Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Moments in memories

Went in a different direction with writing this weekend. This moment in my life wouldn't leave me alone.

I've been thinking about writing this for weeks. Another memory hidden deep, prodding me from within. Wanting out, boiling in my mind. I know what to do when words boil in my mind. Only release will ease the pressure of their presence. Never before have I shared this with anyone, until now.

Today (Aptil 19) would have been my uncle Dick’s 81st birthday. I miss the sound of his belly laugh.

The last night my father was alive on this earth, I was there with him. And so was my uncle. I shared that night with these two men…in a room filled with love. A love so great, so profound, with a depth and fierceness that neither time nor human could vanquish.

That night I drifted restlessly, floating somewhere between the threshold of alertness and the vacuity of sleep. Bitterly aware of the slipping of time, the emotional fracture of loss about to snap like a summer twig on a forest floor. Laying on a cot placed at the foot of my father's hospital bed, I spent the hours of that night, listening to my uncle’s soft melodic voice…recounting a million and one memories. A lifetime of recollections. The breath of final goodbyes.

A night I shall carry within the power of my heart forever.

From the time dad was admitted to the hospital two weeks prior, the days passed in a blur. Each day started at 5:00 am so I could be at the hospital by 6:00 am, gathered with family and friends. Around 11, I left the hospital and went to work for several hours. Work was both a needed distraction and a necessity caused by timing. Cancer doesn’t give proper notice to allow family members time to rearrange the priorities in their lives. I’d stay at work three or four hours each day, then drive back to the hospital where I remained until 10 or 11 at night. Several of us took turns spending the night with dad; between my step-mother, sisters, brother and a brother-in-law, someone was always with him. On those nights when it wasn’t my turn to stay, I’d drive home, go to bed for several hours, then get up at 5 the next day and do it all over again.

Looking back now, I don’t know how I did it. But that’s the thing about moments like this in your life when you find yourself someplace you never thought you’d be. Without thinking, without preparation, you shift yourself into drive and do what has to be done. That’s just the way it is.

And so, as it came to be that Saturday night, it was my turn to stay. By all rights, I should have been exhausted that night. But what sleep I had came in short moments of drowsy submission. Stubbornly refusing to give in, I held tight to my consciousness, not wanting to miss a single second of the interchange between these two brothers. It was the most beautiful heartbreaking passage of my life.

When everyone had gone home, I took my place at dad’s bedside, with uncle Dick standing on the other side, holding dad’s hand, and tenderly stroking the top of dad’s head. A brother’s touch. No longer lucid, his eyes dim and hollow, dad laid on this bed, unable to speak or move. I felt weary, numb, and it must have been close to midnight when I decided to lay down and convinced myself to sleep so dad and my uncle could have this time together without me hovering. When I pulled my feet from the floor and finally laid down, I felt a heaviness lifted from my shoulders as I slipped down, under the covers on the cot, slowly lulled by the sound of my uncle’s soft whispers lifting the heavy curtain of silence.

From my place at the foot of the bed, I felt the love pouring from my uncle’s heart into my father’s ear. Words so soft and sweet, they both filled my heart with joy and tore it apart, all at once. Boyhood memories flowing through every slow and tender stroke of my uncle’s fingers, recapturing minutes and hours long since passed, held tight and woven in the time and space of these two brothers. It was like listening to a song without end.

I tried to sleep that night, to give my uncle some private time. Yet every time I felt myself relax and drift off, just as I was about to surrender, the rise and fall of my uncle’s voice pulled me away, like a heartfelt violin concerto. A few times I lifted myself up from the cot just enough to see their two figures. Dick holding dad’s hand in his right, his left hand on dad’s head, sometimes gently caressing, and sometimes just cupped at the back of his head. Leaning over the bed, his lips moving in the rhythmic duty of expressing long lost words of love and family, sharing distant memories of occasions and places, and the faded fragments of time and tribulation.

Laying there, just listening, changed me. It filled me. It broke me. And it mended me.

A brother’s lullaby of love and tenderness. A lifetime captured, contained, and conveyed in a solemn night; two brothers and four walls. At times it was unbearable, and yet in those moments I felt the healing comfort of hope.

Hours passed. I listened. A silent witness to the testimony of one man’s life. At one point I felt a soft human breeze as a nurse walked past me. This was followed by the rustling of blankets as she whispered a good morning to my uncle. My eyes were closed, and it was a moment of semi-consciousness; I felt like I was hanging somewhere between reality and dreams. The rustling stopped abruptly, I heard her say something indiscernible to my uncle. I heard footsteps, then I felt her hand lay gently on my shoulder. I was on my right side, with my back to the bed.

