Random musings of a harmless madwoman.

Journal Entry on Grief

Tues., Aug. 13, 2019, 11:01 AM

Grief.

I woke up this morning after 12 hours in bed with the familiar weight in my chest.  With no plans till later this afternoon, I came to the beach with my newly gifted journal to process.

The state of the world, driven in no small part by the hate-filled leadership of the US, is disheartening, to say the least.  I want to leave, but if people who think like me leave, the country will have little chance of quelling the growing racism and stopping the thievery of the rights and benefits for non-rich, non-white citizens.  Then I wonder, even if we all stay, can we truly course-correct now that so many Americans have shown their true feelings about non-whites?  I also fear for my LGBTQ friends. Why is this happening now?  Is Trump the culprit or merely the release-valve?

When I think of leaving, it makes me suck in my breath a bit because I have an amazing community who helps keep me sane by reminding me every day there’s love and kindness and generosity in the world. It’s been a buffer to the world’s unrelenting bullshit and I’d be crazy to leave it.  Then I wonder if – like leaving the nest – I am expected to leave to find and spread the love and beauty of the community elsewhere.

And guns.

So many guns in the hands of people who are the least responsible, the least balanced, the most hate-filled, the most angry. Bullet-proof backpacks for grade-schoolers.  What is becoming of this country?

I also consider the outrageous cost of living here, in the Seattle area, and how development is out of control, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and folks like me, hanging on to middle class, are being squeezed in a vice while Amazon paid no federal taxes on $11 billion in profit in 2018.

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I spent two hours at the beach.  I breathed in the fresh air.  I heard kids laughing and crying and whining.  I scolded two of them for throwing rocks at ducks while their mom paid no attention.  A gorgeous bald eagle flew over head, as did a small flock of geese.  The sky was blue with gauzy clouds, the sun wasn’t too hot, the breeze was just right.  I left without peace or resolution, the weight still in my chest.  To be honest, I think about checking out – frequently.  My kid, my community, a desire to see parts of the world, and a thousand other things keep me from doing that.  But there is an alluring, sometimes taunting, draw to letting go, to being weightless, to finding peace that eludes me here.

Sadly, I am not alone.

A Word About Invites

Parties, gatherings, lunch, a happy hour. Extreme introverts aside, we love meeting up with the people we love.  It’s fun getting together to catch up, to celebrate, to just spend personal time together.

But when there is a party and you weren’t invited, how do you handle it?  Do you ‘Like’ the posts on social media or say to the party-goers, ‘It looks like you had fun!’?  Or, do you wallow and somehow make someone else’s event about yourself and your butt-hurt feelings?

If it’s the latter, I’m talkin’ to you, so listen up!

At 50-plus, I can’t believe how routinely I experience this whiny-ass behavior.  Someone posts a cute selfie on social media, three friends at happy hour.  Almost invariably, someone who wasn’t invited comments something like, “Oh! I wish I’d known, I would have joined you!”  Someone has a birthday or wedding and you’re not invited.  Instead of congratulating them, you whine about not being invited, causing hurt feelings about an event that should be nothing but a happy occasion.

NEWSFLASH:  Unless it’s your birthday or your wedding or your retirement party, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU.  Being invited is not about you.  Not being invited, is also not about you – unless you’re an asshole, then it’s probably because of you.  I’m directing this toward the non-asshole wallowers who just need an attitude adjustment.

If you’re one of those non-asshole wallowers, and you’re still reading, great.  It’s not too late to make amends or adjustments. 

Continuing.

Dear friends of mine got married a few years ago. It was a very small gathering.  Many local loved ones weren’t invited – myself included – let alone loved ones from across the country.  A brother – one of those who lives across the country – was so offended he wasn’t invited, that he hasn’t spoken to the couple ever since.  Incredibly heartbreaking, selfish, and unnecessary.  The family remains torn apart because someone made someone else’s wedding about himself.  WTF?

If you really want to celebrate someone but you weren’t invited to the party, you can still celebrate that person – send a gift, take them to dinner, send a fucking card.

Weren’t invited to happy hour?  Organize one yourself.

