womaninrain-2

Have you ever been excited about something, only to be let down? You feel energy firing up your senses and you give yourself over to the moment. But then the moment feels… dull. Boring. Lackluster. You’re left wanting. It can be a detached lover or a singer on the stage just going through the motions. When complacency resides where passion should burn, the disappointment floods you.

But… when there’s passion? When a singer looses his mind on stage? When art is inspiring? When someone’s words touch your soul? Those are the things we live for. That is what drives us to do great things, to connect with others. Beyond merely surviving in this world, passion is what gives us life.

Today, I’m on Elephant Journal writing about Sex, Art and Rock and Roll. I would love it if you would join me there:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/03/sex-art-rock-and-roll-how-passion-fuels-our-inner-fire/

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I thought I wasn’t the marrying type. The relationship type? Yes. But marriage is so… permanent. Long. Endless. Boring.       

I used to lay on the floor for hours, headphones on, music turned up. I would daydream and imagine my future. I pictured a life of work combined with creativity. With love that came with no contract. I wasn’t like everyone else, I thought. Boredom came too quickly to me and I could not imagine enduring a lifetime in a relationship out of obligation.

I told myself I would be independent and strong. I would make decisions about my life without consultation and without negotiation. Be my own person. And if a man captured my heart and wanted to walk through any part of life with me, he would have to play by my rules.

Yes, I had it all figured out.

Then I met him.

Our meeting was prophetic. I turned to look over my shoulder, saw him, and walked right into a wall. I stuttered an awkward hello as I rubbed my offended forehead. Introductions were made, pleasantries were exchanged, and I scurried off as soon as I could.

Months passed with small talk in the office, text messages sent in purely professional language. There was an energy between us that I refused to acknowledge or admit.

Then things changed. He asked me out. I said yes in spite of myself. I told myself it was just a date. It didn’t mean my plans were off track. It didn’t mean anything more than a nice evening with a nice guy. But even as I was telling myself that I knew it was a lie.

Everything changed. I fell in love. We fell in love. It was quick and intense and undeniable. It was nothing either of us had ever experienced. We marveled at how little control we had over what was happening to both of us.

I knew right away I would marry him.

Just like that, my life plans changed.

Just like that, the picture in my head of my future was a completely different picture. There was a house and kids and maybe a dog. It was everything I always thought I didn’t want.

And now I wanted it so bad I could taste it.

That was 19 years ago. I got the marriage. The three kids. The house. A dog.

Is it what I thought it would be? No.

There have been bumps in roads and curve balls thrown and surprises around corners. There have been many walls that have been run into head first.

There have been fights. And pain. And frustration.

But there’s also been comfort. The comfort of knowing we are both in this. The comfort of reaching out and knowing his hand will always be there. Of knowing that I can lay my head on his ready shoulder. That I can go to him for his advice and I will receive the unvarnished truth. That there’s someone there who is willing and happy to walk through life with me.

There’s been helping each other through loss. Lifting each other up when life knocks us down. There’s been stress that’s been carried by two sets of shoulders instead of one.

There’s been passion and laughter and love.

Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I had no idea what it would be like. All I knew was I was marrying the man I loved. I hoped and prayed that the rest would fall into place. People were full of advice, as is custom when young people get married. But looking back, there’s no way anyone can fully prepare you.

I couldn’t have possibly understood what it is for two lives to come together. To navigate all of the needs and curves of another person’s life and dreams and desires. To understand all of the life experiences that make and shape a person. That marrying someone meant marrying their past and their experiences and all of the things that influence them.

I couldn’t have known that the fights would be bigger because there would be more at stake. That hurts would run deeper. That the struggle to understand what truly lies behind every misspoken word would be the key to having less misunderstandings.

I couldn’t have known that it would mean digging into my own past. That all of my life experiences, my hurts and fears and expectations would hitch a ride to my new future. That my issues would bump up against my marriage and leave it bruised at times. I had no inkling of the depth of humility and willingness to learn and change that would be crucial to staying connected.

I didn’t know that through the years, you would negotiate and make concessions. That marriage is built on compromise. That to not do this would leave a marriage bitter and lifeless. But to engage in the act of compromise, to do it honestly and whole heartedly would make a marriage healthier and happier.

I couldn’t have imagined that the love that you started with? The love that kept you up talking to each other all night and walking around in a state of blissful exhaustion? That it would grow. That you would find yourself wanting to share good news with him first. That bad news sent you running to him for comfort.

That you would still get butterflies when he walked in the door.

That the deep connection and the years of getting to know each other’s intricacies and nuances would nestle deep into your bones and become a part of you.