“Dona,” she whispered as she bent over me.

I opened my eyes. “I‘m awake.”

A brief pause, and then, “It’s time. His kidneys shut down. You need to get everyone here…now.”

Without thinking, I nodded and sat up, just as her hand left my shoulder. It was still dark outside. I glanced at my watch. A few minutes after 5. I swallowed the lump forming in my throat, set my feet on the floor and stood up.

It was time to meet this day. All the fragments of time shared between my father and uncle laid heavy in the November morning air. Shaking off the burden of our own lost time, I excused myself, stepped out of the room and walked down the short hall into the waiting room next door to make the calls to summon my family.

Minutes ticked by as I readied myself. By the time I changed out of my sleepwear into my day clothes, folded the sheets and blankets on the cot and placed it out of the way, my sisters and step-mother arrived. Somewhere in the commotion I caught a glimpse of my uncle walking toward the door to leave. I asked if he would stay. With his hand on the door, he looked up at me from across the room and slowly shook his head. Before he turned away, I looked into his eyes and felt the clouds of pain and sorrow bearing the weight of a lifetime on his heart. There was a moment between us, a brief connection of understanding, and then he stepped out into the hall.

With that I released a deep, heavy sigh. I understood. Last night carried it’s own burden, and my uncle needed to lay it down. Someplace other than here, in this room, right here, right now. I took a deep breath, and walked to my father’s bedside, taking my place among the group of four women who would help dad through his final hours of life.

Shortly after 11 that morning, dad released his final breath.

Friday, April 17, 2015

In the works...

More is on the way. I will have the time and opportunity to write this weekend.

Have the house all to myself this week. 

Turkey season opened Wednesday and Sam has been at the cabin since Tuesday. 

Sounds strange but I do enjoy these moments when I can just sit back, focus on myself and write, uninterrupted.   