And speaking of organizing, when you’ve been feeling all woe-is-me, before you expressed your deep wounds of FOMO to the bride/groom/birthday boy, have you ever considered that the birthday thing you weren’t invited to wasn’t even organized by the birthday boy?  Did you consider that the wedding was being planned on a shoe-string budget and had to be limited?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Here’s an important life lesson you may not have considered.  A wise woman once told me, “She may be your best friend, but you may not be hers.”  Really take this to heart.  You have to be honest about your relationships and where you stand in relationships.  While you may feel you can tell your friend everything, that friend might not feel the same about you.  While most people have a wide circle of friends, nearly everyone only has a deep shared intimacy with just a handful. You may not be in that handful.

Something else to consider.  Some of my favorite people have enormous circles of friends.  When I say enormous I’m talking enough people to fill a theatre or small stadium. It would be impossible for them to include all of their friends in every event or activity.  On top of that, if those people don’t keep groups to small numbers, there would hardly be any way for them to truly develop/maintain friendships on that deeper level of intimacy I mentioned earlier.  I belong to a sizable community with whom I socialize often.  The group is a solid 50+ and many of those have spouses and partners.  I realized a long time ago that as a small tribe, we can’t do everything together.  We can’t even do most things together. Too many people, too many logistics, too much hassle.  I am grateful when I’m invited and I am genuinely happy when I see others meet up for some fun.  I consider how blessed I am to be part of such a loving, supportive, kind community.  I don’t have FOMO and I don’t whine about it when I’m not included.

I realize this may offend some folks – very likely the asshole wallowers – but as I’ve expressed before, my give-a-shit broke around the time I turned 50 and sometimes, you just have to break it down for people.  I’ll get over the scorn.  What I do give a shit about is seeing friends feeling the hurt and sting of the wallowers.  It’s heartbreaking.  One of my favorite Proverbs is 17:17, A friend loves at all times.  Real friends believe the best in their friends, not the worst.  And real friends don’t pull this sandbox bullshit.  If you’re seeing a bit of yourself in this post or you’re feeling defensive, you probably need to do a gut-check.  And you probably need to make some apologies too.

 

Today I heard of a second friend losing a parent in less than a month. In the last three months, I’ve had two friends diagnosed with breast cancer, three friends lost beloved pets, one person in a car accident, two more required disabling surgeries, and one filed for divorce.

While the holidays are a time for family and friends, joy and merriment, for so many, the holidays are painful reminders of who’s missing, what’s been lost, and questions of how they’ll get through.

This time of year, we often hear, I can’t wait for this year to be over.  This year has been very good to me, but I’ve definitely been one of those people.  While I’m pretty good at remembering my blessings, I’ve definitely wanted years to end, as if a turn of a calendar page would magically set things right.

Of course, that’s not how it happens.

Shouts of Happy New Year don’t bring back loved ones, don’t mend marriages, they certainly don’t mend broken bodies or broken hearts, and no amount of horns or fireworks will pay the rent or put food on the table.

So what can you do to support someone who isn’t feeling the holiday spirit this year?

  • Extend the invitations to holiday gatherings as you normally would with the understanding that they might be declined.  Follow up with an invitation to a quiet dinner or drink, 1:1, avoiding Christmas fanfare and revelry, and just be available for your friend.
  • Be patient. Don’t take their lack of reciprocation of, or participation in, all things holiday as a bah-humbug on your Christmas parade.  It has nothing to do with you.
  • Extend grace.  If there’s something you always do together – shopping, wrapping gifts, cookie exchanges – again, extend the invitation, but this year might be the gap in your tradition.

And what can you do if you’re the one not feeling festive?

  • Be gentle with yourself.  Honor that you’re hurting and you need to grieve and heal and regroup however that looks to you.
  • If you muster the energy to go to a gathering, but 30 minutes later, you feel you need to leave, go.  No need to feel guilty.  Honor yourself for giving it a try.
  • If money is not an issue, try to make the holidays a little brighter for someone else. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but in my rough times, whether my heart was broken or my wallet was empty, if I could do something for someone else – a little something or a big something – it helped me heal, it helped me remember the many blessings I still had even in those moments of utter loss, it helped remind me that I’m still me, I’m still here, and I have to keep going.

 

I haven’t blogged in over two months.  Readers have been nudging me about my next post.  Sometimes, dry spells are more about making time to write versus not knowing what to write.  Typically, if I make the time, there’s always something wanting to come out.

This time has been different.  Very different.

Lately, when I focus on what to write, nothing comes to mind.  Nothing at all.  There are thoughts of I could write this or I could write about that, but nearly all of my writing has had an emotional component – probably because this isn’t a paid gig.  I’ve been writing because I want to, because I’m not just moved to, but compelled to, as if I have no choice. If I don’t get the words out, they’ll just keep me awake, keep me distracted, annoy the shit out of me.