That there’s a warmth and comfort in all that hard work but that it’s never too comfortable. That complacency or apathy will kill the passion and dull the life you’ve built together. And you will fight to keep that from happening.

I thought being alone would prove I was brave. I thought independence meant not tethering my life to another’s. I thought getting married would inhibit me and stifle me.

It didn’t. I’m still me.

I’m more me than I was before I ran into that wall so many years ago.

Giving up all of my plans of wild child, against the grain freedom and independence took me to far more adventurous places. Living a life on my own terms? There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not a badge of honor I needed to wear. Living a life on our terms means  advocating for my own needs while taking into account his. There’s a glorious beauty in that. It’s a hard won challenge to stay wholly intact while becoming a part of something bigger. A feat of honesty to oneself and dedication to each other.

Easy? No. No one said it would be easy. I  know there will be many more walls that will be run into head first. Maybe that’s what marriage is… knowing you will run into a wall and agreeing to do it. To know it won’t be easy.

That’s ok. I never liked easy anyways.

Easy is boring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 11.56.10 AMNone of us get through life unscathed. We all have things that caused pain or fear or rejection or shame. Sometimes I look back and I marvel at where I am. I feel incredibly lucky that the hurtful and the shameful and the painful didn’t define me. They are there, but they didn’t win. They were overshadowed and overcome and drowned out by one voice.

It was the voice of encouragement and love and wisdom.

It was always there, always available, always ready.

Thank you, Mom.

Thank you for being the voice that made all the difference.

Thank you for being the constant listener. For never tiring of the endless chatter of a little girl full of questions and observations and random thoughts.

Thank you for not laughing or minimizing my fears or my dreams.

Thank you for bringing a little laughter and silliness to late night car rides to the grocery store on pay day. Our tummies rumbling in hunger momentarily forgotten by your outlandish stories and made up songs.

Thank you for fighting to survive when a lot of women would have given up. Divorced with two little girls, no job, no car. Thank you for reinventing yourself from the timid small town girl too scared to drive, to the independent working woman respected by her peers.

Thank you for giving us a Christmas even when you couldn’t afford to buy gifts. For making a game of giving each other imaginary gifts, pictures cut out of magazines of the things we would give each other if…

Thank you for quietly not eating so you’d have enough food for us.

Thank you for putting up with my endless performances and jokes and precocious antics without ever showing annoyance.

Thank you for encouraging my dreams. For making me believe I could be an actress on Broadway one day. For never shooting down a little girl’s pipe dreams.

Thank you for always talking to me like I was a person. For always valuing my opinions and thoughts. Even when they may have been immature or misguided.

Thank you for making me feel like I had a voice. And that it mattered.

Thank you for giving me a beautiful sister and precious brother who became my best friends.

Thank you for walking with me through a painful back surgery and months of wearing an embarrassing brace and body cast. For being sensitive to my struggle but not letting me wallow in self pity.

Thank you for talking me through my first heartbreak. For not hesitating to come get me when I called you sobbing from the school pay phone. For taking me to lunch and letting me talk about it. For telling me that I deserved better. That I would take that heartbreak and I would be stronger. And that I would NEVER let anyone hurt me like that again.

Thank you for letting me sit in on the adult discussions about life and politics. For letting me chime in on occasion and insisting that others listen to what I had to say.

Thank you for making me feel special when I felt stupid or ugly or unlikeable.

Thank you for exposing me to art, to theatre, to Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and Joel Gray and Debbie Reynolds. And to jazz. And for taking me to see Fame and Ghandi even though they were rated “R.” For watching A Chorus Line with me over and over because Broadway.

Thank you for marrying a great man who loved us and took care of us. And whose deep appreciation and knowledge of all things rock and roll gave me an education and a passion for a music that influences almost everything I say and do.

Thank you for teaching me about working hard and toughing it out and treating every job as if it were the most important job in the world.

Thank you for listening when I called you from my apartment in Atlanta. Not sure if I should walk out on a long term relationship that I’d thought was my future. For telling me that I would never settle. That I would find that amazing love that is written about in great novels.

Thank you for not laughing or questioning me when I called you after the first date to tell you that I’d met the man I was going to marry.

Thank you for taking care of my brother. For being his nurse and his mom and his friend. And for taking hit after hit during a brutal 18 months and standing with him as he stared Cancer in the face and said “I don’t have time for you. I’ve still got a lot of living to do.” For being steady when your legs were shaking in fear.

For not giving up on life when Cancer won. Even though you wanted to.

