pregnant again. He and I shared a bed that was made up of old mattresses piled on top of each other. We wrapped ourselves around each other and pushed the world out. The relationship with my mother faltered, but one day she showed up on my doorstep and we started to heal. I was 18 and pregnant again. I gave birth (in a sterile hospital) to a skinny bald baby. She is creative and weird. She is loud and full of opinions. She is loved and beautiful. Upswing.

Blip

I got a divorce and was crushed that being divorced and living in a tiny apartment was the track I had let my life take. I knew the desperation of chasing after my husband’s car as it sped down the driveway; rocks digging into my feet as I begged him to stay. I wanted to hang onto the family unit we had created, but I mostly didn’t want to feel like a failure again. Daniel ended up being a great friend and dad, and if not for divorcing him, I wouldn’t have Trey and Saidee, who have made me laugh and helped to erase the length of that driveway. Daniel and I, even to this day, make better friends then we ever did lovers. Upswing.

A broken leg, a move, job changes, and a water heater that refused to work were all little blips that ended in upswings. The thing about blips is that in that moment time feels like it is playing in slow motion so you may not notice the upswing until the next blip makes its move.

Blip

Mom died and our world crashed in around us, but I think back to the day of her funeral. A group of friends gathered together and created a meal so the family could eat and fellowship. We were numb and I never properly thanked them for what they did for us. They laughed and cried and lent support in ways that only the best of friends can. During the long December of that blip I knew that they loved me and would laugh with me. They were my upswing and will be my upswing for many more years.

Damn I am a lucky girl.

Upswing, there is always an upswing.

I want.

I want to help.
I want to hold the hand of someone and comfort them.
I want to sweep up the glass and clean the school.
I want to tell the world how sorry I am.
I want to erase this from the memories of every child.
I want to tell the parents that I don’t understand.
I want to take away their pain.
I want to discuss innocence.
I want to talk about joy and childhood happiness.
I want to hug my kids.
I want to tell them how sorry I am that I didn’t have enough time to play.
I want to read them just one more story.
I want to color just one more coloring page.
I want to be powerful and erase time.
I want to not feel so helpless.
I am sorry for the pain.
I wish I could make it better.

I wish.

In Defense: The Elf on the Shelf

Last year was the first Christmas my family spent without my mom, and it sucked. It sucked in a way that would make Alanis Morissette want to add lyrics to that stupid “Ironic” song. All I wanted for Christmas last year was for it to end. My mother had always said that this time of year was only a happy time for those with family and money. Otherwise, it is a season filled with worry and pain. I don’t think Mom was all that wrong when it came to this subject. After my Grandma died, Mom just stopped caring about Christmas. Sure she went through the motions: The Christmas tree was always lovely, the table looked fantastic, and the house was full of gifts, but I am pretty sure that all Mom really wanted was to lay in her bed and watch Golden Girls reruns. I loved my mom to no end, and think about her almost every minute of the day, but hearing her say, “I’m just not in the mood for Christmas this year,” just about drove me insane.

Flash forward to last year. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I would have been perfectly content to lie in bed and watch Sex and the City reruns. Lie in my bed and pretend that life didn’t have to go on without Mom there. However, life did have to go on. There was a tree to put up, stockings to hang, and my three daughters who needed to have a good Christmas. I rolled myself and my busted elastic pajama pants out of bed and faked as much joy as I could. It was about this time that Trey heard about Elf on the Shelf and bought us one at the unholy store that is Books-a-Million. He read the story to Saidee and they named the elf Elwood P. That night we got busy hiding the elf.

Elwood is not the kind of elf that caused mischief. This is strictly because I am a lazy ass parent who refuses to clean up after a felt and plastic elf when I already clean up after a husband, two dogs, and three kids. Our elf just lands in funny places and quietly watches us watch television. He perches on the back of Darth Vader and Saidee says, “That is funny, Momma, because Darth Vader is a bad guy.” Almost immediately a reply comes out of the kitchen, “Darth Vader is not a bad guy; he is misunderstood.” Elwood P. lands in the lighting fixture and is a small reminder that I should really look up more when I dust. For every time we mention to Saidee that Elwood is watching, there are three times that Saidee says, “Elwood, Momma cussed again.” I enjoy watching her race through the house in the morning trying to find out where he has landed. That silly elf is a personal reminder that I can’t retreat from my life. I have to be an active participant in the holidays even if it sucks beyond all measure.

