She only remembers Vietnam, she was young and the television old so she had little understanding of what Vietnam was. In sixth grade there was a list of P.O.W.’s beside the chalkboard. Her teacher was expecting a baby and her husband was in Vietnam. She didn’t wonder how they found time to make a baby or worry about her friends and family there. It was for as long as she had television a daily report and her mother turned off the sound when the newscast was on. She began to see men in different places who’d been in the war and they looked gray in their skin, old and some broken. Broken soldiers home from a land she knew nothing about nor had they. One afternoon she sat swirling round on a red diner stool and waited for her grilled cheese and strawberry milkshake with her mother. She looked down as she spun and saw for the first time a man with only one leg. Without thought she said loudly, “Momma look, he has only one leg!” Her mother shushed her but the man soothed her scolding and said he had left it in Vietnam. He smiled at Little me and she smiled back. She saw her Mother’s dark eyes staring at her with the “shut up” look and sat very still eating her sandwich, glancing carefully with her eyes slanted to the left at the area where the man’s missing limb should be. He seemed okay about it and winked at her. She thought about her legs and how it would be with one missing. She thought about arms missing and lots of things that war makes a child roll over and over ideas in their heads. She knew she could hop on one leg, as in hop scotch and could write and eat with one hand and arm. Surely it must be painful though. She watched the waitress in her green apron pour more coffee and the man with one leg lit a cigarette. In the late 60’s and 70’s one could smoke where they wanted more or less. She hated cigarettes and knew her mother snuck them sometimes. She spun around more on the silver metal stool with the red leather seat and tried not to stare at the man with one leg. Finally, her mother stopped her from swirling and she sat straight forward with out showing any curiosity. Now, Littleme knows all about war and bad things. She stays in hiding in her stairwell of safety and avoids the chaos. Part of her is afraid regarding the Ukrainian crisis that is now and yet another part wants to be in the middle, to see for herself how many people are fighting and how many legs and lives are left behind.
You were not born to see this; your eyes opened to see the beauty of life. Warm hands held you, cradled you and soft voices sang you to sleep. We did not want you to see how ugly our world can be. For as long as possible we stretched out your innocence to protect you. Now it's part of us all, war pandemics,the climate crisis, endangered species, prejudiced minds,greedy thinkers and more. Yet, despite the truth which can be scandalous and wrought with anxiety there is and always will be love. No one can take that from us or from you. Love is one free piece of us that can't be stolen. Keep your eyes open, your mind reflective and never allow hate to strangle you.
Despite all of her stories and truth that builds up in her heart, or the remains of her past whirling about in her subconscious being, there is a path to the exact point when the hurt began; an imprint that doesn’t wash away even in the most violent of storms. To get there is a map without measure or precision, it’s where she is led in her dreams or when she is triggered by something in the NOW. The layers of her are dense and like a sleuth of sorts she must link one piece to another, often overlooking one special event or time that changed her for the better or even for the worse. ROCK knows these times and slowly reveals them to Lm to digest. Her loss of faith in family ties and deeply meaningful connections with friends or lovers was destroyed, expolited and left her with bloody, colloused footprints in the rain. She was so desperate to keep those she loved together or with her that she took what ever they threw at her, like a starving dog scrambling for a tossed piece of meat, her bite was so tight, so implicitly feirce that nothing and noone would ever be able to convince her that that bite was not good for her. Men used her from such an early age , those that proclaimed love for her and yet shared their beds with another she continued to hold on to. The adults who coerced her into behaviours and activities that felt wrong and ugly she tucked deep inside her to not be examined. Lm is so full of pain that she hides more and more and fears making new friends or allowing others close to her now. She has been broken so many times by her unchanged soft heart clamouring for notice and acceptance that she stands in her own muddy footprints and doesn’t dare to move. The rain is blue and ice cold and she bares it even so; she doesn’t try to run away or move forward. Each time a storm comes she sinks deeper into her own wake, her feet feel the quickening as she sinks like a sea crustacean into the wet sandy soil that leads to middle self. She is in a trance where she can only stare at her feet, her toes blue and numb from the vast hole where the icy memories beckon her to return, over and over and over again. ROCK won’t give up and she won’t budge. It’s a standoff between living life without fear and being swallowed fully by her shadows.