Thank you for showing up at my wedding ten days after the worst heartbreak any mother could face. For showing up and smiling and laughing and dancing. For allowing all of us to have a few moments from the grief… to do what he would have wanted us to do.

Thank you for still talking about him. For letting me talk about him. For making sure he is still a part of everything we do. For listening to me when I’m struggling and in pain and missing him so much I don’t think I can breathe. Even though you’re struggling more. For putting your pain on hold to be there for me.

Thank you for still walking through life 15 years later. When I know sometimes each step is just as painful as it was in those darkest days.

Thank you for always being a fighter. For showing me what strength is. For being an example of persevering and not giving up and for being real while doing it.

Thank you for helping me breathe in moments where I felt like I couldn’t.

Thank you for showing me how to be a mother and a friend. And how the two can come together to be a beautiful thing.

Thank you for being a mom and a grandmother who will stop whatever she’s doing to be there for any one of us.

Thank you for being that strong voice for you grandsons and granddaughters too.

Thank you for having a louder voice than any of the bad. For speaking to me over the negative. For giving me the confidence and the optimism that the negative tries so hard to steal.

Because of your voice I was able to grow. To love. To dream. To learn.

Thank you, Mom.

 

1000speak

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping

While my guitar gently weeps”

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I wanted to do something. I felt helpless as I sat in the backseat. My legs couldn’t yet reach the floor board, my pockets were empty of all but a scuffed up Hot Wheel toy car. But I wanted to do something.

It was the first time I’d seen someone begging for food.

The seconds ticked by while we sat at the stop light. I studied him and wondered what it must be like to be him. I saw tattered clothes, I saw a worn face. I watched as he stared straight ahead, meeting no one’s eyes. Letting his roughly scrawled sign do all the talking.

And suddenly we were off, on our way. Off to do some destination so inconsequential I can’t remember it.

But I remember him.

I remember feeling the unfairness of it all.

I remember feeling incredibly sad.

Concerned.

Pity.

Shame.

I was young but I knew enough. I knew a little of hunger. Of shoes too small. I knew a little of the struggle to make it to payday.

But my hunger was always fed eventually. My toes were only pinched for a short time until we received hand me downs from family friends. My mom shielded us with stretched out cans of Beenie Weenies and a funny story or a silly face. Her casual manner hid the stress of trying to survive one more day.

But I didn’t know what it was like to be him.

“I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping

Still my guitar gently weeps”

Life goes on. We see people barely hanging on to life, clinging to shreds of dignity.

You can’t really ignore it. It’s on the street corner. It’s huddled under the overpass. It’s on the t.v. It’s in the news.

All around us people are in pain or in fear or destitute.

It’s hard to ignore.

Yet somehow we do.

It’s survival. It’s not letting ourselves get washed away in the abyss of despair when you look at the suffering. When you feel hopeless in the face of tragedy. When you feel angry at ongoing injustices. We can’t let ourselves drown in it all. We have to take care of our lives, our kids, our families. That’s self preservation.

And we have to preserve ourselves.

“I don’t know why nobody told you

How to unfold your love.

I don’t know how someone controlled you

They bought and sold you”

Sometimes we insulate ourselves because of our own hurts and our own struggles that bearing the pain of another person’s suffering is just too much.

That’s ok. As long as when you’re better you take off the blinders and take part. As long as you don’t let your head stay nestled comfortably in the sand long after it’s due for an appearance above ground.

“I look at the world and I notice it’s turning

While my guitar gently weeps.

With every mistake we must surely be learning

Still my guitar gently weeps.”

Because there’s much to do my friends. Every great change that has ever taken place has required masses of people to take notice, to stand up, to participate.

There are so many things, so many ways to give. There’s causes to join. Movements to start. It’s little every day things and big grand gestures.

As long as it’s something. Because not doing something leaves you feeling much more helpless. Because not doing something leads to more of the same.

I look around and I see the world in pain. I see fear pulsating. I see children hungry. I see humans sold. I see divisions over arbitrary lines in the sand and borders that were decided ages ago. I see religions of love and peace tear each other apart. I see black men being shot. I see children being abused. I see people dying from diseases that don’t carry a big enough payout for a cure. I see people slipping through the cracks we all blithely step over every day.

And I remember him.

I remember the disappointment of driving away. Of wanting to run back and do something. But instead turning around to look out the back window. Watching as he faded from view.

“I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping

While my guitar gently weeps”

Atrocities and injustices of the past tug on the back of our conscious. We struggle to comprehend the brutality of the past. How did people allow these things to happen? Why was there hatred over superficial and trumped up differences? Why did they allow needless suffering? Why didn’t they do something?