There is an odd competition factor involved with some people. They set up elaborate scenes for the elf and post them on all forms of social media. Not so shockingly, I have an opinion on this too. My husband and I work and live in an area that has substantial socio-economic problems. A great number of children are living in less than desirable situations. Some have been farmed out to relatives, friends, coaches, or foster families. I know that we have personally supplied food and gifts for numerous kids in Trey’s school system. I wish these kids had parents who fretted and worried about moving the elf around. I wish these kids had parents that were in competition with others to be “the best parent.” Some of these kids are dealing with the threat of deportation. Others are dealing with Grandma selling crack out of a dresser drawer. Oh, how I wish an overly Orwellian elf was the biggest problem these kids were dealing with. I understand the critic’s point. It is a fabricated tradition and totally consumer based, but really most holidays are anymore.

So, tonight when Saidee goes to bed, we will place the elf next to Jabba the Hut and laugh about how silly it looks. In the morning she will streak through the house to find Elwood. She will be resplendent and I will be reminded that whimsy (even store bought whimsy) is a fantastic part of childhood.

Cut the damn elf some slack, please.

The Day I Jumped to My Death

There was a house down the road from my parents’ that was brick and worn. The stairs leading up to the porch were painted and the flecks peeled and made intricate patterns like those in some Islamic temple. Layers of red, green, brown, and black peeled away and showed the house’s age. The porch seemed to be miles off the ground and also showed the same wear. Kids perched on the concrete ledge that surrounded the front of the structure. The house amazed me because there was always an abundance of kids on the porch. As an adult I now realize that this was a house that multiple families were living in and I picture kids on bunk beds and asleep on pallets made by their mothers. I didn’t understand poverty as a child; my parents shielded me from knowing how little money even our own family had. I lived a blissfully unaware existence.

On this one particular day the older kids were standing on the ledge, counting to five and jumping off. I watched in amazement as each kid jumped. Some held hands and jumped in tandem, while others jumped alone and screamed “Geronimo!” at the top of their lungs. They each seemed so brave and the ledge seemed so far from the ground. I watched from a safe distance and tried to make myself disappear into the red brick.

“Heather, jump,” one kid called.

“No, no I can’t.”

“Are you a chicken?” the oldest boy called back.

The answer was yes. I was deeply afraid to jump off that ledge, but in true peer pressure fashion I climbed up and stood on the railing. It felt as though I was 12 feet in the air and I could feel the wind in my hair. I scooted closer to the edge and looked down. The ground was a dark brown and only small patches of grass shot out. My blue Kmart tennis shoes inched closer to the edge and I had the knowledge that if I backed down I could never return to the house.

“Well jump then,” the boy mocked.

I paused and sucked in my breath. If I didn’t jump they would laugh. If I did jump I was obviously going to die. So the choice was made, I jumped. I would have rather faced death than face the ridicule of that neighborhood boy. I fell for what felt like forever, and when I finally landed, my left foot turned slightly in. The blue Kmart shoe was smudged with the rich dirt and the tread of the right shoe was caked with the gook. I had jumped.

“Do it again,” the boy challenged.

So again I jumped; this time I didn’t linger quite as long on the edge. I leapt and my windbreaker flared out behind me.

“Again.”

And I jumped.

“Again.”

And I jumped until my hands were black with dirt. The knees of my Pretty Plus jeans were caked with muck. I jumped and it became easier. The weightlessness of the fall left my stomach feeling airy. I wanted to please him and I thought I had. The desire to be accepted goes back to the beginning of time. Cain and Abel probably dared each other to climb the tree of knowledge. Maybe Cain would climb and hang upside down by his knees calling down to Abel, telling him what a chicken (this would presume that the chicken came before the egg) he was. My adventure at the brick house wasn’t over just yet.

“Wanna, see a trick?” I knew something was up almost immediately. I was young and naïve, but I also had a bullshit meter even as a child. “Ever had someone crack an egg on your head?” I knew the egg trick; you make a fist and put it on the top of a person’s head. You then “crack” the egg by tapping the fist and then you spread your hands down their hair to make it feel like yoke running down. I walked closer to him and he placed his fist on my head. With a yard SMACK he busted a real egg on my head. I burned with pain and humiliation. My Dorothy Hamil was sticky with egg white and yoke. I started to cry and ran back home. In our backyard I picked the shell out of my hair, piece by piece.

I never told my parents about that day. I was ashamed of my desire to please the older boy and embarrassed that I had been duped. My dad would have walked to the aging brick house and yelled in my honor, because he was my dad and he loved me. So now I sit and think about what came of that boy. I doubt that he even remembers that day. He probably has a wife and kids and spends his free time playing Xbox. Maybe he lives in a brick house and his kids spend their late afternoons jumping from a high porch railing. I don’t think he was a bully or mean spirited; I think he was just an older kid trying to impress boys that were even older than him. I wish I could find him (I don’t even remember his name) so I could tell him that I remember that day in strange detail. I remember the smell of the dirt on my hands and I can still feel the way the egg ran down my hair. I can still feel the heat in my angry embarrassed face. I would tell him that what he did hurt the feelings of a chubby girl with glasses and a questionable hairstyle. I would also tell him that I am glad I jumped that day. He made me do something I was scared to do.

I am glad I jumped.

Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas and a Farley Oasis

I had a pretty impressive pity party the other day. I felt overworked and underappreciated. The baby was sick. The house was dirty. I had no money to shop and was hungry for food that was only found outside of my home. I sat and whined about my lot in life until a friend sent me a video of Pebbles and Bam Bam singing “Let the Sun Shine in.” I was immediately transported, by some magical means, back to being a fourth grader at Farley Elementary. I was thinking about shared memories and how about 100 thirty-something adults all remember sitting in the AV room floor watching “Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas.” The movie is based on a book by Russell Hoban and turned into a cinematic marvel by Jim Henson in 1977. It’s basically The Gift of the Magi with, you know, otters. The thing that got to me is it didn’t matter what our personal stories were; I’m sure that some were dealing with poverty, a parent’s alcoholism, abuse, or divorce, but for that hour worry was left behind while we watched Emmet and his band sing about Bar-B-Que. I am now 37 and I think back to that hundred or so kids that have the exact same memory. The TV being rolled down the hall on the large metal cart and the moment of joy when you heard a teacher whisper AV room; these are little moments that connect a group of people who are now spread far apart.

Farley is now (sometimes) considered on the wrong side of the tracks, but for me it is a place where I played outside in a tree house built from old scrap wood. The neighborhood kids piled into the rickety structure and had palms full of tiny splinters for weeks during the summers. In the fall and spring our neighborhoods would flood and we would wade and play in the muddy water. Crawdads burrowed into holes and kids equipped with buckets and sticks would go in after them. The neighborhood smelled damp and raw, and when the flooding was at its worst, kids would play in lakes that were once grassy fields. The greatest part of our neighborhood was the “dirt hills” directly next to our house. When we moved there in my fourth grade year the hills appeared huge to me and I pretended they were Indian burial grounds. I raced them and became a BMX biker. My Dorothy Hamill bowl cut blowing behind me while I pretended I was something that I was not. “After Stand by Me” was released I told everyone I had found the body of a dead child and we walked through the woods looking for the unfortunate child and searching for clues of the mythical crime. It was in Farley that I French kissed a boy and moved banana bubble gum between our open lips.

When seventh grade rolled around it was a new world for everyone. Farley and Reidland joined, everyone mixed together, but there was a division that may have only been noticeable to those on the Farley side. No longer were we the same kids who stood outside on registration day praying to God that Ms. Myers was not our sixth grade teacher because everyone knew she was mean and her dress was always six inches shorter in the back than the front. Some stayed and graduated from Reidland and went to different schools, but what really gets to me and brings a smile to my face is if you find a Farley person and say, “Hey, remember Emmet Otter and the AV room.” They will most likely reply, “Yeah, remember Mr. Goodbody and how creepy he was.” The Farley hundred or so grew up and lived their lives, some were successful and others were not, but in fourth grade for one hour, we all played on an even field.

Thank you Farley Elementary for giving us that shared memory.