There was a game she played as a child, it was a night time scary, silly, giggling tradition with Lm and her cousins. With a flashlight on and one kid holding it upward under his or her chin, the bedroom or basement doors darkened and it would start. Announcing in the scariest voice one could muster up, one would call “I’m on the first step”, giggles in the dark, then the imagined curmudgeon would say in an even creepier tone, “I’m on the second step”, then more squeals. On each step this creature would say something to the likes of “I’m going to eat you all up” or “I hate little children” and maybe let out a growl. Blankets were pulled over each head and huddled together everyone felt safer. Once on the top step, the door would swing wide open and the tickling began. How do we get ourselves worked up into a frenzy over someone we know, playing a spooky game yet when real life frightens us we clam up? Lm opened door 26 without thought. Who would help her through this real life game of truth and fiction? Inside the door the sun is so bright that sunglasses are needed. This memory is from the Bahamas where the evening breeze was welcomed. The shutters to her and her father’s room stayed wide open, screenless and at street level she could see crowds of white pale tourists clashing with the beautiful brown and deep chocolate skin of the Bahamians. The ocean burst upon the shore and the heat made Lm doze in and out while her father went out on the streets, crowded with laughter and accents she’d never heard. He bought her a stack of postcards with a pen. He said they were going to a fancy dinner show. The man’s name was Milton Berle that was to make them laugh and drinks and such were served at the table near an aisle. Lm had been to a lot of interesting places but this sounded much more exciting than a trip to the drive in movies or a ride on the ferris wheel at the county fair. When they arrived they were seated close to the stage with Lm near the aisle where the busboy’s catered to tables and BaDDaD although laughing a lot, also drank a lot. She knew by now this was the good side of BaDDaD, as long as he was kept happy and the drinks kept coming he’d get them back to the bungalows lining the beach. None of what Milton Berle said was funny to her but she was certainly the youngest person in the crowd. He had a sweet face and big white teeth, a tuxedo and shiny dark hair that was combed back with what she would guess to be “Dippity Do”. She consumed several Shirley Temples and watched the young men rush up and down the plush carpeted rows, from table to table they bowed and filled their trays and took away all the dirty dishes and uneaten food. Suddenly, a bus boy tripped on a step and his tray went flying toward Lm and landed by her feet. She scrambled to help him and picked up cracked plates, rolling grapes and chunks of melon. All at once a bright white light shone on her and all the people stared. Milton Berle asked the audience to have a good look at the sweet and helpful young lady helping out with all the clamour made from the shattered mess. She looked at Milton Berle and he blew her a kiss. The audience was cheering and BaDDaD was beaming. Afterwards, he would take her to a place where machines were rolling with cherries, lemons and people were using up coins to spin them around. She was weary. BaDDaD told everyone about her being spotted by Milton Berle that night. Someone who worked at this noisy place full of adults came up and said Lm couldn’t be in the room. Lm saw his face turn red like the cherries 🍒 rolling round and he called a taxi to send her back to the bungalow. He gave her a key and said for her to go to sleep. She climbed into the cab and he sent her off, through streets unfamiliar, a country unknown to her and she tried the key. It didn’t work. Luckily the shutters had been left open and she climbed up and over into the now cooler room. She felt scared and closed the shutters and latched them from inside. The fan hanging above the bed was whisking around and she watched it spin until she fell asleep. In the early morning when light was creeping in through the shutters she opened one to look for BaDDaD. Soon he appeared and gave her a smelly kiss and too tight hug and fell onto the bed to sleep. She was quite hungry and fished through his pockets for some change. She found a little bit and went out and straight to the street where dogs ran about barking, people were stirring and saw the cart where a happy faced dark man with a straw hat sold things and called out to tourists to come see him. In his rich Bahamian accent he asked what he could get the “little miss” staring up at him. Lm asked for breakfast and he laughed. “Oh, I don’t have breakfast miss, but I do have some cola!” She put the coins up and he said he needed more. Lm explained her father was asleep and told him all about Milton Berle, the busboy, the new word, “casino”, the spinning cherries and the taxi all by herself. The man softened and then handed her a cola and a small cup of lemon ice. “This will cool you off.” She took the lemon ice and her cola and went back to the bungalow. She sat on a stool and got out her postcards and pen and wondered how she could write all of this down and to whom she should send the cards. She finally laid down next to BaDDaD who was sleeping with pillows over his head. He always did that no matter where they were. Lm knew it would be a long day waiting for him to wake and resolved herself to watching the people stream by and finally her eyes closed as the sun and sky slowly changed to yellow, orange and pink.