These things are viewed through the lens of present day.

How many things are we allowing to happen? How many things will our children, our grandchildren look back upon and wonder, Why didn’t someone stop it? Why didn’t people stand up? Why did’t they push back?

“Look at you all

Still my guitar gently weeps”

Now’s our chance to do something.

I know it’s there, in you. In me. In all of us.

The part of that cares.

The part that cries when we hear of pain and suffering.

The part that hurts when we see injustice.

The part that breaks when we see hate and anger.

The part that wants to do something.

Meet anger with softness.

Meet hatred with love.

Meet judgement with acceptance.

Meet ignorance with knowledge.

Meet apathy with urgency.

Meet hunger with food.

Meet cold with warmth.

Meet disregard with a mirror.

Indifference with compassion.

I have hope. I have overwhelming optimism and hope. Because,

Look at you all. 

#1000Speak

1000 Voices for Compassion

Over 1000 voices coming together to do something.

Spread the love, make our voices LOUD. Tweet, share on Facebook and Instagram. Let’s flood the internet with compassion!

Add your link here.

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I met him in our college Spanish class. After admiring him from afar for the better part of a year, we fell into a heated relationship. I was crazy about him.  Our relationship was tumultuous. Until it wasn’t. Eventually the passion was gone.

We were living together, making a home and making plans. Three years together and talk of a future, but I knew it wasn’t working.

I tried to save us. For well over a year I tried. He was pleasantly apathetic.

Eventually I was done.

He called. He wrote. He begged me to give him another chance. He promised to make changes. Things I had pleaded for, he now promised to deliver.

It didn’t matter.

I was done.

That’s how it works. You try. You fight. You fight for your relationship.

Until you’re exhausted and tired from all of the effort. Until you realize you’re the only one putting in the effort.

It’s that cold realization that is the nail in the coffin of a relationship. The loneliness that comes with the scratching and clawing for love… and looking around and realizing that no one else is getting their hands dirty. The harsh loneliness of sharing space with someone.

That was a long time ago. Just after that relationship ended, I fell in love with my husband. I was gun-shy and not looking for romance. I tried to talk my way out of it. I told him I had fears. I told him that I needed more than he could give. I couldn’t live a life of complacency.

I told him that I get bored easily.

He promised our life would never be boring.

I told him I need passion. I needed fire.

He promised a lifetime of passion.

I told him I needed someone who wouldn’t give up easily.

He promised me he would fight for me. For us.

That was over 18 years ago. Three houses, three kids, three dogs ago. A lifetime ago.

It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Hard because we all have something, something that burdens us. Something that lives deep inside of us and comes out sideways. Hard because we’re all pretty messy inside. Hard because all of things that we all carry are forced to mingle with all of the messiness of this person you share a life with. And they bump up against each other and they feed each other and they confuse each other. And sometimes they hurt each other.

So what do you do with all of this?

You pick a fight.

You pick a fight with yourself. For yourself.

The fight you choose is the fight to become a better you. You trudge into the stagnant waters of long held pain and damage. You wade into the muck and you start cleaning it up. You fight through all the barriers and the defenses that we each cling to like a tattered blanket of comfort. You get dirty and you fight.

You fight through all of this because it’s the only fight you can really win. You can’t fight for him. It’s not about fixing him. If it was, there would be no break ups. There would be no divorce. The idea of fixing the person you love, of fighting his battles? That’s just a fantasy. His issues are his. They are borne of different things than yours. You can try to fix them but it will be fruitless. You can spin your wheels for a lifetime trying to fix someone else. Focusing on them and all of their stuff. This won’t get you far, I promise. It’s a twisted path to bitterness and disappointment.

But you can fight for you. You can work through all of your stuff. Recognize it. Deal with it. Learn from it. It may give you some peace and strength. It may stop the cycle of your stuff feeding his stuff and the chaos of emotions that tag along with that. It may give him enough room and space to see that something’s changed and that maybe, maybe he can start to work through his stuff too.

Regardless, you fight for you.

I picked this fight in recent years. It has been scary and hard and at times I’ve come close to giving up. But now I’m starting to see what comes after the fight. Some peace. Some healing. The burden of all of my stuff is much lighter and I feel more free. I am not so weighed down. I’m not as confused by my emotions. The other side of the fight with myself is a good place to be.

My husband has also picked his fight. He’s trekked into the depths of what burns deep inside of him. He’s never been one to be complacent or apathetic. Eighteen years and it’s never been boring. I’ve seen him refuse to give up and refuse to let me be the only one fighting.

