Tag Archives: recovery

My sofa, my home

My sofa, my home

A couple of days ago, I would have been embarrassed by the pizza crumbs I found in my bra; but today, not so much. No longer bothered by the idea of wearing the same clothes for two, even three days, I’m learning to embrace my condition. I’ve come to think of the weight I’m putting on, as a result of stress eating and complete lack of activity, as what will one day become winter insulation. I’ve moved out of denial and am sliding comfortably into acceptance.
After breaking my ankle a week ago, I’ve turned my sofa into nearly my entire world. Surrounded by stacks of pizza boxes, I’ve come to accept this as the space I occupy. I eat here, sleep here, read here, build cities here, watch tv here, write here, pay bills here, yesterday I even recorded a radio show here. I’ve organized my belongings around me: a bag for trash, a bag for clean clothes, a bag for dirty clothes, toiletries, calcium vitamins, medicine, first aid kit, books, batteries, pencils and pens, brush, salt, remotes. Oh sure, I’ve been out in the past week. And certainly I’ve made the trek to the bathroom and I’ve had the adventure of crawling up three flights of stairs so I can take a sponge bath and wash my hair in the sink. But the majority of my time has been here.
Normally, I am a mover. Not in any particularly productive way, just there’s a lot of motion in my life. I go. I would simply stand up more, but my toes keep turning purple. So, adjusting to sitting on this sofa for the majority of my time, has taken some adjustment, but I think I’m over the hump. Maybe I’ll just extend my time here, stay. Perhaps I’ve transitioned to a sedentary life. And in this day and age, I could practically have anything I want delivered just a few feet away from me. Food, clothes, office supplies, animals, more cushions. I could learn to really appreciate the joy of getting to walk out to the porch and listen to the rain, or the birds. Enjoy the hours of solitude. Soak in the slow pace, buy clothing that doesn’t button, zip or tie, calculate how many hours it would take to watch every documentary on Netflix, learn how to make doilies.
In my mind, I am Tom Hanks in Cast Away, dreadlocked blonde hair, my best friend a pizza box that I’ve drawn a smiley face on. I’m learning to weave a hammock from the sofa stuffing and catch slow moving bees for food. I’m scratching tick marks into the window frame to keep track of the days. Rain storms are exciting, and I’m keeping an eye on the horizon for helicopters.
That is, of course, if Tom Hanks had been able to accomplish all that he did in a week. It’s easy to get lost in your own misery, whatever it is. In reality, I’m already halfway through the hardest part of my recovery. I’m truly getting off easy. But we’ve all had a cold, a heartbreak, a sadness that we thought would never end. It’s hard to see the light when you are down the rabbit hole. Sometimes we lose sight of hope and learn to manage the discomfort, and then before we know it, we are well again, we are lifted up, we are rescued.
Bones heal, heartbreak mends, sadness subsides, life moves. I could learn to stay here beyond my recovery, embrace my new sofa culture, order pre made food from the Internet, but in order to do so, at some point I would have to resist a lot of inertia to move forward. When we are uncomfortable, sick, sad, broken, it feels interminable. And fighting these unpleasant feelings probably doesn’t encourage them to pass us by any more quickly. They have their own course, their own pace. Giving in feels like the right thing to do for the moment. Try to find comfort in the discomfort, rest, feel bad. And not so long from now, I will rejoice in the simple pleasure of leaving my sofa and standing in the shower.


Why I am not afraid of lightening: A tribute to my mom

Why I am not afraid of lightening:  A tribute to my mom

During hurricane Hugo, my Mom and I lived in Rock Hill, SC. My Dad had taken a job at the newly opened Governor’s School for Science and Math in Hartsville, SC. There were terrific storms all throughout South Carolina, tornados and high winds even into the mountains and foothills. But as we climbed into bed that night we had no idea that would be the case.
I was 17 years old at the time, and must have been pretty terrified, because my mom let me sleep in the bed with her. She was already asleep, while I watched with horror when the newscast faded to static as the Charleston affiliate lost it’s connection. My mom slept quietly as I listened to branches crashing against the window and the wind and rain howling outside.
My mom had brought a kitchen timer into the bedroom and set it one hour at a time, so that if the power went out she would still get up for work. This should tell you at least two things about my Mom, she did NOT miss work ( not if she was sick, and not if a hurricane came through town) and she was clever. No power, no problem.
We made it through the night, we did lose power, for a week, and water for several days as well. There was no work the next day or the next as our neighborhood was completely blocked in by fallen trees. But if at any time my Mom was scared, she never let on.
Several years before, during a much different storm, I remember my mom sitting beside me looking up at the striking lightening with a look of sheer wonder and delight. I was terrified of the lightening as it popped right over head. My mom assured me we were fine, encouraged me to enjoy the electricity and to relax, because storms that strong could never last long. It was too difficult to sustain that kind of chaos.
That advice not only led me to enjoy the storms that nature has shared with me over the years, but to be reassured that the storms that life brings will not last. Chaos can’t last. So I just set my timer one hour at the time and get up in the morning, survey the damage and clear out the debris.
Thank you Mom, for all the things you have taught me, to be independent, to be the life of the party, to be honest, to be responsible, to never give up, to be a good writer, a good friend and an incredible mom and of course, to weather the storms. I love you.

Spoiler alert: you own your joy

Spoiler alert: you own your joy

Well, I had a relatively quiet couple of months. The butterflies have launched, the play has closed and I’m back to managing three-ish jobs with moderate success. And then blam-o, the calendar reminds me that Mother’s Day is upon us with Father’s Day close behind.
Mother’s Day is the parenting equivalent of Valentines Day. Moms need and deserve a day. We (all) bust our butts for a reward that is a long time coming, if it comes at all. These days, with single moms being held responsible for a plethora of social ills, from lashing out in school to rioting, it’s hard to keep your head up. And my day to day, is still, well, embarrassing. I spend uncountable hours performing glamorous tasks like, cleaning up dog feces and looking for lost shoes and pieces of paper. Added to the mix is my own second (er, third) adolescence. I made toast this morning and felt pretty proud of myself. This month all the bills were paid basically on time, I only forgot one RSVP and I kept up with the various other appointments, well mostly. I made attempts to create quality time, to be patient, to be compassionate, to be quiet. I did my best, with varying results.
My point being, Mother’s Day can feel like an F-U. It can be the grim remembrance of who you are not, or who you have lost. I’m lucky to have a mom, to be able to call her, to be able to send her a gift. And I’m fairly certain my mother is racked with guilt and feelings of inadequacy that no card or bouquet of flowers can ever repair. I know because now I get to live on the other side of that equation too. Then of course, there’s the folks that fall into the categories of having lost their mother, being estranged from their mother, or just having a complicated relationship with their mother. See, it’s valentines day for parenting.
Being a mom is simultaneously the most difficult and the most rewarding accomplishment of my life. So, Mother’s Day is our day dammit! Moms, we earned this day. Daughters and sons, you earned this day to honor or remember or even be thankful that you live across the country from your mom. But we each get to decide what this day means and how we want to honor, or ignore it. But it is a choice. Confidentially i have set aside some sad sacking time on Saturday explicitly for moaning and feeling sorry for myself, for lamenting the mom I cannot be on my own and the husband that left me to do just that. But then I have a new plan. I say, If you’re feeling left out of the holiday send someone flowers, anyone who cares for you without demand, send your daughter flowers, or the old lady at the convince store that always calls you, ” honey!” . Send a card to the secretary at church, buy lunch for the waitress. Mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor, buy yourself a latte and a cupcake, You can honor anyone you want and I guarantee you’ll make the day of whomever you gift with your thoughts, because that’s often what being a mother is about: caring for someone else, taking care of the village.

This is my spring

This is my spring

I survived the fall wedding anniversary
The November birthday
New Years
There were no cards, only thoughts
The world seemed to be getting colder
And darker
I waited, with dread, for the late January anniversary
My heart clouded
My chest heavy

I survived each day
Shallow, breaths
Watched amazing fuchsia sunrises
Followed the path of waves
Peered into the fog
Studied the stars

I survived the most recent anniversary
The one that marks the day you left us
I was reminded of my daughters’ sorrow
I felt the love of my tribe
I cried

And today is my spring
I can feel the air fully filling my lungs
Once again
The weight of sorrow is lessened
I made it through the darkest days
It is accomplished once again

I know grief, like weather,
Is unpredictable
There can be snow in March
And April
But I know the trend is up
Each day holds more sunshine than the last
This is my spring

Who’s a donkey now?!

Who’s a donkey now?!

When I was in the second grade my mom bought me the coolest shirt ever. It was around 1980 and I was eight and mostly didn’t care what I wore. But this day was different, this day I was gonna wear the pink cotton poets’ shirt with my burgundy pants and my tall brown boots. That shirt felt awesome on me, soft and girly with two ties that hung down from the opening at the neck and a zig zag stitch that gathered the bottom hem. I felt stylish in that shirt, and super cool. I imagined myself turning dramatically on the play ground like I was in the opening sequence for a TV drama, like Charlie’s Angels or Dallas. I chose one very sleek and sophisticated ponytail rather than the more childish two pony tails. In my vision I probably down played my buck teeth, oversized glasses and uber thin frame. I was Wonder Woman.
I attended 2nd grade in one of the most rural and socio-economically deprived counties in the state of South Carolina. It was just a pond skip beyond the 1970s which means culturally (read: racially) it was more like the 50s. I recall the time the Klan marched right by our school. I remember looking back as those ghost like figures topped a hill just beyond our school playground. Teachers rushed us inside. I was frightened, but I didn’t know why. No one talked about it, we just missed recess that day.
The school was built decades before I arrived on that sunny day clad in my coolest of cool attire. The students had long since outgrown the size of the original buildings and portable trailers had been added on top of the dusty red clay behind the school. Covered walkways served as outdoor hallways connecting various entrances to the brick building.
On this day, as I walked through the crowded walkway I heard a voice from the top of the stairs call my name. Believing that it must be an admirer I turned to see who desired my attention. It was a dirty, stringy haired blond girl who I didn’t know well, but I must have upset her in some 8 year old way that day. Perhaps I made her laugh and chocolate milk came out of her nose and embarrassed her. Whatever the reason, she called out at the top of her tiny dirty voice ” donkey!” To me, star of an unnamed tv drama!? So I did what any scrappy (and well dressed) 8 year old would do. I turned around and shouted back “donkey!” This went back and forth a few times until it occurred to me that I had continued to walk backwards while taunting her. So I turned quickly around in order to get back in my class’ line. Unfortunately it was at that very moment that one of the support beams for the covered walkway happened to be directly and unavoidably in my path. I crashed face first hard into that pole. Blood exploded from my nose and mouth.
My poor mother worked at the school and they quickly called her into the bathroom where I had been rushed. There I stood covered in blood, my mother gasped, not knowing where the blood stopped and my mangled face began. Blood dripped profusely down onto my favorite shirt.
I got to go home early and convalesce on my sofa, defeated in what felt like my finest hour. I iced my nose and fat lip for what remained of the day, probably fortunate that nothing was broken or required stitching. The last time I saw the coolest shirt ever it was floating in a plastic tub full of cloudy water. The bloodstains never came out. It was a sharp reminder that I would be many things throughout my life but cool was probably never going to be one of them.



Have you ever read the Buddhist tale about the man whose son breaks his leg while riding his horse and everyone says “what bad luck.” And then because of his broken leg he is not able to enlist in the army and go off to war where he would potentially die. People say, ” what good luck” and then his father has to go in his place and so on. There is no good luck or bad luck, only luck says the moral of the story.  This week has been all kinds of what seems like bad luck has been good and what seemed good turned out to be both good and bad.

Perspective is the name of the game.

I am renovating my kitchen which is all good, except for the inconvenience, the cost and oh, the giant section of rotten wood under my wood floor. Still better to find out this way than creating a me shaped hole in the floor at some point. renovations always take longer and cost more than you anticipate in the beginning.  That is true for kitchens as well as for people.

I’m still in repair as I cast my gaze towards the two year anniversary, there is still work to be done and it feels like healing takes forever.  But taking all the steps is still really important. I don’t want to cover over my rotten feelings only for someone else to find them later.  Surprise there is a giant hole here.  Careful you don’t fall in.

if I had three wishes it would be for a  faster, more predictable healing schedule, that I had not had to March out of three different rooms to get the quiet space to type this post and for thinner thighs and abs.  If I had four wishes I’d wish for world peace.

I should’ve planned better



I’m thinking of converting to Jehovah’s Witness, not for any religious reason.  I just don’t want to celebrate holidays anymore. I realize I could just not celebrate holidays, sure. Maybe I need one of those mind blasters  from Men In Black instead.
See, grief is like a ninja.  It’s hiding quietly in the trees waiting to pounce on your head. Just when I think I’ve gotten everything under control and things seem to be moving along swimmingly, Ba-bam!  Ninja on my head.
Of course, if I look at things a bit more closely I can sense the grief coming.
I just returned from vacation, which is rather exhausting really. All the sun and water activities and the long drive, even just being out of our regular schedule can tire me out. But I’ve been so tired, both on the trip and even after returning home. I actually wondered is it allergies, a cold, mono?  So tired. Probably just adjusting to being back home. I’ve got all kinds of paperwork to catch up on and I’ll be teaching a summer camp for the next two weeks. Cats to vets, kids to dentists, counseling appointments made and missed, a workshop, housework, cleaning, sorting. Ok so, there are reasons to be tired, maybe irritable. No ninjas, just life.
But the ninja got Sarah first. This is our first 4th of July not in the “big house”, our family house. Last July 4th we all thought about it. The house was already under contract then.  We still had our party, but we knew it was our last one. We allowed the ninja to go hide in the trees.
The big house sits atop a hillside that overlooks the Roanoke valley. It has a breathtaking view throughout the seasons. Summer nights the valley looks like a bowl of city lights, winter snows that pull the branches of evergreens to the earth, fall leaves alive with golds and oranges, fog so heavy that the city below disappears until the fog washes back over the mountains, angry storms and colorful sunsets.  The wall of windows in the family room was a constantly changing work of art. But of all these, the fireworks at the Fourth of July were the most impressive.
The big house is perfectly positioned for optimal viewing of the fireworks. This was the one holiday that the Pressley Trowell family had an annual party. Kids with sparklers, grilled meat, cold beer, fresh blueberries, popsicles, friends of mine, friends of Chris’s. And when it got dark, spectacular views of Roanoke’s firework display. We were close  enough to hear the “boom” echo across the valley in air conditioned comfort. The lights of each explosion would light up our faces behind those windows. People would gather in the street below our house, sit on their cars, advance into our driveway. Our location was enviable that one day of the year for sure.
Last year July 4th was just a few short months after Chris’s death. I was still trying to find my footing on what seemed to be very infirm earth. Having the party in the nearly empty house seemed like a way to buoy myself to the past, feel a bit less adrift  in the sea of grief. But I knew it would be the last time.  The last party.  In the long list of things to sort through emotionally, it got shuffled to the future, until yesterday.
S was crying and emotional.  The outward cause was a very heavy rainstorm that threatened flash flooding.  The deluge seemed to mock us as we headed to our weekly family counseling session, only to subside once we arrived at the therapist’s office. We had a frustrating session that highlighted our family’s continued dysfunction and overall inability to participate in a cooperative game of Jenga.
S’s sobbing resurfaced as we drove home, the storm picked up again. When we arrived  I sat with Sarah in the car for a few minutes trying to uncover the deeper source of her sadness. Then it came, the real flood.
 ”  What are we going to do on the fourth this year?  ” she asked
“I want to go home.”  She said
And finally I realized she’s been asking for a week to go home. She doesn’t mean the just right house, she means the big house. She wants to go back.
Pounce. Ninjas. Pounce.
I carried her inside.
Crap.  Why can’t a holiday that’s mostly meant to give people some time off in the middle of the summer just be another day? Why can’t  it be just a day when my biggest worry needs to be if I have purchased enough charcoal, if the beer is cold enough, that I’ve gotten enough free range organic hot dogs. No…this stupid day has to provoke an emotional thunderstorm, a week long exhaustion that  masquerades around as allergies, a long to do list.  This otherwise random day serves as a reminder that I am the keeper of a stew of emotions, mine and my girls. Life is not what it was, life is something new and unfamiliar.
This idea that I could just not plan our fourth is the insanity I keep trying to make work. Maybe the ninjas will get bored with us, take a day off, climb down from their perches, have a beer with everyone else. Still doesn’t work, didn’t work on Easter, won’t work on the Fourth of July, probably won’t work on Arbor Day either.
So we have to figure this out, can’t be paralyzed by a simple decision of where to watch fireworks. S, in all her tiny wisdom, suggested we come up with a new tradition. This new tradition will be the special thing we do.  We have the right to start over.  Take that ninjas.

Dream life



Last night I dreamt I was renovating my basement. It was not the basement from my current house, but the basement from the house I grew up in in Rock Hill, SC.  A polite, bright eyed, pudgy African American woman was the potential architect of this project. I kept worrying that her all white suit was going to get soot or black mold on it from the basement. The basement was mostly as I consciously remember it, dark, damp and full of treasures in boxes. Upon remembering the washer and dryer were down there I got very excited about the promise of a new laundry room with a space for a table to fold my laundry. 

Then I realized there was a sad presence with me. It was Chris. Just like so many dreams he appears in, he’s been dead, but come back to life. In this case he’s allowing me to make the choices about the renovations, but his presence makes the choosing strange. 
I suppose it’s a message about change, worry, starting over and the ever present weight of the past. I’m not sure of the woman, but she seemed self-assured that the project would be a success. If I am every person in my dream, I’m sure this is a nod to my great sense of style and complete lack of practicality. 
This theme is now a reoccurring one.   Chris is alive, or more succinctly, undead. He’s sad and aloof, distant, but very present. Sometimes I spend the better part of my energy in the dream trying to figure out a way to keep him from dying again. I never succeed. More often now, he’s just this hovering presence, weighty and dysphoric.
 Waking up from these dreams always leave me feeling melancholy.  They seem to tug at a restlessness beneath the surface that still doesn’t make sense. Reality still doesn’t quite work. Where is Chris?  Why doesn’t he call more often?  How do I get in touch with him when I’ve got important decisions to be made?  
There’s a storm on the horizon here at the beach. Aside from the dream, I was awakened often throughout the night by an obnoxiously noisy ceiling fan. There’s still hot coffee when I wake, the promise of delicious breakfast. Life goes on, even after confusing dreams and storms. In fact, that is life.