LittleMe will be referred to as Lm now. She is unable to dig so deep or pour out more from her soggy memoirs alone. To cope with her existance she must remain in her stairwell where one step is cozy, padded with warm blankets and her grandmother’s heart and love still embraces her. ROCK has always been here and is going to walk her road leading up to NOW slowly. She must have quiet, a safe space, love and mostly her story must be told so she can trust herself to move forward. I am ROCK, sound and steady; Lm has leaned on me for decades and you will hear only TRUTH. As a young teenager Lm was beginning to sink into a very dark and sad place. She had so many reasons to do so but noone noticed. She changed from an awkward thirteen year old with an overbite and bowed banana legs to a beautiful girl over one summer. When she returned to middle school she quickly gained much attention and had no idea how to handle it. She knew how to joke and that is what she used as her mask to entertain her friends and get through the dramas that unrolled each day both at school and with her own family. I don’t think she even knew she was in rocky waters and her friendships had been split between groups, the nerds, the jocks and now the “heads”. Heads was the slang term for a wilder gang, they smoked cigarettes and weed and some were rumored to have “gone all the way” in their relationships. Her passions for her roles in the drama club, the school newspaper, track and maintaining honor role status began to waiver. Girls traveled in pairs or clusters and the wall flowers who once were her closest pals began to disperse. From a slumber party with the highest ranking girls in her class in 7th grade to being called a “Fox” and whistled at in the 8th grade was something she did not know how to handle. A boy from Battle Creek, Michigan had moved to her town in Tennessee. He had instant popularity with the “heads” and was also on the football team. He started the beginning of her popularity and although she did not feel good inside, the attention from other students was both positive and yet a disaster. In her heaviest box marked “teens” each year seemed an eternity; a haze of bad things fired off like a war between Lm’s need to be loved and wanted and her desperate attempts to have a supportive family. She wanted to feel anything, something good and escape the hellish thoughts accrueing from her childhood. A hell that is only to be told for what it was, not to place blame on anyone particular. It was just fucking rotten, non stop self abuse and a sheer struggle to survive in a world she knew little about. It was 1978 and girls were called “hot”, “smokin'” and “ripe”. Lm felt no difference inside; she still longed for BaDDaD’s visits and stopped talking to her mother and step-father all together. She also began to run miles a day and eat just enough to keep her mother off her back. Her weak point was Doritos; she would consume an entire bag then do 200 sit-ups on her sky blue carpeted bedroom floor. Her room was so tidy that her friends and family were shocked. This was really Me, ROCK taking control. I kept her from remembering the drunken nights and awful memories with her father so she could get out of bed each morning. She began to don copious amounts of make-up, had Farrah Fawcett “wings” which she sprayed heavy with Aqua Net so they wouldn’t move all day. She could actually lift them up on each side of her scalp as two seperate pieces and they indeed looked like the wings of a bird, stiff yet flightless. Lm was in a church youth group which pleased her mother and being in the southern “Bible belt” this was not uncommon amongst her friends. It is actually here where the mischief began and the church itself is where she would first be hit on by someone other than BaDDaD. She began babysitting a lot and loved children very much. One of her regulars was a couple from church with two little ones and they would stay out late and she often dozed off on their sofa. One night the pair came home and the mother smelled like alcohol as did the father. They paid her and he said he would drive her home as usual. She was nervous because of her experiences with BaDDaD’s drunk driving and almost called her mother but he said, “No, why wake her now?”; the window was cracked slightly and he smoked a cigarette and as they came to her street he drove passed her house and went to the dead end circle. Lm told him he’d missed her drive. He threw the cigarette out the window and then leaned over and put one hand between her legs and the other on her shoulder, pushing himself closer, he leaned in to kiss her. “Stop!” she yelled and he retreated, apologizing saying she was so irresistible as if it were a compliment. His name was Mr. Bradbury, a regular member of the First Christan Church. When she got home he put his finger over her mouth and said, “shhh”. She nodded and ran up the wrought iron side stairwell to her back door, slipping in quietly she peeked out through the curtained window for his car to drive away and sat with her beloved dog Bridget-Marie on the kitchen floor. She felt dirty and sick. Her mother came out of her room and said how late it was and that she’d left some cling peaches for her in the fridge. Lm kissed her mother’s cheek and slowly ate the peaches and then drank the sweet syrup from the bowl. Her dog followed her to brush her teeth and into her room and into bed, curling up beside her as if she knew Lm felt sad. Days passed into weeks and autumn was often very warm in Tennessee. Her new youth group leader lived in an apartment complex not too far from her house and she could have easily walked but her mother insisted on driving her there in the dark. This apartment complex is also where the new boy from Battle Creek, Michigan and his family lived. In school he had talked to her often and she knew he liked her. She had never been liked and pursued as much except by one church boy Jimmy. Once while talking outside of the church one night he reached out and grabbed both of her breasts and smashed his braces into hers with a slobbery unwanted attempt at a kiss. It was grotesque she recalled. He had also on Valentine’s Day had his mother drive to her house with flowers and Lm’s mother had to force her out of her room to the door and smile as she politely received them. Her mother waved at the other mother who sat in her car chatting away to her and Lm reluctantly took the flowers. He was a nice boy. He was a good church boy and her mother liked him. The Battle Creek boy was not a small suburban boy from a church going family. He had sandy unkempt hair, wore cut off jean shorts and no shirt and had shown on the front steps over the summer and asked to see Lm and her mother just said, “where are your clothes?”