I think back now, to that day years ago. The day I tearfully told the man I loved what I needed. What I thought was impossible for someone to give. The day I thought I should give up on love because my expectations were too high and unattainable.

He didn’t try to change my mind or my expectations.

He accepted the challenge and the needs of a naive young woman who thought she knew what she needed.

I never needed him to fight for us.

But he gave me things I didn’t know I needed. He did more than share space with me. He didn’t just sit and watch me fight my battles. He listened. He supported. He loved. And when I wanted to give up on my demons? He started fighting his. He showed me that vulnerability is the bravest place to be. He got his hands dirty with me. In fighting for himself he showed me just how much he loved me. The lengths he would go to to be better for us.

I didn’t need him to fight for us.

I needed him to wage his own fight.

I didn’t need him to fight for me.

I never needed him to fight for me.

I’m capable of doing that for myself.

I can fight my own battles.

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It was my wedding day.

I found myself standing outside the doors to the chapel. My heart was racing. Pressure began building inside and I felt my eyes fill up with tears.

I can’t do this.

Before I could turn and run, the doors were flung open. I was caught off guard as 80 expectant faces turned to look at me. I scanned the crowd….  I saw my family and friends…. I saw my Dad and Stepfather waiting in front of the alter to give me away.

But I was going to have to walk down the aisle alone.

And that’s not how it was supposed to be.

I don’t know how long I paused there. I felt like I couldn’t move.

Then my eyes found Joe. And right next to him a single candle burning on a tall candelabra. Gulp. I looked back at Joe and knew that if I could make it to him that I would be o.k.

I took a tentative step. I felt as if my knees were going to buckle. I took a deep breath and willed myself to move. Somehow I began walking. It was surreal. I felt as if I was floating down the aisle….  Something was propelling me forward.  I felt a sense of calm. A sense of warmth and serenity that I hadn’t felt in 18 months.

***

Eighteen months earlier, my 16 year old brother had been diagnosed with a rare pediatric bone cancer.

The diagnosis was grim. The prognosis was not good.

He was quick to rally. He was going to be fine. He was going to live his life. He was still planning a future. He packed a lot of living in a short time.

Ten days before my wedding he lost his fight.

That was the day my world forever changed. Nothing would ever be the same. The damage was irreparable. I felt gutted, depleted and seething with heartache.

September 15, 1999 was the worst day of my life.

Fifteen years later I still look back and I don’t know how my family and I made it through a funeral and a wedding. But we did. We somehow walked through it together, feeling our way through a fog of pain and grief.

There would be no postponing of the wedding, as I’d suggested. I couldn’t imagine waking up in a world without my brother, let alone throwing a wedding. Every single member of my family told me in no uncertain terms that my brother would never want me to put it off. He always said he “didn’t have time for cancer”, he didn’t let it stop him from doing the things he wanted to do.

And he would be highly pissed if I let cancer stop my wedding.

So, we pulled it together and summoned our strength. Even though we were still in a state of shock, we had a wedding. There were tributes to my brother throughout the wedding. The single candle stood where he was supposed to stand as a groomsman. There was a beautiful poem in his memory read during the ceremony. His favorite song was played at the reception. And we danced. And we drank. And we had fun.

Inexplicably, we had fun.

Fifteen years have passed since that day.

Fifteen years later and I’m still trying to figure out how to move through life without him.

Fifteen years later and I’m still learning how all of this works… the after part.

And even though I’m sometimes exhausted by all that I’ve learned from that day, I know it’s important to pull my head out of the sand. I know I need to pay attention to all that grief has taught me.

I would gladly trade the things I’ve learned to have my brother back.

But I learned a long time ago that bargaining doesn’t work.

So I choose to appreciate the lessons I learned.

I learned to cut people some slack.

You really don’t know what people are going through. You don’t know what they have endured. You don’t know what battles they may be fighting.

There were the times that I would find myself driving 15mph in the left lane. I would be lost somewhere between grief and exhaustion after a long night at the hospital with my brother. I would arrive home with no idea how I got there.

There were times when I’d look up distractedly at the grocery store to realize I’d been standing in the middle of the aisle lost in thought.

I used to be that person that would honk impatiently and cast a dirty look as I zoomed past a slow driver.

Not anymore.

I learned what it was like to really have a bad day. To be so lost in a world turned on it’s head that you could be completely unaware of your surroundings.

I learned that we all have bad days and some of us have really bad days.

Some of us are just trying to make it to tomorrow.