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Journey of a Heart B1 C1 (con't)

~~~~~~~Journey of a Heart (JOAH)~~~~~~~ 
Book 1 Through the Music
Chapter 1 Tears of Time (continued)

That little house on Ethel Street holds many memories for me. I was an active child, and active children see their share of injuries. Whether it was running into a passing car while chasing after a ball, getting into a mess of fire ants, or stepping on a rusty nail, I kept my mother busy...sometimes with worry, sometimes frustration. She never missed the chance to tell me how she could dress both Diane and I at the same time and let us out to play. We'd be together the entire time, yet when Mom called us in for lunch hours later, I returned covered head to toe with dirt, mud, and grass stains, while Diane remained pristine and clean. Mom gave up trying to understand how that was possible. But simply stated, I played with more heart and passion, while Diane tended to supervise and boss me around. Of course she didn't get dirty, she really wasn't playing at all. Nevertheless we did everything together, including the time we contracted chicken pox and spent a week in our bedroom together, maddened with the itching and scratching of the pox. I hated it and even now I can feel my skin starting to itch with the memory.

Mom loved to tell the story of the day she got a call from the school telling her I had an "accident." Hearing the news, her heart heavy with worry, she was almost afraid to ask what happened. Yet, she sensed it wasn't terribly bad because the caller sounded calm and almost light hearted. And when the caller asked her to bring a change of underwear for me, she could only shake her head and wonder what I had done.

I remember that day very well. I was in kindergarten and we were playing Simon says. I was really enjoying the game, but then came the internal urge. I gave the teacher the signal that I needed to use the bathroom; to avoid interrupting the game the teacher instructed us ahead of time to hold up our hand with our index finger extended. I waited. And waited. And waited for the teacher to notice me as the game continued. At the precise moment she finally looked my direction, she spoke the words, "Simon says..." and she nodded her head. That was actually her telling me yes, but I along with many of my classmates thought it was part of the game. Seconds later, as the teacher was calling several of us out of the game because she didn't say the command to nod our head, I had my "accident." I couldn't help it. The game stopped, the classroom erupted with laughter, and my teacher quickly escorted me to the office. Mom showed up with the requested clothing items, but I didn't want to return to the class. She lovingly gave me one of her pep talks, and wonderful hugs. Her hugs held a power that infused in me the will to go on, to carry my head high. I returned to class, entering to another eruption of laughter, but I no longer cared what the other children did or said. Let them laugh, I was still basking in the gift of my mother's love. I just turned the page and moved on. Nothing else mattered in that space and time.

Ask anyone what they were doing on November 22, 1963 and you'll get a wide range of answers. President Kennedy's assassination is one of those moments in history that people eagerly share their personal experience when asked. I usually just respond that I was playing outside and leave it at that. I remember the day in detail, but that day is inextricably tied a memory that I can't unsee. A childhood passage, I suppose. Diane and I were sitting on the trunk of a white car (maybe mom's Chevrolet Corvair), chatting with neighbor kids, perhaps even bickering over trivial childish things. At our feet were two dogs, both poodles, that belonged to a neighbor. One was male, the other female. The female was in heat and soon Mother Nature took her course. I hadn't paid the dogs much attention until the female started yelping, loudly. The neighbor boys were laughing, in a disturbing way, and I asked why the two dogs were stuck together. This brought on more laughter and Diane quickly defended me against the boys endless teasing of my naivety. She jumped off the car and got right in their face. But the laughter suddenly stopped when my mother came running out of the house, in tears to break the news. All she said is the President had been shot. Everyone was stunned into silence by the time mom reached the car, instructed the neighbor kids to go home, then took Diane and I by the hand and led us into our house. Later that week, I remember watching the funeral procession on television, everyone gathered in the living room, blanketed in silence and grief. This was my first experience with death, which I didn't fully grasp at the time; it was just another event I saw through the innocent eyes and naive mind of a six year old child.
I haven't said much about my new step-father, and up to this point I really don't remember much about interacting with him. Perhaps it's because the only father I remember having at that point was my father.  Every year dad traveled down from Idaho to visit me and Diane; he always included her in everything he did. The first year he took the both of us to visit his sister somewhere in LA. She lived in an apartment with a swimming pool, which Diane and I spent the entire time enjoying. That's when I learned to dog paddle; I just hung on to the side of the pool and inched away from the steps before letting go and pushing myself back to the steps with my arms and legs in a flurry of movement. I wasn't very good, but I kept my head above water and made it safely back to the steps every time. I have two pictures from that day, one of Diane and I in the pool, and another shows Diane, with dad holding me and my new little sister Annie.

The following year during his visit, he took the both Diane and I to Pacific Ocean Park (POP as we called it). POP has long since disappeared but the day I spent there with him and Diane is vivid in my mind. I can still feel the warmth of his hand holding mine as we climbed the stairs leading up to a bubble shaped gondola that took riders 75 feet above the sea, traveling a mile out and back. I remember the slow climb up those stairs, the push of people around us, the smell of sea salt in the air and the light breeze one often feels at the ocean's shore. Once in the gondola, even with the slightest swing brought on by the breeze as we traveled out over the vast blue sea, huddled close to my father, I felt safe. Diane didn't like the ride, and complained the entire time. But I loved it.

Little did I know, that day marked the beginning of his long absence from my life.

Sometime in 1964 we moved from North Hollywood to a three bedroom ranch style home on Hayvenhurst Boulevard in Sepulveda, now known as North Hills. Mom was pregnant and a larger home for our growing family was necessary. But as our family grew in number, something else was growing as well. Resentment and jealousy took hold inside my sister Diane’s heart, and it seems the more attention my father paid to both of us, the more bitter she became of him. All because her father wanted nothing to do with her. He made no attempts to contact her, leaving her feeling betrayed and abandoned. Whatever love and devotion my father provided wasn’t enough. And then one day, she took matters into her own hands.

I believe more families are torn apart by the pressure of lies and deceit rooted in imagined jealousy any some actual event. And so it was to be with me and my father as well. Fueled by emotion, Diane took me aside in our bedroom one day and whispered lies into my naive ears. At first I didn’t believe her and we argued, but she persisted, and insisted. She was so convincing. I loved her, she always protected me, always looked out for me. That alone, brought me around to her way of thinking. Why would she want to deliberately hurt me? And once she had set her hook in me, she reeled me in and paraded me into the kitchen to make the announcement to our mother.

And like a trained bird, I parroted the words from my sister’s mouth, to my mother’s ear. My dad had molested me when I was younger. That’s all I had to say, that’s all it took. No further details were requested, no further discussion ensued. And thus I had played a role in the demise of the relationship with my own father. Not knowing what I had done, or fully understanding what it was or meant, I did what I did, like a puppet on a string.

To this day I will never understand the emotion called jealousy.

Not long after, Diane and I were taken to see a psychiatrist. I don’t remember much about the visit, other than he spoke to both of us separately. I didn’t want to talk and what little I said was about my memories of Beulah. I had nothing to say about my father, there wasn’t anything to tell, I had no memory of what Diane said about him. I didn’t want to talk about him, I wanted to talk about Beulah. The man spoke to me in a unsympathetic, harsh tone and I didn’t like him.

On the car ride home, mom and our step-father Dave got in a heated discussion about the visit. The good doctor, it seems, had informed our parents that Diane and I lied about Beulah because people didn’t do those terrible things to children. My step-father believed the doctor, and mom’s protestations of witnessing the marks on my back left by Beulah’s belt did nothing to pursuade our step-father. He sided with the doctor. There was no abuse, we imagined it all, it never happened and that was that.

Ironically, the few times my step-father chose to dole out punishment, his tool of choice was, you guessed it, a leather belt. I was terrified of the belt and he knew it. But that didn’t stop him. It only took one beating with the belt for me to learn my lesson. That is, until years later when history would repeat itself and I would be blamed and punished for something I didn’t do.

I hated leather belts and for years refused to wear one with my pants. Only recently did I start wearing them.


With the move to Sepulveda, Diane was enrolled at Gledhill Elementary School, but I was enrolled in a private school called Valley Christian Baptist School, now known as Valley Charter School. Before the move, teachers at Saticoy Street School convinced my parents it was in my best interest for me to attend a private school. I was advanced for my age, having spent several years in pre-school, then starting kindergarten in the fall of 1961 at the age of four years and five months. Young by today’s standards, and that debate continues even today.

I remember the day I showed up for my first day at Valley, escorted by my mom. We sat in the office for what seemed like forever, and then a woman entered the room. She and mom exchanged pleasantries, and then she escorted me to my new class. Entering the room, I was nervous and could feel the weight of many eyes on me as my new teacher showed me to a desk and chair. Busy at some assigned task, the class was mostly quiet, with the exception of an occasional hushed whisper. I was given a sheet of printed paper and a pencil; at my side, bent in to me so as not to disturb the class, the teacher whispered this was the same test the class was taking, and as a member I needed to take it as well. She then walked away, sat down at her desk, and I took my first look at the test. It was math, and I easily made it through the first couple of problems, but stopped short of completing it. At Saticoy School second grade, I had just learned addition and subtraction, but the test in front of me contained multiplication and division problems. I was certain the addition symbol was sideways, so I raised my hand to get the teacher's attention. She arrived at my desk and I explained what I saw, which resulted in an eruption of laughter from several nearby students. Immediately I felt the heat of embarrassment rush over me, but the teacher gently touched my shoulder and explained that this was a multiplication problem. When she pointed to a division problem, asked if I knew what it was, I shook my head no, eliciting another eruption of laughter from the entire class.

This time she spun around and harshly stated, "Silence! That's enough! Get back to your work."

The class immediately obeyed. I, feeling humiliated, just wanted to be invisible. The teacher gave me the next best thing, when she picked up the paper, took my hand and led me out of the class room. We returned back to the office, where my mother waited. Delighted to see her again, I was hoping she would take me home. But the return trip to the office was merely to discuss the results of the test, in which it became clear I wasn't prepared for second grade at this school. The decision made, I was sent back to first grade so I could 'catch up.' I took it hard, and didn't understand. But in reality, I was now in a class with students my age, whereas before the students were always a year older.

Life, and my attitude, were about to change. In May 1965 our family welcomed my younger sister, Katie, to the family. On the day mom came home from the hospital with her, I impatiently waited in class. I watched the clock like a hawk; the hours, minutes and seconds seemed to drag on. And when the 3 o'clock bell rang, I sprung out of my seat and ran all the way home, stopping only long enough to wait for the red light at the corner of Nordhoff and Hayvenhurst. I burst through the front door to find mom on the couch holding Katie on her lap. And when mom asked if I wanted to hold her, I didn't hesitate. She was so tiny, and red.

It had been a difficult birth; Katie's umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, by the time she made it through the birth canal her blood was black from lack of oxygen and she needed an immediate blood transfusion. She survived, but when she cried her face turned a deep, deep shade of magenta pink, something I'd never seen before. In the weeks that followed, the house filled with the activity of friends and family, all eager to see the new arrival. And mom took it all in least, that's what I thought.

During my second grade year I started acting out. The once silent child became very vocal, to the point where just before Thanksgiving break I learned a valuable lesson in disrupting the class. The teacher had stepped out of the class momentarily, and everyone started talking. I'm not sure what came over me, but I wanted to get everyone's attention for some reason. So I stood up on my chair and yelled "Listen to me!" just as the teacher opened the door and stepped back in. Everyone stopped talking. And I was sent home with an extra assignment for the weekend; for my punishment, I had to write the sentence, I will never stand on my chair and disrupt class again. I had to write it 100 times.