. He asked Lm if she wanted to go on a bike ride with him. She explained to him that she had plans with a girlfriend for a sleepover and mentioned her church youth group was now being held in the same apartment complex he lived in. It had been moved from the church and would start up again when school started. She invited him. He said he would think about it and to let him know at school when she was going to be down his way. On one warm autumn evening her Mom drove her down after supper and her church pals all gathered around the front entrance to the youth group leader’s apartment. Just as they were to be let in Battle Creek came running up to her and asked her to come see his fish tank and he mentioned his parents weren’t home. Her friends looked at him and she decided to follow him. She asked her friends to not say anything to the others and off she went. The apartment wasn’t bad, it was clean and it had windows overlooking a pool. The glow of the fish tank was a warm goldish hue and she sat cross legged on the sofa. He brought out a tubular shaped object and asked if she had ever used a bong. She said she had not. He asked if she had smoked weed and she lied and said, “of course!”; he explained this was hash and really good stuff and that when he lit the bong the water in the base would make a bubbling sound as she inhaled. He did it first then handed it to Lm. She took in a deep breath and began to cough like she was choking. Battle Creek said that was normal. Within minutes she began to stare into the fish tank and see each fish more closely, in detail, their tiny fins flapping, their unique colors and it was soothing. She then began to worry if it showed on her face that she now had officially become stoned. She looked into the mirror in the entry way and her eyes looked red. She felt heavy and her mouth was dry. Battle Creek said, “you’ve got cotton mouth”. Cotton-mouths were snakes who lived in the the lake in this part of the south. Ick. She began to worry others would notice, especially her mother. Battle Creek assured her that no one would know unless she told them. She looked at the time and realized she must run to the youth group pick-up point and he wanted to follow along. Lm said no way; her mother had already made it clear he was not approved of. At the white pebbled courtyard her church pals asked where she had been and she told them she had gone to see a fish tank. Each week they were to bring a donation to youth group for snacks and she had ten cents in her pocket. Ironically called a dime in America, just like weed was sold, in the school yard, in dime bags. She dropped the silver coin with some president’s head on it down amongst the gravel. She begged her friends to help her find it as she feared she would get into trouble somehow. Lm always had this feeling of being bad, in trouble and not good. As she crawled around on her hands and knees and scowered anxiously for it, her mother drove up. “What are you doing down there?”; Lm nervously told her mother she had lost her dues for youth group. “That’s okay, leave it, just a dime dear.” Stoned for the first time, heavy headed, thirsty and hungry her mother asked questions about who was there and such. Lm answered cautiously all the while fearing her mother would somehow detect she had inhaled from a bong. Up the side stairs they went into the kitchen and there sat a plate of freshly baked peanut butter cookies, her favorite with the criss cross fork mark her mother always imprinted on them. She gave her some milk and she ate and ate and her mother laughed. “I guessed you’d want something since you barely ate at dinner.” Lm usually didn’t eat. She pushed food around on her plate and went running or for long walks after she swallowed anything. This night she went to her room and curled up with her dog and felt new. “I am very, very bad” she thought. Her actions that fall night affirmed her feelings she had carried for years; “I am very terrible after all. Really bad. I am not worth shit”. She fell asleep in her clothes and did not remember her dreams. When she woke for school the next morning she thought about Battle Creek at school. Would he tell? She perfected herself and caught the school bus and when she got off, standing right at bus 31’s spot was Bong boy. He made a squealing sound and his friends watched from the side and he said, “Foxy”. Then he came closer and leaned in and asked her to be his girlfriend. She looked around at all the eyes on her, then back at the sandy haired, brown eyed boy with pimples and said, “yes”. Then he took her hand. The guys looked envious and the smart girls looked bewildered and disapprovingly at her. He was a “head”. He smoked pot. Everyone knew she had crossed a line and she was both happy to be adored by him and confused as she had felt so awkward, alone and sad every minute and now she had her first boyfriend. Why then did she feel so bad? She felt bad because of all that happened from her birth up until then; she was not valued or special. She had a rap sheet that would be miles long if printed out. One bad happening after another and now she could be loved, maybe. This would make it all go away perhaps. Battle Creek opened the school doors for her and she entered feeling completly different than the day before. She felt as if everyone could read her, see her dirtiness and her hash experience in her eyes. New girls who had boyfriend’s began to befriend her and soon they all were couples in training for a very rocky, drama filled year. From there it would escalate so far that she would sink into depths of nothingness where she would no longer care about herself, just be a drowning girl longing for security and someone who would never ever really be there for her. BaDDad. She would fill in her empty heart the holes he’d made with drugs, alcohol and much more. This was the beginning of a broken fairytale. She knew nothing about who she was and became just a needy beggar for love. Her head began to get squirrelly, she didn’t know how to save herself. Lm was on her last good step before she quit eating. Starving for acceptance and afraid of her own life she controlled the one thing she could, her appetite. This was when Lm put me, “ROCK”, forward. I would hide everything for her from then until NOW. I protected her so she could keep on course in her pursuit for belonging, for feeling good and escaping her so very bad, sorrowfully sealed experiences.