Now I see people differently. I don’t see people who are trying to get in my way. I see someone who may have heavy things weighing on their mind. I’m sure many people granted me that grace, and I’m grateful. I was so fragile and raw that to be confronted by an impatient driver or shopper would have been too much.

Compassion and grace isn’t giving people a pass when you know they’re suffering.

Real compassion is giving people the benefit of the doubt. Granting them access. Assisting them when you don’t know them. Being patient and kind even when you don’t know what they are going through.

If you have to know the behind the scenes? If you have to know their story in order to be kind?

If your kindness is based on an assessment of their pain… if it is conditional…

then it’s not truly kindness.

It’s judgement.

I didn’t get this before. I wasn’t cruel. I wasn’t mean spirited. But I was impatient. I was easily irritated. That was before I realized the depths that people can be trapped in and look completely normal to the rest of the world.

I learned that comfort  sometimes comes from unexpected places.

There are some people who had such an impact on me, who helped me through difficult times. They probably will never know the significance of their actions.

The soft-spoken coworker who offered me a hug as I was leaving to meet my family at the hospital. We were meeting with doctors to get news of test results. He knew I was nervous. When my shy, reserved friend wrapped me in a big bear hug I was overcome. I knew this small gesture was not easy for him to give. His effort to offer me solace moved me. It reminded me that even though my coworkers didn’t know my brother, there was a whole team of people rooting for him.

There was my brash, loud, jokester boss who let me take off as much time as I needed to be with my brother at the hospital.

There was my friend from work who calmly assured me that I would feel joy again after I tearfully confided my fear and pain to her.

Then there’s my husband’s brother and my sister in law who drove 12 hours to attend my brother’s memorial service.

My sister in law was the person I leaned on during that service. I found myself opening up to her and this was only the second time she andI had met. She helped me get through an emotional night. She seemed genuinely touched by the stories she heard from my brother’s friends. She said that he sounded like an amazing person and she felt like she kind of knew him after hearing about his antics.

I almost collapsed with gratitude. Her words gave me hope that my brother wouldn’t be forgotten, that his spirit and his humor could be translated to people who’d never met him.

I learned that an act of kindness, no matter how small, is never wrong. Sometimes it’s the thing that can help someone put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.

I’ve learned that you can, even 15 years later, be blindsided by the cruel reality of it all.

You can be sitting at your kid’s swim practice just trying to write in your notebook when a memory you’re writing about simply knocks the wind out of you and next thing you know you’re wiping away tears hoping no one notices.

You can be eating dinner at a restaurant and the waiter looks just like your brother. You can’t stop looking at him. You feel the loss and pain take over and overwhelm you. You are again surprised at the cruel force of grief’s ability to blindside you. And you almost want to stalk the waiter just so you can pretend for a minute that your brother’s still here.

You can watch your kids doing something especially mischevious and your thoughts unwillingly flicker to images of your brother. Memories of the antics of a little boy long ago. And then, imagining what could have been. Him egging them on, encouraging their exasperating behavior.

And you can almost hear him laughing, enjoying every second of finding a way to torture you as an adult as he did as a little kid.

And your heart hurts because you know he would have had so much fun with your kids and they would have loved their uncle so much.

You could bottle yourself up and try to insulate yourself from it, but it’s not going away so you might as well let it happen.

You’ll feel it, you’ll hurt, but you’ll be ok. You will be ok. 

And I’ve learned that I still feel my brother’s presence.

I see him in each of my children, in their personalities…  in their sense of humor, which is what my brother was known for.

I feel him sometimes. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I feel a warmth come over me. A warmth hard to describe because it’s unlike any sensation I’ve felt before.

I feel him when my family is together and my sister and my parents are laughing and we’re giving each other a hard time.

I feel him kicking me in the ass when I’m about to chicken out on doing something that scares me.  I can almost hear what he would say in those situations.

Don’t give up. You’re better than that.

I’ve learned to recognize these moments, when I feel him with me. They are bittersweet. They are welcome. And they tug at my heart because they will never be enough.

My brother was supposed to walk me down the aisle.

When we knew, in those last weeks, that it would not be possible for him to do that, we contemplated our other options.  We considered having both my dad and stepfather walk me down the aisle… or having my sister’s husband walk me down the aisle.

But in the end, I decided that my brother was who I had chosen to walk me down the aisle.

There was no understudy.

There would be no last minute stand in.

I couldn’t imagine replacing him in that role.

I didn’t know how I was going to manage making that walk without him. I didn’t have much time to dwell on it.

And what I’ve learned is that there didn’t need to be a replacement.

My brother showed up.

He kicked me in the ass a little and told me not to be scared. He reminded me that I didn’t have time to let my pain stand in the way of my wedding, my happiness.

