A Bucket List Expose’ – An Affair of the Heart

Dear Diary,

The only guideline I gave myself when I started writing to you dear diary was that I had to be honest. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…as I know it.

I hate it when I do that.

I want to tell you so badly about my Pacific Coast Highway triumph, but I cannot do that unless I tell the truth of what motivated me to accomplish the solo trip from LA to Seattle.

It’s a painful truth.

Let me set the stage – April 2013. I had been off of work for 3 months and was still fighting for my life. I had not told anyone of the severity of my illness, that’s not how I was raised.

When things get darkest, I was taught from a young age to go inside. Don’t expose the monsters, don’t ask for help. Silence was rewarded.

My job had just let me go for being sick and in exchange for my silence on the matter and a 5k settlement, I signed an agreement that I would not pursue legal action.

I was too sick to care about legal action. I gladly signed it just to be over the LOA extensions and hostility I perceived every time I let them know I wasn’t getting better.

Still…it was a blow to both my ego and my pocketbook. I had not been without an income since I was 15 years old, which was 40 years. The 5k was only about 7 days worth of salary for me. They got off cheap.

I had never been faced with something I couldn’t overcome. Once I set my mind to achieve something, I don’t let go until it’s done. Being sick was new to me, and as hard as I tried, I could not affect the outcome.

If I’m being honest (and I have to be now that I made that rash promise to you diary), I knew deep down that I had been sick for a few years, but I kept talking myself out of it. I kept telling myself “it must just be from getting older, or it’s just stress, or I’m just tired, or I just need to eat better, or I just need to get more exercise.”

All of that was true to some extent, but the real culprit was the dark passenger ravaging my body. That’s what I call it.

Science calls it “Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder with Autonomic Involvement”. Those are fancy words that mean I have disease overlap between Lupus, Scleroderma, and Polymyositis with Rheumatoid Arthritis thrown in for good measure. The autonomic involvement is just a fancy word for saying my esophagus doesn’t work.

You would think I’d be thinner.

I was finally motivated to go to the doctor when I got up from my desk at 10:00 at night (I was the only one left in the building thank God), and the world went dark. I woke up looking at the underbelly of my desk. I’d never seen it from that angle before.

Kind of a Dead Poet Society moment.

I went to a doctor the next day and found that my heart was under attack. The unchecked disorder was damaging my ticker and it was in critical danger. Who knew? No matter how hard you try, you can’t will the heart into getting back in the game if it is marching to the beat of it’s own drummer.

By April 2013, my heart was showing signs of improvement. Not completely out of the woods yet…but at least it was not boldly marching down it’s fatal path.

But this wasn’t the catalyst for the bucket list trip. Not by a long shot.

I was lonely and not a little bored. I had been cut off from the outside world. My friendships were mostly work-related, so I had not had social contact for 4 months. My world had gotten pitifully small and silent.

The day came when I heard my hubby’s phone go off so I picked it up and looked at the text from his best friend Steve. They were discussing the upcoming “guy” weekend they were planning at our house in Arizona.

Mind you, in 20 years of marriage I had not checked his wallet, his phone, his pockets, his car, or anything else. I trusted him completely.

I read the text because I was hungry for some sort of outside contact. Any kind of interaction would do, even if it wasn’t mine.

It was delicious, so I didn’t stop there. I opened his recent texts and there it was. The catalyst. One text of three little words.

 “Wear something sexy.”

And it wasn’t sent to me.

It was to a female friend of his (let’s call her Tran) who he had arranged to meet on his way to work and sell some ammo to.

Well Wyatt Earp, you just shot me. Through.The. Heart.

The heart I was already so desperately trying to mend. The heart that was already at risk. The heart already under attack.

Except this blow was not from a dark passenger, it was from the person closest to me, my partner, my best friend, my mate.

Who is this guy? I felt like I suddenly didn’t know him at all.

I floundered. And true to my roots, I dove deep inside. I revealed nothing.

This was not a new pain. Although it had been many years, betrayal was not new. My mother betrayed us when she didn’t save us from my step-father. My first husband betrayed me with a co-worker when I was pregnant with our child.

So why am I always so surprised?

I had this roiling and seething inside of me for 2 weeks. The anger was building. The anger at being betrayed, the anger at having to deal with this while I was still trying to get back to good with my dark passenger, the anger at having this occur when I am 55 years old and supposed to be enjoying life, the anger at feeling like a fool.

Then came the monsters.

The ones that tell me it must be my fault somehow. The ones that tell me I must be unlovable. The ones that tell me I don’t deserve to be happy. The ones that tell me to pretend like it never happened so I don’t have to deal with the truth.

Not this time monsters. I am older and wiser now. I don’t have the time or energy for a trip down self destruction lane.

This couldn’t have come at a worse time. I’d lost my job, I’d lost my health, I’d even lost my figure thanks to the rapid weight gain from the massive amount of steroids and other medications I’d been taking for the last 4 months. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror anymore. And now I’d lost my trust?

I’d lost my way.

It finally all came to a head at…of all places…a Wal Mart.

Let me just say, I have an abhorrence of public scenes. People who air their dirty laundry by arguing loudly in public have a lack of self control or a desperate need for attention in my book.

On this day I had gone with him to Wal Mart and true to his nature, Wyatt Earp insisted upon stopping by the ammo section. The Area Manager told him that they were expecting a large shipment of .22’s if he wanted to wait. There was already a line forming.

He asked if I minded waiting. I didn’t. What else did I have to do?

Then I remembered that .22 shells were what had brought Tran and Wyatt together on his way to work. Did she wear something sexy that night (he works off shifts)? Like a holster maybe?

I walked away, pretending like I was doing other shopping (I hate Wal Mart, so this is out of character for me normally). I could feel the anger doing a slow boil. It was dangerously close to spilling over.

2 hours later Wyatt called me and told me he had the .22’s and was ready to go. I could meet him at the check out lanes. He again thanked me for waiting around. I told him that it was fine as long as he didn’t sell them to someone he had arranged to meet on the way to work and had told to wear something sexy.

There it was. I spilled the beans in Wal Mart, a very public place. They had boiled over and right out of my mouth. Like anger vomit.

The realization of what I’d said visibly went through his mind and onto his face.

He has no problem with public scenes. His family is notorious for them.

He hissed at me, “You invaded my privacy?”

What? That’s what the issue was in his mind? Here comes the cray cray feeling.

I walked out and waited by the car. I wasn’t going to rebut in Wal Mart.

When he got in the car he was mad. HE WAS MAD. I love that.

I finally rebutted, “The only people who need privacy in a relationship are the ones who have something to hide or something to protect. Which is it with you?”

He said, “I don’t have anything to hide. I sent that text to test you to see if you checked my phone.”

“How convenient”, I replied. “Let’s just say I was buying that, which I’m not, but if I were…why would you send the text to Tran? She thinks it’s real.”

He said, “No she doesn’t, she was in on the test.”

He was not helping his case. This put me over the anger edge.

“You brought in a woman, a third person into our relationship to TEST me? Now I really don’t buy it. I’d like to think you are not that stupid.”

“I didn’t really think about it that way. It was an innocent text. It’s not like you caught me going out on you. After all, if I was going to go out on you, do you think I would be with someone like Tran?”

This just keeps getting better.

“Really? Now you’re going to be insulted by WHO you would NOT choose to go out on me with?” I said incredulously.

“The point is this…do you REALLY think that I would ever go out on you?” was his rebuttal.

“No, but I also would not have believed that you would ask someone to wear something sexy to meet for a late night business exchange. You were flirting, whether or not you meant it to TEST me, at the end of the day it wasn’t about me. It was about you, and I’m done talking about it. I need to think where I go from here.”

To make a long story longer, we managed to have quite a few more very loud arguments (in private) about it.

When he left for his “guy” weekend, I decided since I was already accused of being a privacy invader, what did I have to lose?

NEVER, EVER underestimate a woman’s ability to find shit out when she’s mad.

I hacked his mail, his ipad, his computer. I found a couple of photos of him, Tran, and a woman we shall call Piggy (for obvious reasons, just sayin’) in the garage of our Arizona house partying. Piggy’s long standing crush on Wyatt was a joke among our friends who enjoyed ribbing him about it.

I wasn’t laughing anymore.

The date on these photos were at a time that I was still working 6 days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day. For us. For our future, while he was partying with Tran and Piggy at our other house?

It wasn’t a smoking gun, but still this was more than I could take.

I needed a time out. I needed to think. Away from this place. Away from everyone.

Belatedly I realized that I had no support system in place for this kind of thing. My little sister had been my support system, and she was gone.

A nagging question begged to be answered.

Would I be ok alone?

I hadn’t been alone since I was 20 years old, and  a short year after getting married, became a single Mom.

The nagging question became a shouting question. WOULD I BE OK ALONE?

I didn’t have an answer. I truly didn’t know. I needed to know. More than I needed anything else.

And my heart needed to heal. In so many ways.

I turned to a very unlikely source for comfort. I turned to my bucket list…and the solo Pacific Coast Highway trip was born.

The fun begins next time dear diary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Aging House In The Mirror

Dear Diary,

I am notorious in my family for awkwardness with electronics. It was no surprise to my daughter when I accidently “Facetimed” her from my ipad. So much so that she doesn’t even bother to answer anymore.

What was such a huge surprise to me was the old lady I was looking at on my screen. At first, I didn’t even know myself. Then I realized the old lady was mirroring my motions, and I quickly shut it down.

I have never spent time in front of the mirror. I put make up on if I’m going out, but it’s for everyone else’s sake that may look my way, not mine. I never give another thought to my appearance for the rest of the day.

I think of the skin I live in as just a house for who I really am. I don’t live on the outside of my house, I live on the inside.

I guess that’s why it is such a shock when I see photos with me in them, or as in the case last night, see myself beyond the make-up mirror. I don’t feel that old. I feel like I should look the way I did 30 years ago, because my mind and soul don’t feel aged.

Sage with time maybe, but certainly not as ancient as the old lady on my screen.

I’ve never even considered enhancing the outside of my house. Maybe because I thought God didn’t give me much to work with from the start, and since it wasn’t meant to last forever anyway, I tried not to get too mad about it being so deficient when compared to all those around me.

There is the key I wish I would have found sooner…don’t compare my house to anyone else’s house. Each of our houses is one of a kind, specially built to match no other, not meant to be compared to any standard.

It was meant to be appreciated for the rare gift that it is. The definition of unhappiness is wanting things different than what they are. Yet…that’s what most of us do. We hold ourselves up to images on magazine covers that have been “photoshopped” to perfection. An impossible illusion.

That’s why the “beauty” industry is ever burgeoning. It is more than happy to help one try and achieve what is impossible, especially when the ability to digitally enhance images keeps upping the stakes.

I’m all for being the best we can be, but what would happen if everyone suddenly became happy to be exactly who they already are on the outside?

That’s not good for business.

I had no hope of ever competing with anyone else, so I’ve always been much more interested with what needed fixing on the inside and have no plans to ever finish that project.

The inside is what I’ll take with me when I go. The house stays here.

I’m not judging anyone else who spends time staring at their mirror, it’s just not for me.

My little sister Susan was born beautiful. She was without even trying. Her perfect olive skin, her heart face, her dazzling smile. I remember when I was about 24 or 25, Susan and I went to Olan Mills to have our photos taken together as a Mother’s Day gift to our mother. The photographer thought I was Susan’s mother. I’m only 2 years older than her for crying out loud.

Susan

Susan

Yet, while still in her twenties, she began enhancing what was already perfect.

She ramped up focusing on the outside after her daughter died. She’d had a tummy tuck (what tummy?), liposuction, and a facelift by 39. When I packed up her house after her suicide at 40, on her calendar was a future appointment to have her lips injected.

I know now that the acceleration of perfecting the outside was to create a beautiful mask for what writhing regrets and pain were doing on the inside, however misplaced those regrets were didn’t matter.

I think when we work toward mending or developing what’s on the inside, the outside takes care of itself. Have you ever seen a happy person that is hard to look at? We are drawn to them, like hungry ants to sugar. Happiness from inside is what makes a house beautiful on the outside. Without exception.

It’s not surprising that my house shows more weathering than those around me the same age. I’ve demanded quite a lot from it over its 56 years and frankly am surprised it’s still standing at all. Because I drove it from the inside, I know I pushed it harder than I should have. But God bless it, my house is still trying to keep up even as it is irreparably breaking down.

That’s not to say that the inside didn’t have its share of storms. Some were so dark and long that the fire in my soul was reduced to embers, and many times I was afraid it would go out altogether.

Then I learned to let God and time fan the embers back to life. This light is eternal, it never really goes out anyway. It just moves into God’s house when it’s free. Kind of makes it sound like our earthly home could really be a prison doesn’t it?

It just might be.

I also learned to open up the closets and let the light shine on the monsters that reside there. When the monsters are allowed to be kept hidden in the dark, they become bigger and more menacing than us mere mortals think we can handle. Opening those dark doors and shining a light on what’s inside in our own time, allows us to see monsters for what they really are, small and insignificant with no teeth at all.

When I finally became brave enough to look at the biggest monsters I was hiding since I was a child, I realized they didn’t even belong to me, they were remnants of the evil that my stepfather rained on us and taught us to keep hidden. Those will always be there as dark memories, but I don’t claim their monstrous origin.

The monsters that are of my own creation will always be there also, but when I feel them trying to gather strength to erode the forgiveness I’ve worked so hard to allow myself, however painful it may be I must face them anew.

I remind myself that they reside in the past, they are not here, are not now. Then they are reduced again to just an old bad memory…until the next time they try and rule. Monsters tend to want to kick me when I’m down, so now I know to keep an eye out for them when I’m vulnerable.

The truth is, there are so many good and happy memories in my house the little monsters pale in comparison.

Redirect the focus, which is the key to positivity versus negativity. Light versus dark.

I promise when you look into my eyes which are the windows of my house, you will see that I am looking back out at you. I am seeing you from the inside.

We are not both on the outside looking at me. Unless I accidently “Facetime” you, but chances are I’ll shut it down before you can answer.

Let my weathered house be a testimony to the storms it has endured. That it still endures. It may be older and breaking down on the outside, but it is ageless and strives to be beautifully happy on the inside.

Where I live.

Until next time dear diary.

The Clarity List

Dear Diary,

Clarity – [klar-i-tee]

Noun – clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.

The Clarity List. The most important list anyone will ever make, and you haven’t heard of it because it’s the last list anyone makes. If you’re lucky, you are given time to make it. I know because I had what turned out to be a dry run at it last year.

It’s the list you make when you’ve been given a death sentence.

Your life-force is an amazing thing. It makes sure you sail through life with very little thought to the end. Even when you’ve been given the death sentence, once it’s rescinded you go right back to where you left off without giving the clarity list another thought.

That’s a good thing.

But since I DID make one, I merged it into my bucket list.

It’s hard to trick your life-force into letting you make a clarity list before it’s time. Your mind is not easily tricked. It’s always on the job.

But you should try.

It’s funny that what I thought would be important to me at the end, was not.

I thought I would care about my husband’s new wife spending my 401k. I didn’t.

I thought I would want to jump on a plane and go to #1 on my bucket list (Tahiti). I didn’t.

I thought it would be important to itemize who got what of my earthly possessions. It wasn’t.

When I was staring the grim reaper in the face it was much different than I thought it would be. It was amazing at how quickly and easily it was to see what was most important.

Not money. Not places. Not things.

Clarity.

Only two things became important.

Spending time with people I love became paramount. On any terms.

Seeing the beauty around me. Have you ever seen how beautiful the world is when you are about to leave it? I hope you haven’t. But you should try. Even the smallest thing like a lady bug or the green of grass is so beautiful. It’s like seeing it for the first time. Really seeing it.

Clarity.

No fear. All those things that kept me awake at night like who pissed me off or how much money I spent against my budget or the to-do list for next week, simply fell away. None of that mattered.

All of my little nagging fears didn’t scare me anymore.

Except dying.

How much pain would I be in? How long would I linger? Have I done enough to insure I would go to heaven? Have I done enough to make sure my family will meet me there?

Have I told everyone how much they mean to me?

Clarity.

I didn’t regret any of the things I thought I would regret. But I did have a few.

I regretted all of the time I spent caring about what other people thought.

I regretted not being happier with the body God gave me.

I regretted not making my kids go to church every Sunday.

Hey, I’m just being honest.

After my death sentence was repealed, my life-force kicked right back in, but I have put a few things in place as a result of my clarity list.

I am available and present with my family now. No distractions. I drop everything when a friend calls. My door is always open to those I love.

And it’s closed to those that don’t deserve my time anymore. The drama loving, negative, destructive folks have had to be let go. It wasn’t easy (they don’t like not being enabled or having to do for themselves) but they take away, rather than give to the richness of life.

Clarity.

I have two little chests (one for each of my children) that I drop notes into every time I think of a story from when they were little or something I want them to know after I’m gone. Like how much I love them.

Clarity.

I am going on my first camping trip in 30 years (where there are no bears, I am still afraid of bears no matter what list I’m looking at) and although it’s not a place that is on my bucket list, the time I get to spend with my hubby unplugged and appreciating beauty wherever I am satisfies both items on my very short clarity list.

The most important list of all.

Until next time dear diary.

Did They Know How Much I Loved Them?

Dear Diary,

This is a question that haunts me. No matter how many times I hear someone tell me that they did, I want to ask them myself. I want to hear it from them. I want to reassure them if I detect even the tiniest hint of doubt. I want a chance to tell them, “I loved you then, I love you now, I will love you forever”.

There are moments in our lives that are frozen in time. Those significant occasions that stay with us. A marriage, the birth of our children, you know what I mean. You probably just flashed on one of your own.

Then there are those moments that are very subtle, but no less significant. So subtle that if we tried to explain them to someone else, the significance would get lost in translation. So we don’t. Until now dearest diary. I am going to tell a long story, but I swear it has a point. Try to stay with me.

I write not because I would flatter myself in thinking I could help someone else through the telling of my story, and not because the writing of it is cathartic, but simply because I hope someone else will know that they are not alone.

And I want to know that I am not alone.

My story begins with the arriving home from my first day of kindergarten. I had been ecstatic to start school. I had packed and repacked my lunchbox for weeks before the actual day. I endlessly rehearsed walking back and forth to the bus stop, even though it was only steps away from my Grandma’s driveway (my Mother, Step-Father, little sister, and me were living with her in preparation for the big move to Hawaii after the school year).

Me and My Susan

Me and My Susan

My only trepidation was leaving my little sis Susan. At 5 years old I was not aware of why I was afraid to leave her. I just was. I loved my little pixy of a sister more than anything on earth. She was a literal living doll to me. We were only 2 ½ years apart, but had different fathers. My biological parents divorced when I was 6 months old, my Daddy stayed in Oklahoma while my Mother brought me back to California (where she had met him while he was stationed after being injured in the Korean War). My mother went on to meet and marry my Step-Father and viola, 9 months later my living doll was born.

Backstory done, let’s get back to that day.

5 year old me was walking up the driveway, anxious to tell my Mother and 3 year old Susan about my extraordinarily wonderful first day of school.

I almost made it to the front door before I heard Susan calling me from above. Huh? How could she be calling me from above? I’m outside after all. She would have to be calling me from the sky.

I turned around and followed her voice. Not on the roof. I continued to follow her calling me until I got to the big tree by the driveway. I looked up and dropped my cherished lunchbox, now forgotten, to the ground.

My Susan is so far up this tree that she is actually swaying with the breeze. I can still see her clearly. Her little pixy bangs rustled by the wind, wearing her little dark green corduroy pants with the elastic waistband, along with a great big fearless smile.

I froze in absolute terror. Oh.My.Gosh.

How in the heck am I going to get her down? I can’t climb past the second set of branches before I get paralyzed with fear. I know this because I’ve tried it before.

I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I must get her down before she falls the 40 ft. or so to her death. I’m guessing it was about 40 ft. My 5 year old mind really didn’t know footage yet.

So I began to climb. Brand new school dress and all. I get to the second set of branches and sure enough, I am frozen. She is laughing delightedly because she thinks I am joining her up there.

I started to cry. I told her I couldn’t go any higher and I am going back down to have Mom call the fire department. Like helping a treed kitten. I’d seen pictures of that before.

Right before my terrified and blurry with tears eyes, here she comes scurrying down like a monkey. From branch to branch with the speed and agility of something that lived in a tree. When she got to me I hugged her so tight that she couldn’t breathe, and she looked at me like I had lost my mind.

I lost my mind with terror that something could have happened to her.

This was the subtle yet significant moment I just knew that our Mother could not be trusted to make sure that nothing happened to Susan while I was gone. I knew she loved us, she was just so fearless of danger she didn’t know to be afraid for us. Or I was just afraid of everything for both of us. I made it my solemn duty to take over the job of keeping my living doll alive.

Our Mother proved over and over and over that she was blissfully unaware of what we were doing at any given time. She didn’t ask where we were going or what we were doing or when we would be home. She just assumed we would, and she ended up being right.

From that moment in the tree on, I was the bossy big sister. I had to make Susan understand what was ok and what was not ok. Climbing to the top of the tree was not ok. Ever. And she minded me.

That’s why I was afraid to leave her on my first day of school, I was just too young to know it.

I didn’t get to see my Daddy as often as I would’ve liked. After we had lived in Hawaii for a few years, I finally found the guts to march up to my Mother and announce that I would like her to divorce Susan’s father and marry mine again. As a problem solver, it seemed perfectly logical to me. I was tired of being afraid.

Whoops. My bad. That wasn’t a good thing to do. I would later (again after I grew up) realize that people who live in a fantasy world do not like to be faced with the truth. Yours or anyone else’s.

At 10 years old, I was promptly shipped (I flew actually) to go live with my Daddy in Middle America. A man I hardly knew (but I knew he loved me, I still don’t remember how I knew that, but I did) and a Step-Mother with two kids of her own and my half-sister that was the product of my Daddy’s and her union. They named her Sue (what a coincidence huh?). She was 3 years younger than me, so I considered her to be Little Sue.

I learned almost immediately that my Step-Mother, hereafter known as Step-Monster, was no better deal than the cruel and lascivious step-father I had left behind. Even before we arrived to their home from the airport, my Step-Monster had gone through my white purse (my mother may not be aware of much, but was awesome at making sure Susan and I were impeccably accessorized) and discovered a half-eaten candy bar.

I had eaten only half in case I was lost somewhere between Hawaii and Oklahoma and had to survive on my own for a little while. I was used to having to think these things through. As it turned out, I only made the connector flight at LAX by sheer luck that someone spotted me wandering aimlessly around. My Mother had failed to fill me in on what a connector flight was. See what I mean?

My Step-Monster put that half eaten candy bar on the shelf over the kitchen sink as a reminder of how selfish I was that I didn’t bring the other 3 kids in the house one. I offered to split what I had left, but she thought I was just being a smart aleck. I knew what being a smart aleck would get you with my Step-Dad, so it wasn’t something I indulged in.

I was intuitive enough to know that my Daddy couldn’t handle knowing what my Step-Father was like. If I didn’t mention it, I could pretend like it never happened. So I didn’t.

For a year I looked at that candy bar every time I did dishes and thought about how selfish I was. Once again, I didn’t realize until I grew up that the candy bar signified something far different, and had more to do with my Step-Monster than with me. I don’t believe my Daddy ever knew about the candy bar incident. He never did dishes.

Then came the day that I broke my arm at school. I’d been dumb enough to stand on a teeter totter and when someone got on the other end,  I went flying through the air and did not stick the landing.

After my Step-Monster picked me up from the nurses office, she promptly took me home and did her own assessment of my injury. Evidently she decided it wasn’t broken and proceeded to shove it into a bowl of ice water to soak.

I have never known such pain before or since that day. I have been through 2 childbirths, too many root canals, bursitis, spinal surgery etc. Nothing can compare to how badly it hurt to have my broken arm pressed into a bowl.

After my workaholic Daddy finally got home and asked her why I was crying, the Monster informed him that my arm wasn’t broken, it was sprained and I was crying for attention.

It was another subtle but significant moment. The moment that I knew I was not safe there either. It was the same as the other family with one notable difference; I didn’t feel that I had to keep Little Sue alive. She was the apple of both her parents’ eye and my Daddy was such a kind man, his step-children were not at risk. In this family, it was only me that was a stand out. With all other things being equal, I felt an urgency from then on to get back to Susan.

The next day I stayed home from school because getting dressed was painfully out of the question. I had not slept because I couldn’t get my arm comfortable. I sat on the couch the entire day and did not move. I had to go pee but I dared not since it would require me taking my arm on the trip. My only ally (my step-sister who was the same age as I) was sympathetic but could do nothing to help me. I still appreciate that of her though.

When Daddy came home, I remember him taking one look at me and getting instantly enraged. I had never seen him angry before. A quiet transition for a quiet man, but a transition nonetheless. He was shaking when he told my Step-Monster to get her purse and get in the car because he was taking me to the hospital.

That was when he very tenderly picked me up and his voice broke when he whispered to me, “Don’t worry Baby, it will all be ok now”. And it was. Another significant moment. He was and forever would be my knight in shining armor. I felt loved, and safe as long as he was around. Which wasn’t that much.

At the end of that school year I was sent back to live with my Mother, Step-Dad, and Susan who had moved back to California by then. I would never leave Susan again. I told my Mom about my broken arm and the candy bar and other things the Step-Monster had done that year. Whoops again. My Mother and Daddy never got along after my disclosure. I learned to keep my trap shut.

I only got to see my Daddy a couple of summers after that. He begged me to come and see him and so I did, but I always had one eye on the Monster. I wasn’t 10 anymore. They were the best summers of my life if only because I had him and he had me.

As for Susan, it’s not to say that I wasn’t a typical big sister. She was beautiful and looked so different than me (I looked like our Mom) I convinced her she was adopted. She would cry until Mom assured her it wasn’t true. Then Mom and I would laugh. I got my wicked sense of humor from her.

And we grew up, Susan and I.

We were predictably out of the house as soon as we legally could be. I would spend as much time away from home as I could until that time. So would she. But we were always there for each other, no questions asked.

We had our first children 9 days apart. I accused her of not letting me do anything by myself. We laughed about it. I was already married and separated by then. Susan was married to her second husband by the time she had her oldest child at 18.

My Mother and Step-Father had also divorced. It was messy. All his dirty secrets had finally been exposed. My Mother never recovered after being forced to face the truth. She lost some of her marbles as a result. I hated that for her.

Susan would go on to have another child with her husband and then divorce (the second of 4 significant uncoupling’s for her).

It was around this time that I got the call.

There are those moments that are frozen in time because they are joyful, then there are those that are quite the opposite. When something so unconceivably tragic occurs that you are thrown off of your axis into a new plane of reality. Although nothing may change in your everyday routine, just knowledge of the event changes you, and consequently  the familiar is suddenly alien.

An example would be on 9/11 when the twin towers were hit. I remember it vividly, like it was yesterday. It is still a horror that will never be reconciled. We as a nation will never be the same. In a moment, an entire country was of a single mind. A single shocked, grieved, horrified mind. I’m still very very mad about it.

Those moments occur in our personal lives as well. Except the rest of the world is going on as if nothing happened while our world has been rocked beyond description.

*****Warning – Graphic Written Content – Post Contains Description of Cause of Suicidal Death*********

When I answered the phone on Januarys 19, 1988, my Step-Sister was on the other end and said that she had called to tell me something and I needed to prepare myself. Prepare myself?

Daddy was dead. He had shot himself in the woods behind the dream house he had just finished building for himself and the Monster. In fact, that very night would be the first night they were to spend in the house, but he wouldn’t make it.

He was still sitting upright in his truck when my Step-Sister found him. He had shot himself in the heart and thankfully for her sake, the scene was not gruesome. Most of the gore had gone through the seat behind him and wouldn’t be visible until his body was moved by others.

She told me after the fact that I screamed. I don’t remember. Everything after that is a blur until the funeral. I flew back to attend the ritual, but mostly to talk to him face to face. I needed to know why.

I waited until it was just him and I in the viewing vestibule and posed the questions…Why would you leave us? Why would you leave ME? Did he know when he blew a hole through his chest that he had done the same to mine?

Everyone who knew him was broken hearted. But his kids, both blood and by marriage, were forever altered. I even felt sorry for the Monster, although I have never forgiven her for wearing baby blue house slippers to his funeral. Odd thing to fixate on I know.

I never said it out loud, but I suspected her of having a part in this. It was just easier that way.

Everyone told me he had been having heart problems for the last two years but he didn’t want me to know. He didn’t want me to worry.The fact that he shot himself in the heart was probably telling, but what was the catalyst? Was it that since the house was done his obligations were complete and he could go?

He had died with my phone number in his pocket. Why? Did he want to call me and tell me good-bye? Was it meant as a message that he was thinking of me before he left?

Everyone who saw him in the few days before he died said he was the happiest they’d seen him in years. So you had already planned it and were so relieved to be done with life that it rendered you giddy?

He stole a handgun from work, which is what he used to end it. He’d never stolen anything before in his life. The world was such a heavy load to bear that you couldn’t go on until your natural death that you obviously thought was impending? What about us? Did you think about what we would go through when you were stealing that gun? Did you care about the anguish you had to know this would cause?

Were you worried about the hospital bills and left to save the assets for the Monster? Please don’t tell me that’s why.

All these questions I asked him, but he did not answer. He was gone.

Over the years I have gotten over the anger. The betrayal. The bad example. The abandonment.

But not the love for my Daddy and not the pain of knowing that he left me on purpose. Whenever he comes to mind, the love and pain rush in together. That is his legacy.

Now that I am 5 years older than he was when he left, I understand that the world gets cold. It gets dark. It lets you down. There is every kind of pain. There is injustice. There is cruelty. I understand it a little better, but it still doesn’t make it ok.

I can’t speak for God, but I suspect he doesn’t like it when you do his job.

I know that Daddy is waiting for me. God let him have one more trip to Earth to warn Little Sue, my step-siblings, and I that suicide was not the answer. But that is a story for another day.

I don’t need all of those questions answered anymore. Just one lingers because I can’t remember the last time I told him.

Did you know how much I loved you?

Susan helped me as much as she could, but grief is a journey that is mostly traveled alone. Especially since she had never met him.

I’ll never be over it, but I’m at peace with it. Most days.

If you are reading this and are contemplating suicide, I am begging you not to. Please just take a moment to call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in the US. If you are not in the US, please reach out for help anyway you can. You are not weak, you are not alone, and you are not hopeless. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Every problem is temporary. Please don’t do it. Hold on.

Susan and I went on with our lives. Fast forward to 11 years later. I had one more marriage and one more child, this time our youngest children are 6 months apart. I am still married.

Susan had two more children in between the oldest and the youngest. From two more marriages. Both of them failed. That’s a total of 4 girls for her, a boy and a girl for me.

Birthday parties were always spent together. We could count on 6 birthday parties a year.

We spent every major holiday together, at my house. It was more accommodating for all of our clan, and I think it also was the constant in our lives. No matter what husband was coming or going, no matter what drama was playing out at the time, we could count on holidays being the same.

Christmas 1998 came and went. Then my daughter’s 7th birthday party in the first week of January 1999 found us all together again.

Then the unthinkable horror happened. This time it was a child. One of our children. This isn’t supposed to happen.

February 20, 1999, in the days of dial up internet, both my son and husband had been on the computer all Saturday morning. Evidently my Sister had been trying to call.

There was a knock at the door. When I answered it there were two policemen asking if I am who I am. I say yes. I am not accustomed to having police looking for me. It’s already surreal.

They say my Sister is at the hospital emergency room and needs me to go there immediately. I ask why. They say they can’t tell me. Since she works in an emergency hospital room as an imaging specialist I am not instantly alarmed. Until they tell me she is in a different hospital.

I did not know that this is code for somebody has died.

My husband drove us to the hospital emergency room immediately. Panic began to set in with me. After arriving,I gave the front desk my Sister’s name. I asked them to tell me what is going on. They won’t look at me then. They ushered us into a room. They told me to wait for a “family counselor”. What is that? Why won’t anyone tell me what’s going on? I was in a full panic mode.

The family counselor came in and explained that my Sister’s third daughter Alisha, had just passed away. I can’t accept this news. It’s only 3 days before her 12th birthday. She is a perfectly healthy normal kid. There must be some mistake.

The counselor goes on to coach me on what I am about to see. Alisha is still lying in a private emergency room. My Susan won’t leave the room where Alisha is until I get there. I need to understand blah blah blah. I don’t hear what else she has to say. I interrupt her and tell her I must get to that room now. With or without her help.

The counselor sighs and ushers me in. My husband stays behind with the kids.

This is a moment I cannot erase from my memory. I would like to. I would like to go back and not answer the door for as long as I can. But I have to help my sister. There is no going back to the not knowing.

I walk in the door and Susan is there with her 2nd daughter and Alisha. Alisha still has a tube taped to her mouth where EMP’s tried to revive her. She is beautiful and looks like she is just sleeping. Like the night before when I saw her at Susan’s. She had the flu, that’s all. Susan had taken her to urgent care just to be safe, and they gave her amoxicillin and sent her home.

I later learn the chain of events that led up to this moment.

Alisha was sleeping peacefully early that morning and Susan left a glass of water on her nightstand when she left to perform an “on-call” x-ray at a nearby convalescent home. She left her 15 year old and youngest at home sleeping also. Susan was only gone an hour.

When she came home none of the girls were up yet. She went upstairs to check on Alisha. She was not breathing and face down in her pillow. Susan called 911 and started performing CPR, but it was too late. The coroner would later rule that Alisha had died from a particularly virulent virus that had caused all of her major organs to swell and then fail. She had officially died of asphyxiation due to her airway swelling and cutting off her ability to breathe. The coroner said that even if my sister had been home when Alisha went into distress, it would have been too late already.

I didn’t  know any of this at the time. I felt this was a bad nightmare that I needed to wake up from. Until I saw Susan. Then I knew it was real.

I cannot begin to describe the agony on her face. Her hands were out, and she was imploring me to help. Help her because her baby was gone and she didn’t know what to do. Help me. Please. Please help me.

I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do. I could not fix this. I was drowning in agony. My own, my sister’s, and that of my living niece in the room was more than any one of us could bear. Time stopped. The world stopped.

I finally convinced my sister that we had to leave. They had asked us to do so many times now. It’s past time to say goodbye. I have no idea how long we were there.

When we left the hospital my sister collapsed just a few steps outside the door. She couldn’t go home. Alisha’s jacket was still where she threw it when she got home from school just 2 days earlier. Her books were where she left them on the coffee table.

I took her home with me, along with her other two daughters (the oldest who is 17 lived with her father at the time). My husband made the funeral arrangements. It was too much for Susan and I. Susan stayed sequestered in my upstairs bonus room. I dealt with family when I had to, the rest of the time I was with her.

The funeral was beautiful. At least everyone told me so. I was singularly focused on my Mother and Susan. My Mother had lost one of her favorite grandchildren, and Susan was inconsolable. Susan went home a week after the funeral. That’s all I can say about it. It’s been 15 years and still Alisha’s death is excruciatingly painful to recount.

This time there is peace in knowing that God took her for reasons we can’t know. He wanted her and took her in the time that he was always going to take her. I’m trusting him on this.

I am still left asking the question…

Did she know how much we loved her?

We bear the pain without Susan now.

She made it almost 2 years. Susan blamed herself. There was no convincing her otherwise. I set her up with the best psychiatric care, I talked to her every other day on the phone, we moved my son into her apartment to keep an eye on her after her 2nd daughter went away to college. He was 19 then and not getting along with my husband. It seemed like a good idea. I had no clue what I was setting him up for. None of us did.

I knew Susan was struggling. She was so thin and it was increasingly a chore talking with her. She was angry. Angry at God, angry at life, angry with herself. She was depressed, but who wouldn’t be? We all were working through a tremendous amount of grief. She was on medication. I thought with time she would come around. I was completely unaware of what was coming. Did she? I don’t know.

She made it to the first month of the 21st century in the 3rd Millenium.

January 23, 2001. The phone rang at 4:30 in the morning. This is never a good thing. My hubby was at work on the graveyard shift, so I wondered if  something happened with him when I picked up the phone.

It was my son telling me that Susan was gone. Gone where?

******Warning – Graphic Written Content – Post Contains Description of Cause of Suicidal Death*********

She is dead. He had come home from a Super bowl party and found her in the upstairs bathroom, still sitting cross legged where she had bled out. The scalpel she had stolen from work was still in her hand after cutting her Carotid Artery. Her 7 year old daughter was downstairs asleep on the living room floor.

My son had seen all this. At the tender age of 19 he had the presence of mind to call 911 and the youngest daughter’s Dad to come and get her. He only lived a block away and got there in time to whisk her away still sleeping, before the emergency vehicles even arrived.

To this day this has been our secret. Just the three of us. We never told the youngest that she was home when her mother left. I know how it feels to have someone leave you on purpose. I thought it would be even worse to know that she left you on purpose knowing you would be alone in the house. What if this child had awoke before my son got there? The thought makes me shudder still.

I am still mad about it. Mad for the girls who lost their sister and now their mother. Mad for me. Mad for my Mother who lost her daughter, and I quite honestly don’t know how she holds onto the marbles she has left.. Mad for my kids, one of whom lost an aunt, and one who lost an aunt and his innocence.

I cognitively know that I did everything I could to keep her alive. But there is still the 5 year old girl inside me that feels like she failed. She is on the 2nd row of branches and can’t reach her baby sister at the top of the tree before she falls.

The only thing I remember from the rest of that day is the conversation I had with my husband, and the one I had with God. My husband came home immediately and started notifying family and the like. I don’t even remember what anyone else did.

I retired to the bonus room upstairs where I had housed my beloved sister less than two years earlier. I gazed out the window and said to God with certainty, “This is too much, you’ve gone too far. I’m not going to make it this time. It’s too hard. I’m not equipped. I’m done”. I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday.

I wasn’t asking him, I was telling him. I was never going to leave this room again. I could feel myself slipping into the deep end of the pool of insanity and not be able to get back out. I would go there where my Daddy, Alisha, and my sister never died. I could make that reality whatever I wanted it to be.

And then he answered me, “It would please me greatly if you could wait until tomorrow. That’s all I’m asking of you”.

I hadn’t expected an answer, but I considered it.

I couldn’t do it. I replied, “No God, I can’t make it. Tomorrow is too far away. I can’t hold on that long”.

His reply was instantaneous. “Alright. I would be well pleased if you could hold on for one hour”.

Had I already slipped into the pool and was really just having a conversation with myself?

No. I knew it was God because I would never use the term “well pleased” if I were talking to myself.

I considered it. An hour was a long time to be surrounded by this much darkness, but I would do it. Only for God. It was too much to hang on for me, my family or Susan’s girls, for my Mother, for anyone else. I would hang on for one hour for God only.

I am happy to say it has been 119, 580 hours since that one hour.

In this time I have witnessed 5 incredible children grow into beautiful human beings. I have been present at the holidays, the weddings, the graduations, the laughter and the tears, the ups and downs that is the rhythm of life.

Thank you God. Thank you for being well pleased if I would hold on for one hour. It wasn’t easy, and I am still left with the question that tears at my soul because I can’t remember the last time I told her.

Did she know how much I loved her?

When I see her again, I intend to kick her butt. Right after I hug her so hard her wings pop off. I know she is with God, he sent a message through to me. Another day I will tell you about that dear diary.

If you are reading this and are considering suicide, I’m begging you to hold on for one more hour, and in that hour call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in the US. If you are not in the US, please reach out for help in any way you can. Most importantly, know that God will be well pleased that you held on.

By the time we reach the second half, each of us has suffered loss. We’ve traveled our trail of tears. Some of us multiple times. We feel alone when the smile gets too heavy. But we are not alone. We have each other. We are all still here, and God is well pleased with us for it.

If you are busy taking a selfie, put your phone down. Look around. You may be the last hope of someone who is desperately trying to hold on. Pay attention.

As the survivor of the death of a child and the suicides of two of the most important people in my life, trust me when I say there is a time when you get back to good. I didn’t slip into the pool of darkness. You don’t have to either.

Until next time dear diary.