At six pounds, nine ounces, I was pulled to life by a medical vacuum, as my mother lay asleep, medicated beyond consciousness. Whether my troubles began at birth, remains uncertain. The story my mother tells is that my independent ways and means committee of one for survival began early, refusing to take her hand to cross the street. My, “I can do it, myself” attitude precluded her from controlling me, and the battles began. I fought defiantly, arguing with intention to knock down the opposition, keying my position with an independent voice that simply had to be heard. In our home, I cried, yelled, screamed often no matter the cost, constantly punished, depleted from exhaustive disputes and angry tirades that left me alone, sad, and despondent.
The catastrophic conflicts created isolation; my father’s role as referee, indirectly and passively declaring my mother the victor was mainly to separate us from irrational fights over control. My two sisters remained hidden from our mother’s wrath, as I drew all the negative attention. Seventeen years of arguments and anger left me with disdain, contempt, and rage toward the woman that bore me. Her meanness, limitations, and condescension that I poured out as much as she, dug scars that lined my heart as I escaped to college.
Yet having reviewed my childhood woes and weary beginnings, oddly there were sparks of joy, happiness, and exceptional optimism that lay between battlegrounds of destructive behavior. Leaving home for any reason was incredibly uplifting, a respite from the malaise. School, sports, playing basketball in the driveway, riding my bike as far from home as possible, and traveling parentless to summer overnight camp, a teen tour, or an international high school exchange program, I escaped regularly. These breaks were the highlight of establishing friendships, athletic team opportunities, a hard work ethic within an academic foundation, and an optimistic attitude towards life.
My spin of any negative situation to a positive was typical, and evident to friends as unusual. In retrospect, anything or anywhere was an improvement from home. My happiness and unique perspective about life made me different from peers. The rewarding release from the stress at home were reprieves. Therefore, other’s opinions of me rarely had any effect upon me, declaring me somewhat a freak of nature. As a teenager, that rare sentiment kept those with great insecurity at bay. Unaffected by emotional drama, made me a good listener, objective, and impartial to the normal human melodrama that plays out in life.
Alternatively my mother’s opinion jarred great resentment; I lashed out with fury. As a result, my self-esteem deeply was affected, and by age eleven, food as fuel became a foreign concept. Utilizing food to numb the pain and control the uncontrollable, I began the dieting roller coaster. Active summers away from home enabled normalcy with food; the weight issues vanished until my return.
Additionally, there were uplifting, calm, sublime moments in my childhood. My mother’s compassion, empathy and love for me when I was ill was notable. Truce-filled travels during vacations as a family were memorably peaceful. Those moments encompassed some building blocks of love beneath the surface that would later prove imperative for a positive, future, mother-daughter relationship. Her uncanny ability to forget the past quickly diminished punishments she ordered. Pretending the arguments had not occurred resurrected immediate peace soon after. Her optimism lay like fresh clouds, free from the turmoil, happy to relinquish any of yesterdays anguish for today’s new possibility. The sun seemed to brighten every day as if the prior hours vanished as the clock ticked forward.
I recall her morning routine, arriving in my bedroom announcing, “Good morning, Morning Glory. Time to rise and shine.” She would raise the windowshade without warning with a chipper attitude, and smile as if the turmoil hours before never occurred. Her ability to forget the past, begin again, or pretend it did not happen, was unusual. I recently researched the morning glory flower, to discover that it is a flower that rises each day anew, only to die by the setting sun. From its root, another newly fresh Morning Glory flower appears for its turn to live for the day. My mother emulates this peculiar flower, each day independent from the next. Her own optimistic outlook was contagious, and perhaps we each died a little each day, only to resurface anew the next.
Also moments existed when her assumed hatred of me reversed, periodically blossoming. I recall meeting a boyfriend’s parents, and excitedly sharing with my mother, “I think they really loved me.” Her response still echoes loudly, “What’s not to love?” That phrase was spoken on several occasions, ensuring that she loved me deeply, somewhere in a convoluted heart that needed mending as much as my own. That message furthermore raised hope that love between us lay dormant, ready for a future awakening.
Lacking self-worth from a shortage of unconditional love, translated into lousy relationships with men, promoted a series of poor choices. Food consumed purposely for numbing emotions, resulted in a weight, yo-yo effect, arriving into a relationship thin, and fat by the time I was heading for the door. Relationships included the ex-con, the abusive partner, the law student whose priorities did not include me, and the man who was married to his mother. The common theme was I did not deem myself worthy of better, or to be prioritized as number one.
My story I had written, lived and languished with lacking self-worth, self-love, and self-acceptance; I dumped myself into those relationships. To release the shame, the guilt of allowing myself into those doomful, unhealthy affiliations, and forgiving myself and those from my history, I worked incessantly to clear the dark clouds from my heart, accepting the past as it was, and resign myself to a new, uncluttered future. Yet the repetition of dreadful, ghastly partner choices accumulated over a dozen years, until one fateful evening I rewrote my life story.
Months from reaching thirty years old, my fiancé moves into my apartment and our wedding invitations find their way into guests’ mailboxes. Within two weeks, a thunderstorm at night eliminates the lights, the air conditioner is silent and unresponsive, and sweat pours from my brow as the temperature reaches 85 degrees inside. A slight breeze eases through the open windows, flashlights and candles provide dim lighting enough to see one another, and battery-operated fans sputter in a few corners.
A laundry basket of clothes sits by the bed, awaits reorganization; clothes lay in a chaotic, unfolded, unraveled, and wrinkled existence, representative of their owners. I begin folding the awaiting garments, my shoulders lifted, neck muscles clenched, back aching, thinking about how my life had become hopeless, unhappy, and hectic, yet again. I contemplate the many hands in the pot, planning our approaching nuptials, the continuing arguments with my new roommate, soon-to-be lifelong partner, and the answering machine message from his mother, “…HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY NOW! I was in a car accident because of you, from all this stress. And I hope you’ll be calling your dying cousin, Milton, during his last dying breath, to tell him why he wasn’t invited to your wedding…”
My insides unfold, unravel, and wrinkle, unable to imagine continuing to live like this. When did my life take such a turn, deteriorating to now? Then I see it, the lonely, white, silk blouse, looking shattered, damaged, and destroyed. Although I had purposefully not placed the delicate, graceful, gentle beauty with the rest of the dirty laundry, here it sits wilted, crumpled, and tattered. My heart sinks inside, relentlessly saddened by not one, but now, the second silk blouse destroyed by the man who claims to love me, care for me, but shows consistent disrespect and inconsideration for all that I am.
The greatest heartache is his persistence to defend the woman who gave him life, yet who tortures him emotionally with daily, phone calls. Her crass comments, sarcastic bellowing, and snide remarks, are symptomatic of her latest voicemail, sticking the metaphoric knife deeper than usual into us.
Looking at the disintegrated garment in my hands, sadness flows into disbelief, then into anger and resentment. My life feels like a made-for-TV movie where a monstrous mother-in-law aims to destroy her son and the woman who took him away from her. Yet he agrees, in his words, “It’s all for the best; she means well.” I am not sure anyone would believe the true story, but it would be entertaining enough for ratings.
My anger is boiling; words bubble at the mouth, foam begins to spew as the first letters of words form, “Chuck! You did it again!” Tears begin to tumble to the floor. I am exasperated that we are about to have the same argument over a blouse, about the money wasted, his lack of consideration, his disrespect towards me through his actions. Feeling irritated, I wonder why a repeat performance is in play. The scene, lit up by candles mysteriously dims my ability to see him well.
An angry, I-have-been-interrupted-again voice echoes from the other room. “Whaaaat?” This is not an inquiry, but a what-now, what-have-I-done-now, I-hate-my-life-too response.
“You did it again. How could you do this to me again? It’s ruined. My silk blouse is ruined. You threw it in the laundry and then in the dryer. Why don’t you have any respect for my things? I hate this. I hate this!” I even know in an instant, this is not about the blouse. So much deeper within the wrinkles of our lives are the creases that bury our true feelings, our childhood baggage, and the interference of our mothers, hidden beneath the folds of a crumpled, silk garment.
Yet the yelling, shouting, arguing begins, as if a repeat chorus takes hold of our prior night’s conversation. This time, it is set among the dark, open-windowed apartment, where our eyes cannot meet nor see the truth beneath the insults, the anger, the sadness, and the tension. We know not how to stop this freight train from running through our living room. The shouts are loud, enormously edged near violence, threatening, demented. Words fly like sticks of dynamite, “I hate you. I hate your mother. Fuck You! I don’t want to marry you. You look like you are mad enough to hit me. Do it! Get it over with! Make me leave you! Just get it over with!”
A tirade of words, exchanged under a foundation of aggressive, disturbing, and violent emotions, I sink to the floor, my feelings reverberating throughout my entire being. Adjusting into a fetal position, I sob uncontrollably, sadness pouring from my pores. My heart literally aches, heaving cries of disbelief that my life experience is repeating itself. Recurring, anguish-filled words exit my mouth, picturing the prior dozen years pass before my eyes: “I hate my life. Why is this happening to me again? Why me? I cannot go on like this. I must make a change.” Yet as quickly as the words leave my mouth, I realize there is no escape clause for the painful life I have chosen. I have gotten myself into this broken-record, like a song scheduled to replay itself repeatedly. Again I feel stuck, uncertain how to change the course of my history that feels written in stone. There is no bright light to guide me away from here.
As my mother always said, “You made your bed, and now you have to lie in it.” I see the disrespect, the lack of self worth, the anger, the sadness, and the dysfunctional mess at each relationship’s finale. I hear my voice whispering, “How do I get out of this one? Help me. Please help me. Help.” But my body feels disconnected from the source of the sound. Not a soul hears my pleas; I sound crazy whispering the words aloud within the empty room. Chuck has retreated to the bedroom. Each of us is alone to sink within our sorrows from our relationship gone awry.
Then the shift hits the fan.
Knock, knock, knock! A heavy pounding comes from the door. Disrupted by the sudden loud sound, my sobs, my whispers in the silence, and my despair take an immediate break. Chuck returns to the room, hearing the loud, intentionally wanting-to-be-heard pounding upon our apartment door. We both look at each other with uncertainty. “You better answer it; I cannot,” I whimper.
“Who is it?” Chuck checks the peephole, as I hear the answer.
“It’s the police. Open this door immediately. We received a call about a domestic disturbance coming from this apartment.” The loud, masculine voice is stern, heavy, demanding, and startling.
My heart is racing now, aware that our loud words had listening spectators, and someone has called the cops to investigate the alarming sounds, the disturbing words, and the potential violence one would suspect. I whisper to Chuck that I will be in the other room. Behind the bedroom door, I listen closely to the conversation.
“We got a call saying there was a disturbance from this apartment.”
“Yes,” Chuck confirms. ”We had an argument. We are fine now.”
“We have to see that she is okay. Where is she?” From the inquiry and his concerned, dutiful words, I know I must make my feet move. My limbs are heavy, but my courage pushes them forward, making my appearance in front of the vocal officer. Another male policeman walks behind him, motioning Chuck to another side of the room.
I walk with my head down, appearing disheveled I suspect. His expressive eyebrows furrowed with lips pierced closed, my reddened eyes perhaps reveal my pain, anguish, and distress as I look up and our souls connect. He pauses possibly to reflect and contemplate the situation at hand, sizing me up. His broad shoulders exhibit a strong physique, but his eyes reveal a compassion I crave desperately.
“Are you okay?” he asks with concern.
Shakily and trembling, I softly and slowly speak, “I am okay. We just moved in together. We are supposed to get married in six weeks.”
“Hmmm.” His deep-set eyes seem to connect for just seconds with mine, when the following words come at me like a wave of wisdom. There is a moment of silence, stillness, a stoppage of time when, “You may want to rethink that” drops from his lips like a revelation. They reverberate, as if hanging in the air, resting upon my heart, as if the disordered, jumbled letters of my life have untangled into “You may want to rethink that.”
As the door shuts behind the short visit, I sit down, descending deeply into the couch, and cry, conscious of the severity of our argument, dirty laundry aired to the world, shame of my life leading to this miserable moment, and attune to “You may want to rethink that.” The deep, concerned, compassionate voice echoes repeatedly, simply, yet wisely. In the form of a uniformed officer, a messenger of strength, protection, and authority, arrives to help when I called, needed, and requested it. In search of an exit strategy, a superhero wearing a blue uniform, a messenger, spoke words from his heart that I hear intimately now.
His visit feels timely; I sense a shift occurring. The fan sputters in the corner. Slow motion emanates throughout the room, an energy coursing through the train wreck, healing its passengers, and bringing everyone to safety. Suddenly, I know that everything is going to be okay. Like a domino hitting its rectangular, black neighbor with white dots knocking into the next, words quickly connect through my mind, “cancel the wedding, escape this relationship, shift your life, release the pain, free yourself, unconditionally love yourself.”
Until now, cancelling the wedding seemed insurmountable like a freight train venturing off the tracks, momentum too strong to reverse direction. This is a messy proposition, hundreds of guests receiving their invitations within days of the police visit, and deposits paid to caterers, cake makers, photographers, videographers, florists, a band, and a location reserved. An expensive mess to meddle with, no simple solution to execute reversal, and yet, my life is on the line. Spending it with the wrong man constitutes an extremely, poor choice. Like the many errors in judgment, again I needed to right the wrong.
This vision of rethinking my life felt God-sent, my mind suddenly at ease. Relief unravels the tension as Operation Wedding Cancellation, I declare it, aligns itself with my life. My parents, experiencing the greatest financial sacrifice, support my decision, loving me more than I ever recalled prior. Suddenly everything shifts, like a lever lifting the veil that blinded my vision. The wedding train needs immediate work stoppage, retiring it from the tracks indefinitely. I board the next train to find a new direction in life, worthy of unconditional love. Revealed in the wedding clearing is a destiny calling me to fresh horizons and finer, peaceful pastures.
I see my life unfolding after this warped train is removed from its tracks, informing the guests, sending back engagement gifts, the ring, and the quintessential details related to this life-changing SNAFU (situation normal all fouled up). Suddenly I feel free, yet wondering how I led myself upon this unsteady, relentlessly painful path. How unworthy have I felt repeatedly in all the years of my life?
Weeks later after the silence, stillness, and safety return within, and the work to terminate the wedding completed, Chuck removing himself from my life entirely, I recall driving down Route 290 on my way to my aunt’s for a Rosh Hashanah celebration. I decide to skip the traditional services at the synagogue, figuring anything I have to say to God can be said anywhere, anytime. Yet as I drive, I contemplate my life, the new beginnings, and opportunities for change. A full life shift needs action, a change from the way I view my life and myself. Cancelling the wedding felt like dodging a bullet. Feeling relieved, saved, and reborn, a reinvention of “me” seems necessary.
Then something happens quite curiously, giving me time to pause. Although I know my gas meter appears empty, I typically wait to fill up the tank when its level is just below the given line. The phrase, “E is for enough,” my father’s expression, comes to mind, his running joke that there exists enough gas to reach the gas station. Yet the engine sputters, I press the gas pedal with greater gusto, but no acceleratory reaction occurs. In disbelief, I pull onto the shoulder of the highway. Taking stock, I realize I am safe, happy, and content while contemplating my predicament. Necessary cell phone calls made to AAA and my aunt’s to share my plight are complete. My mother’s response, “That used to happen to my father all the time … Be safe … I guess we’ll see you when you get here.”
I could imagine my grandfather sitting as I am now, waiting for help to arrive. Without cell phones years ago, a slightly different scenario must have played out, but the metaphor, “I’m out of gas” still rings true. Imagining my grandfather watching over me, keeping me safe, I wonder what he would think of me now.
“I’m out of gas,” I state the obvious aloud, aware at how accurate this statement equated to my life. I was running on empty, looking to fill the tank. Yet as I contemplated more, the message came into full view. I was living without a full tank of love, for myself, for others, for the world at large. Without self-love, self-care, self-exploration for healing, forgiveness for the past, I was struggling to live in the present. As I am discovering and understanding the “sign,” I feel the stillness, the mind chatter floating away, and a space of peace full of love descend upon me. Then intuitively I suddenly know the right action. Everything is clearly at ease, flowing, gentle, and kind.
All relationships seem resigned to befall the effects of my unstable childhood should I choose not to change. I instantly recall one relationship at seventeen where one man shared with me a glimpse of unconditional love, but without loving myself, running on empty, I was out of gas then, too. Twelve years later since that beautiful connection, I sit in the shade of the freeway and realize that love must be unconditional for myself before I can reciprocate to others.
Thinking about such love, and how it presents itself, I imagine the years of not feeling the love within, and a voice instantly infiltrates my heart. I hear it quite loudly, as if the voice enters my soul, “I am love. Love is me. I am the love that has evaded me.” Then as if a memory pervades my thoughts, I hear the words echoing from my mother’s voice loudly, clearly, undeniably, “Good morning, Morning Glory,” said with love, light, and laughter, welcoming me to a new day dawning, the past deadened and a new life awakening. Yet even louder, I hear her kindness deep in the recesses of my heart, audibly connecting with mine, “WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?”
My story rewritten at a three-decade turning point set the pace for my next fifteen years. I discovered forgiveness, a degree of self-love, shame resilience, and that change lies within. Life is not happening to me, but I am happening to it. I have the power to transform my life along any path. When you know that life has directionals that orchestrate from one’s heart, it is easy to play a grand symphony. Rewrite your story, play your tune anyway you choose; it can always be altered by listening to your heart, and changing the course of one’s song.
“Don’t die with your music still in you.” – Wayne Dyer.