My brother showed up…

he  was there with me on one of the best days of my life.

Today I’m opening up my home (because this place is very much like my home) and inviting someone very special in. This is one of those guests you make a of fuss over. You break out the good wine and the best glasses. You light the candles and put on some funky new music because you really want to impress her. You play it cool while trying not to jump up and down and squeal. So in my best casual voice, I’ll invite you to join us. Sit down, pull your feet up and get cozy because our favorite Dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat is here. And she has a story that will entertain and delight you. It will leave you wanting more, which is good since the next chapter is only a few days away and will be appearing on Samara’s blog. This is the second chapter so if you haven’t read the first, you must go over to Lizzie’s place and read the beginning. Enjoy my sweet friends and be sure to comment and tell Helena how much you adored her story…

***

“Do you think he could be the one?” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia (which would appear to be a quiet little town where people frequently break into song) asked.

“What?” I laughed. I’d been hearing the name Spenser in association with pretty much everything for the entire week after my brief encounter with the bartender who had been nice enough to find me ruby red grapefruit juice so that I could have a proper greyhound. (I actually had three, darlings, and loosened up nicely).

“You know,” Penny said. “The one to break the curse so that you don’t have to remain a beast the rest of your days and I don’t have to be, um… hey Helena, if I were part of an enchanted castle, what kind of furniture do you think I’d be?”

“A toilet,” I said, rolling my eyes at her. “Now eat your pancakes, Lady Flushington, we’re going to be late for the train.”

“You know, I’m going to let that slide, Helena, because I love you so much,” Penny said, frowning.  “After all, it’s a castle, right, and as all of the humans have been enchanted, the only person who would need a toilet would be the beast – that’d be you, by the way – and so I’m sure you’d have your own toilet. I would be a toilet in one of the guest bathrooms that never get used anyway. So if you want to shit on me, you’ll have to find some other way.”

I resisted the urge to change the subject into the dangerous messages for girls in that movie, or to suggest that the whole thing is akin to Stockholm Syndrome, and should have starred Patty Hearst as Belle.

Instead, I changed tactics.

“You let him call you Penelope,” I said.

“Oh, I didn’t let him do anything,” she replied with an eye roll of her own.

“Yet,” I winked, and Penny had no words. She just gaped at me, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Finally she laughed at me.

“Whatever,” she said, and downed the rest of her coffee. “Let’s go.”

Penny knew already what I hadn’t even considered. Penny is far more attuned to what’s going on than I am – I quite frequently have my head up my ass, and not in a good way.

Is there a good way to have your head up your ass, Helena?

I think there is in France, darlings.

But as for me, I thought that Penny had fallen for the handsome bartender – the way she was going on about him, I’m sure you would have thought that, too.

So when Penny showed up with him that night, I was sure that my suspicions were confirmed.

Here’s where I confess to some of that bad behaviour I alluded to before, darlings. I don’t know whether I was jealous (and in retrospect, isn’t that a laugh and a half) or if I was just feeling maudlin and bitter, but rather than be my charming and entertaining self, I spent the evening complaining about men. In fact, I pulled out my stories, some of which you’ve already heard, as case studies as to why men cannot be trusted, why men are dogs, and why the only good thing about a man is between his legs, and how thanks to modern technology, I could buy one of those at the store.

I got caught up in heartbreak, self-absorbed and full of poison, and talked all about old boyfriends, but most especially Robert, who I’d left my home for and moved all the way to California to be with. I reminisced about a time we’d found ourselves drunk and naked on the private beach of some music producer in Malibu, and how we, as I so charmingly put it, re-enacted the zodiac symbol for Cancer in the moonlight, with the surf crashing on the beach behind us.

A hint for you, darlings – it looks very much like the number that can be expressed by the mathematical equation 70 – 1 = X.

Solve for X.

I got drunk, and railed about love. I was a complete and utter mess. I talked about wonderful things, and I talked about horrible things, and the underlying theme began to slowly come into focus, and that was:

“Why am I alone? What’s wrong with me?”

Spenser looked shell-shocked, but then he did something that made me feel both silly and at the same time a little better.

He shrugged, and then crossed his legs in the Lotus position, and lowered his hands, palms up, onto his knees.

“Om, llama llama llama,” he deadpanned, and I confess I broke out laughing, and then excused myself. I locked myself in my room and cried into my pillow. I was embarrassed and angry with myself. I felt like I’d just vomited all over Spenser, and as, at that point, I was still pretty sure Penny was interested in him, I felt terrible. If I ruined it for her, I’d never forgive myself.