Like a school girl I climbed into bed with my mother tonight, my head on her chest, her arms around me and felt her love. I felt her sorrows, her journey, her grief and strength and in each thump of her heartbeat I was resurrected and know that no matter how hard I love others, how consumed I am with compassion and hope I can not save anyone. I can lose friends I trusted and move forward, I can be disappointed in my children and still care but somewhere in this goulash of mothering and SELF I need to save a bowl of soup for me. I still have a long way to go to know how to put my own needs and mental health out there as a priority. Being, living TRUTH means no stone will be unturned. I still need ROCK and I am sliding along the moss covered stairwell head first to reach my safe place. I have to go back and check on LittleMe as I really am all she has in the end. The quiet of the night is surrounding us. I will tuck my mother in, quiet LittleMe then ROCK will be sure I get to bed and sleep. Before my dreams begin I will pray to everything good and kind in the deep black sky that nothing will hurt me, you, and my family despite knowing it doesn’t matter. I prayed for years and the wrath of Life still held me back, the holiest of spirits and church stomping grounds never saved me. I can’t save me. No one can do the work or put in the time to assess my 59 years but me. I must pull LittleMe up to the top step. ROCK believes in all of me. I honor my roots, my traces of good memories and I am very ready to be WHOLE. The thought and emotional sensation of LittleMe and NOW merging is exciting and extremely frightening. I am guessing no one knows how long it takes to heal unseen wounds and I am very sure I know absolutely nothing…even though I am something. Someone. Somehow. Trying. Try. Try. Going. Up and down. I am Matter. Atoms. Celular bits of life and I didn’t choose to be. I just AM. We are living the best version of “US” that we can. Or are we?
On the last night I sat with you in an old rocker somewhere new, you told me I was all you had, how much I meant and you were sad. Your tears fell and you held me tight, I cried too on that last night. Parting was always tough, knowing that was enough. I never told how you behaved because your tears of sorrow were so engraved, in my heart and in my mind I returned to mother without a sign. I never knew how to handle you, how to make you happy and cease your blues. I was a child, you were my guide not a toy to carry by your side. Like a spell was cast, I followed your lead, I was a sprout and you were the seed.
Rockabye baby fell for your song, thinking I was so special and our bond so strong. I grew up and now I see you were not trying to comfort me. In that old rocker, in some place new I believed I belonged to you. I was a manifestation of lover’s guilt, not a blanket or handsewn quilt. I did all I could to be in your life, but your need for me faded wife after wife. I am a reminder of what you are not, I am the Truth which you wanted stopped. Lullaby lies, lyrics so sweet I carried your song and was thrown on the street. You told me no one could take my place yet turned from me to save your face. You are no longer number one, yelling at me that I was no one. “You are not part of this family” the words stung and broke our old melody. To be part of your present I had to close my eyes while you made more children and told them more lies.
The song is finished, I long to weep for your love for me was never deep. Oh Father, how could you grow so cold when year after year I never told. You made me to look like I was the cause of all the chaos and you got applause. I looked back at you and your younger wife and you made it clear I was not part of your life. It’s been eighteen years and three months since you kicked my heart without a wince. The lullaby memories, the lullaby years all an illusion with lullaby tears.
From Rejecting This One Word Started My Tectonic Mental Health Shift: SURVIVOR PRO TIP: Don’t deal with anyone who doesn’t always treat you with respect or kindness. The first time you catch somebody being rude you may mute them in your brain. Get them out of your life. Do it with zeal and quickness. You […]
The stone is silent, not mute. It was buried deep within my being, awaiting it´s truth to be heard and seen. I am ROCK solid. The one some cast away at sea or try to hide. I carry Truth. Truth that is gritty makes some turn away. Are you strong enough to stay?