I asked friends for suggestions about what I they want to read. One suggested I write about the blank space.  And when I started to consider that blank space, what came up was distressing and a little unsettling.

Why? It’s disconcerting that I write because I feel and if I’m not writing, I’m not feeling.

What’s going on in the world is no small amount of insanity.  Shootings, racism, vicious and vile politics, crimes against humanity in ways we hadn’t imagined or at least, believed that we had learned never again.

I was about to go on with specifics, but it’s not necessary.

I’m not feeling depressed and I’m not feeling numb, but that blank space on the white board may be trying to tell me something.  Maybe in efforts to not let the insanity overwhelm me, I was becoming numb.  Certainly, it should be hard and it should be painful and we should all be hurting over the heartbreak in the news.  For me, maybe it’s finding balance.  Maybe it’s finding constructive ways to protest and fight and protect against the bullshit.

The one thing I have realized since sitting down to do this blog: don’t let the white space become white noise.

 

Watching and reading all the coverage for days around the Brett Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court and the allegations of sexual misconduct hit me hard today, just now.  The stories and denials, the people supporting the accusers, the naysayers – all the fucking naysayers – like Mitch McConnell standing on the Senate floor and denouncing the accusations as a low Democratic campaign to besmirch a man who has hundreds of people writing letters of support and all the people who dismiss the alleged behavior as typical for teenage boys.

I suddenly started to lose my shit.  My blood pressure is spiking.  I have a lump in my throat.  It’s like all of these stories and outrageous dismissals have been tapping at the protective glass I started installing around myself as a kid and that tapping created a crack and that crack is breaking open.

Third grade seems to be my earliest memories of inappropriate behavior.  There was a boy who was about five years older.  He decided to teach me how to French kiss.  I was 8, maybe 9.  I hadn’t been kissed – and I shouldn’t have been kissed – but it happened.  It was scary, but I liked it, even though I was very confused and knew on some level that it was wrong.  He was older, he was trusted.  I held on to that idea rather than believing what happened was wrong and I might get in trouble.

I can’t remember how old I was when I finally told someone about it.  It was a very long time.

Also in third grade, a new kid was seated behind me.  I can’t remember his name, but I remember his face, and the weird, trendy shoes he wore.  He slipped a note into my little-girl purse that had my name etched into the leather – a gift from my aunt and uncle.  On one side, the note said, “I love you,” and on the other side, “I fuck you.” Third grade.  

My teacher, whom I adored, was sitting on a desk next to mine, lecturing.  I was so upset, I handed her the note right there. I didn’t think to politely wait until there was a break and I could discreetly show it to her.  I didn’t know what ‘fuck’ meant, only that it was a bad word and people get in trouble for saying it, so this was pretty serious and he’s gonna get in big trouble.

My teacher paused, read the note, made a dismissive sound like, ‘Tsk’, shoved the note into her polyester pants, and continued with the lesson.  Nothing was done in that moment.  His seat was changed the next day but nothing more was said, explained, no assurance this was serious and he would be dealt with.  My parents weren’t even informed.

I turned 13 and it seemed that boys – technically men – of 18 wanted to kiss me.  At the time, I liked it.  I thought it meant that they thought I was pretty, that they liked me, that I was mature.

Had I ever caught an 18-year-old kissing my 13-year-old daughter, I would have castrated him and kept his scrotum as a trophy.

I didn’t make any moves on these guys.  I was a nervous, awkward tomboy trying hard to transition into a girl – like other girls my age who were pretty, who did their hair, and were actually conscious of what they wore.

I was away visiting with family friends. The son and I stayed up late watching Saturday Night Live.  He invited me to sit next to him on the couch.  Bit by bit, he drew me closer – a hand on mine, then an arm around my shoulder, I looked up and there it was, the kiss that other friends were doing with other friends our age, but he was 18.  In a twisted way, I was glad for the French kiss incident in third grade so I kinda knew what was happening even if I didn’t know to breathe through my nose so I had pull away to get some air.  I was so nervous and awkward and thought I was ready, but of course, I was not.

The other guy was a baseball coach for a little league team – maybe my brother’s team.  I hung out watching the game, then talking with the coach afterward, then walking with him toward his home which took us on a path through the woods where he stopped and kissed me.  Again, I forgot to breathe.  I pulled away and said, “I’ve gotta go.”  I never told anyone.  Not even my best friend – who will learn of it when she reads this post.

I never told an adult about the kissing.  Partly, I was ashamed.  Partly, I was afraid I’d get in trouble.  There was no groping or penetration.  I’m blessed I wasn’t raped.  But that’s still not okay.  Having those experiences too early pretty much ruined how I should have behaved with adolescent crushes.  It set me up to believe that I was more mature, so of course, I shouldn’t date boys my age, which meant I really didn’t date much.  Hearing all the dismissive, boys-will-be-boys commentary confirms that even if I had told an adult, my stories would have been dismissed too.  My mother would have gone to her comfortable space of melodrama.  My dad could have gone either way.  Dismissed the guy/s with a warning – if he found the guy was likable; or gotten arrested for beating the hell out of one, the other, or both.  Regardless, knowing that communication in my family consisted of yelling or conversations about surface-level bullshit, I would not have been supported and very much encouraged to forget it ever happened – all three times.

So why am I sharing all this now?  To set the foundation of why women don’t come forward right away – if ever – or tell someone or file charges.  It’s because women – at least in my age range – have learned from a very young age, that we are somehow less than.  Our thoughts and feelings are dismissed, our ideas disregarded, our talents and contributions minimized.  So that’s how we, as women, begin to treat ourselves.

Here’s more of my story.

When I was 18, I was living with my dad.  His best friend – who was named as my godfather – stopped by one evening.  He was wasted and reeked of alcohol and cigarettes.  When I came into the room, I went to hug him, because that’s what was expected.  He kissed me – on the lips – and shoved his ash-tray-tongue into my mouth.  Right there!  Right in front of my dad!  My dad was a heavy drinker back then and he didn’t notice. I pulled my head away but I couldn’t pull away from his ‘hug’.  He held onto my waist really tight and kept smiling a drunken, smarmy smile, and telling me how grown up I was as I was trying not to wretch from the awful taste in my mouth.

I minimized myself by never telling my dad.  To tell him would be to hurt him.  Never mind how it made me feel.  If I told him, one of two things would have happened. It would have destroyed a 30-year friendship, and I didn’t feel I was worth that.  My dad would have used the excuse that his friend was drunk and dismiss it.  How do you think I would feel then?

My dad passed awhile back.  His friend is still alive.  A few years ago, I minimized myself again by sending him a Christmas card which was a collage of pictures of me and my daughter.  Somehow, I thought it was something I should do. I thought my dad would appreciate the nice gesture to his friend.  When the friend sent a card in return, he didn’t ask about my daughter – what sports she was playing, how school was going – he didn’t ask me about my life, work, etc. – he said, “Beautiful ladies!  Love the pictures.  SEND ME MORE!”  No matter what anyone says, I know exactly what he meant.  There’s no making excuses.  No dismissing it as complimentary.

This is how insidious the dismissal that girls learn at an early age manifests – and remains – for decades.  There’s no reason to name names because these fuckers aren’t earning some cherished honor or a lifetime appointment as a judge.  But you can be damn sure that if one of them was, I’d come forward, and share my experience of their inappropriate behavior and that without acceptance and remorse, they are unworthy of high praise and commendation. 

I was just introduced to Alajawan Brown, an incredible kid – hard-working, kind, generous, selfless.

He was killed eight years ago.

The local news did a story on an organization collecting backpacks and school supplies for underprivileged kids in the community.  Ayanna Brown was interviewed as she was on-site, at the Renton Walmart, collecting those supplies and donations.

https://komonews.com/news/local/family-honors-murdered-son-by-collecting-school-supplies

She shared the memory of Alajawan starting a business mowing lawns to buy his own school supplies. He was only nine years old.  Before the piece ended, I knew I’d be delivering supplies the next day.

The parking lot was impossibly crowded.  I found a spot at the far back of the lot and headed to the stand, just as it was being taken down for the day.

I approached with my bags, and to the woman clearly in charge, said, “Looks like I’m just in time.  Are you Alajawan’s mom?”  She said yes, and I asked, “Can I give you a hug?”

She opened her arms wide, like she was going to embrace the whole world, and I got my first biggest, warmest, most loving hug I’ve ever gotten from a stranger.  I introduced myself, and Ayanna introduced herself and her sister who said, “I’m his aunty.  I want a hug too.”  And that’s when I got my second, biggest, warmest, most loving hug I’ve ever gotten from a stranger.

While Miss Ayanna’s team – sister, son-in-law, daughter, and three grandbabies – continued breaking down the tent, Miss Ayanna said, “Come here.  Let me introduce you to him.” She pulled out a backpack, and began her introduction.

The drive for school supplies was of course, started because of Alajawan’s determination to help his family by buying his own supplies.

Alajawan continued his determination to pay for supplies, fees for sports – football was his love – and even his own gear.  The day he was killed, April 29, 2010 – he was at that Renton Walmart to purchase football cleats he found on sale.  A 35-year-old gang member shot and killed Alajawan, mistaking him for someone else.

He was 12 years old.

Louis and Ayanna Brown decided to use their unspeakable loss to continue Alajawan’s desire to make a difference in his community and created Alajawan’s Hands.

My introduction to Alajawan continued.

Ayanna described how when Alajawan would see panhandlers, he would never give them money, but he would ask them if they were hungry.  And then he would feed them, with his own money.

From the backpack, Ayanna pulled out a worn Ziploc bag stuffed with school supplies.  I ran my fingers along the bag feeling a sacred reverence.  Then Ayanna pulled out a binder and opened it to show me the page now protected in a plastic sheet, that showed one of the budgets that Alajawan had worked up.  I snapped a picture that turned out blurry because I was a little emotional and my hands were a little shaky.

Aside from the annual drive for school supplies, there is the annual giveaway for the supplies.  There are tutoring services and scholarships for children to participate in camps and sports.

Community engagement and service continues on Thanksgiving every year.  Alajawan’s family cooks turkey every way imaginable, cornbread and dressing to the point that Ayanna is over it once the holiday is over.  Anyone who’s hungry can come and be fed whether homeless or they have four kids and need help feeding them.  On Alajawan’s birthday, there is a celebration of his life with a community event with a focus on family – games, give-aways with a family theme like a family movie night basket with popcorn, movie, theatre-sized boxes of candy.  Community, family, people.

As I was leaving, Miss Ayanna told me, “Don’t take anything for granted. You don’t know when it will be gone.”  She told me how Alajawan would forget to put the lid on the peanut butter jar or the soap would fall from the soap dish in the tub and he’d leave it to get all mushy and his mom would be the one to find it first.  She said she wished she ‘could still fuss on him’ over things like that.

I want to make a difference in my community. – Alajawan Brown

If you’d like to learn more, or help continue Alajawan’s mission, please visit Alajawan’s Hands.

 

*Edited*

On an unremarkable day, the old black-and-white picture of the missing-person flyer sent a jolt to my heart.  Twenty-eight years later, it still brings tears to my eyes.

On the night of June 1, 1990, Todd was at a pub.  He realized he had had too much to drink and he tossed his car keys to a long-time friend saying he’d see him tomorrow, and started walking home, as he had done before.

That was the last any of Todd’s loved ones saw him.

While authorities have always suspected foul play, there was a possibility of an accident.  Maybe as Todd was walking home, he staggered a bit from the shoulder of the road and a car hit him.  Even so, if that was the case, someone could have called 911.  But there was no call.

His body was dumped in the woods quite a distance from his route home.  His remains were found the following January.  Blunt-force trauma to his head.

 

 

Todd was funny and kind, a loyal friend.  A lot of girls swooned over Todd.  He was friendly to just about everyone who wasn’t an asshole.  He smiled so easily, so readily, like life was just one big happy day.

My earliest memories of Todd were in high school.  He was a sophomore, I was a meek freshman.  Somehow, I was graced to sit at the same cafeteria table with Todd, his older brother, and other upper classmen.  Todd and his brother would have the most obnoxious burping contests.  At the time, I was pretty uptight and serious so it grossed me out, but I came to appreciate the freedom they had to burp in such glorious disregard for rules or convention.

I wonder what he would be like today had he lived.  Probably a father.  Probably still close with the same friends from high school.  Definitely still smiling.

In memory of Todd, I ordered a special glass of wine.  It was called Ballbuster.  It was smooth, laid-back, and the name itself was irreverent and real, like Todd.

Someone somewhere knows something.  I hope the renewed focus on this case will prompt that someone to come forward.  Family and friends deserve closure.  Todd deserves justice.

To read more on the case, please visit the story on Jersey Shore Online.