When I re-emerged, Spenser had left, which was the plan all along, and Penny was waiting for me on the couch, watching Sherlock and no doubt fantasizing about her beloved Cummerbund Bandersnatch.

“Well, that could have gone better,” she said, and the fact that she hadn’t slipped into her trademark Dickensian street urchin voice told me that she was serious.

“I’m sorry, Penny, I don’t know what came over me,” I hung my head. “I hope I didn’t screw things up for the two of you.”

“The two of us?” Penny laughed. “Are you blind. Excuse me – are you fucking blind? It’s not me that he’s taken with. God, Helena, you really are rusty. You’re all he talks about – where’s Helena? When are you going to bring Helena back around? Take me to your Helena… and so on.”

“Oh, please,” I said, waving her away with the back of my hand.

“Oh, please yourself,” she snapped back, and then put a hand over her mouth. “Oh, wait, is that what you were doing in your bedroom all this time?”

“Not amused,” I said.

“That’s my line,” the Countess said, slipping gently into a posh, Windsor Castle-esque accent. “Cheerio. Tut tut. Yes. Quite. Off with her head.”

“He’s a child,” I said, not meaning to be cruel, but Penny nonetheless was not amused.

“We are not amused,” she said. See – I told you she wasn’t amused. “Besides, my good woman, he’s not a child. He’s actually…”

She mentioned an age that was almost, but not quite ten years younger than I. He was about mid-way between Penny and I, and to me, the logical choice would have been Penny. Penny’s pretty awesome, and don’t ever tell her I said so, but damn that girl is beautiful. Like, traffic stopping gorgeous. She doesn’t see it, and certainly, hers is an unconventional beauty (you may recall her black, sometimes pink, sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes orange hair, and her penchant for dressing like a gothic version of Alice in Wonderland) but for those with eyes to see, Penny is something to fantasize about.

“But what does he want with me?” I asked. At some point – perhaps it was earlier in the evening when I’d spilled all my messy past all over the floor – I seemed to have lost my self-esteem.

“Well, with the way he was looking at you, I’d say he wants…”

Penny mentioned a few things that I wouldn’t find objectionable, and a few I’d never heard of.

“Do people really do that?” I asked her, intrigued.

“Well, I may have made that last one up,” she admitted. “But doesn’t it kind of sound fun?”

“I’d be worried about getting toothpaste in sensitive areas,” I said.

“Yeah, but his breath would be minty fresh afterward.”

“You’ve given this quite a bit of thought, haven’t you?”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t exactly have a boyfriend,” Penny explained.

“And I don’t know if I’m ready for one,” I said, giving Penny an awkward grin.

“And yet, you’re curious,” Penny said, brightening. “Admit it. You’re like that monkey that goes on an ether bender and bites the man in the yellow hat.”

“I don’t think George ever bit the Man in the Yellow Hat, Penny.”

“Well, not in the actual books, no. It was in one of the deleted scenes.”

“I see,” I indulged her. “Well, sure, I’m curious. Curious enough, I suppose.”

“Great,” she said. “Then tomorrow night, you and I will be going out. There’s this ‘80s cover band called Duckie’s Pompadour playing at a club downtown, and Spenser will be there.”

“Duckie’s Pompadour?” I laughed. “John Hughes is spinning in his grave.”

“Not at all,” Penny said. “You’ll love it. They play pretty much every song from Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, Sixteen Candles, you name it.”

“Oh, but Penny – I made a fool of myself tonight,” I said, shaking my head. “Don’t you think I scared him off?”

Penny laughed. “I don’t think you get it – he’s positively enamoured with you. It’d take more than a little maudlin misandry to frighten him away. Just wait until he sees you in the midst of a depressive episode, or – hey, you want to get some Chinese food? Huh? Get that all-important MSG headache experience out of the way for the poor guy?”

“Gee thanks, Penny. I don’t know about this. I don’t know if I can face him again after tonight.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t know. You had no idea he was here to see you.”

“I don’t know,” I repeated.

“And you won’t know until you give it a chance,” she said, staring at me with her big brown eyes. “Please Helena? Say you’ll come.”

I didn’t want to, darlings. I tried to say no.

“I am disinclined to acquiesce…”

“Great, it’s settled!” Penny interrupted. “Tomorrow night at nine!”

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The enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has. She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming. She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them. Some people attribute her with inventing the Ampersand, but she has never made that claim herself.

Earlier this year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and has finished Volume Two and is in the editing process.

Volume One is available HERE in e-book for Kindle or HERE in paperback.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat