Reflections


Jim and “the boys.”

I’ve known for the past five months that the time was fast approaching when I’d be closing out this blog. Because from the moment I met him, my heart was no longer adrift. In fact, that was how I knew he was the “One True Thing” I’d been searching for – he grounded me.  It was in his eyes – the strength of a man who’s been tested, in ways unimaginable to most. I could sense that strength of character, his true mettle, in our first meeting.

Our paths crossed, unimaginably, via the social medium of Twitter, in this small town on the edge of the Montana prairie. Yet, nearly 25 years ago, unknowingly, our lives just missed intersecting. He, four years my senior, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger – Me, an ROTC graduate and Signal Officer. We were both stationed at Fort Lewis, and then Korea, missing crossing paths by a year on both counts.  I used to pass the Rangers on my morning run around Grey Army Airfield every day. It’s funny to think of him being in that group of hard-charging, hard-bodies. In Korea, I nearly got reassigned to 2nd Infantry Division where he was stationed, only he had already left. Instead, I headed midway down the peninsula.

I have come to believe in fate since he’s come into my life. We have so much in common: our love for our children; of literature and writing; for the outdoors – fly fishing and hiking; as well as our labs; a shared aesthetic eye for the beauty around us, as well as a reverence for our Montana lifestyle; but, mostly a mutual sensitivity. Our love was forged from the bonds of friendship, something we both felt we’d be lucky to gain from the other.  Instead, that friendship quickly grew into a great respect and appreciation for one another, our disparate paths in life and the choices we’d made to bring the two of us to this small town. Since our meeting, we have been virtually inseparable, and our days have been idyllic: long Emails and phone calls in his absence (he works at the National Training Center in California preparing Brigade Commanders going to war); shared walks along the creek and hikes in the woods with our labs; and rainy afternoons watching movies or sharing a bottle of wine over lunch. Our plans were to be fly fishing side-by-side by now, with him intent on giving me a healthy respect for the trout of Big Spring Creek.

Those plans all fell by the wayside rather suddenly about a month ago when I fell ill, thinking I had a sinus infection. An MRI a week and a half later revealed a serious medical condition. I’d unknowingly suffered a stroke. My right front carotid artery had dissected, causing the lining of the vein to flutter away and for it to clot behind it. The real issue was that some blood was still passing through which could mean another stroke. When I was scheduled for the MRI, I insisted that he stay at home. He’d lost his wife only six months ago, and I didn’t want him to have to deal with anything else. He respected my request for about an hour, until my friend Amy texted him to let him know I’d be another hour in the imaging machine  – at which point he rushed up, in order to be there when I came out. He took me home that afternoon, and to the doctor later, to hear the terrifying results.

Since then, he has not left my side and remains my rock. He knew me well enough, that the morning I scoffed at having an MRI done, he sat me down and insisted I do it. He stoically drove me to Billings the next day, and was by my side when the neurologist confirmed the findings. He held my hand when I needed his strength, and he’s never faltered. He’s overlooked my physical disfigurement, encouragingly telling me that he really doesn’t notice my eye (it now droops, and the pupil is smaller than the other). He’s rushed to my side when I’ve let fear overtake me, and held me in his steely gaze, reciting a Burmese prayer, to give me courage. He’s held on tightly, not just to me, but to the future we imagined these past five months.  He’s brought out strength I did not know I had, and he’s forced me to continue to believe in the future, something I have wrestled with for a long time now, not just since this incident.

In short, he is a man beyond measure. He is a man of substance who sets the bar for all lesser men. A lesser man would not have had the courage to accompany me through this. A lesser man would not have lent me his strength so that I could pull through a difficult time. A lesser man would not have overlooked my physical scars. A lesser man would have faltered in every way, along every step of the path we’ve traveled in the past month. A lesser man would not see all that I am, and all that I still have to give, despite what I’ve been through. A lesser man would not have the courage, the conviction, and the faith, not just in me, but in himself and in God.

I thank God every day for this man, because I know where I am truly fragile, and so does he. It is that part of me which he has held closest – rocked, and cradled, cooed and comforted. May I learn from his courage, his strength, his faith, and his conviction, so that I may become stronger. May I be as brave as he, and rise to the occasion to do the same for him.

I love you Jim Klingaman, you are a man beyond measure. My heart is no longer adrift, I feel it anchored eternally to yours. I am no longer seeking a home, I have found it within us. Together we shall overcome.

All my love always – Your Andre

 

In the past six years my life has come to be marked by the seasons. Mind you, not the four seasons you all suspect and are yawning about right now as I propose them for the basis of my thoughts. No, rather, my life has varied seasons that depend entirely on the movement of my children. They parallel the mood of our regular seasons, I suppose, but for different reasons.

Soon, winter will be upon me. I can feel the dark days ahead, the shortening of daylight, the quiet of an empty house. I feel anxious anticipating its arrival and bury my head in the sand pretending it will not arrive. My winter differs from yours in that it is marked by the departure of my children. As they head north, into the hands of their father and a busy summer of non-stop activities, I settle into a mental winter. While the rest of the world around me dons shorts, soaks up the sun, splashes in the pool, and heads out-of-doors, I head inside deep into the recesses of my psyche. There, a blanket of white covers my thoughts and protects me from solitude. I read once, when I was desperately trying to win the war on worthless worry, that a good mental trick is to imagine your loved ones cloaked in a protective white halo. I use this technique a lot in their absence and an unintended irritating side effect is that white glow tends to cover more than just my children – thus, my mental winter.

The great thing about winter in my world is that it’s relatively short in real-time – 8 weeks to be exact. At which time springtime arrives in a burst of kisses, smiles, and reuniting. While the real world is deep into summer, my spring begins when my children arrive safely back in my arms and we have a brief time to enjoy together before another school year begins. We celebrate our spring together with traditional summer activities; trips to the pool, camping, walks, bike-rides, and fishing. Increasingly, I am forced to share this time with my children’s treasured friends who accompany us on our day trips or stick around for sleepovers. I do this, begrudgingly, as I know it is the trend of the future, but I can’t help but cling to the safety of the past.

The arrival of school marks our long summer together. While the days are spent in school, I can count on for the most part, that we will be together. Interrupted by only a few short visits, the kids and I have the entire school year to spend with one another and I treasure that time. While fall, winter, and spring pass in the real world, we are enjoying long days and nights in one another’s company. It is the summer of our togetherness and we don’t begin to feel the bite of fall until just about now, late in the spring of the real world when our separation lies dauntingly in front of us.

I’ve never really reflected on these seasons before, but they’ve marked the passage of time for six years now and I realize more and more how I’ve mentally settled into them. This year, of course, I’m fortunate to have an intrusion of reality into my world with the arrival of Jim. He reminds me that this year it will be different, that together we will celebrate the season of summer. It is an exciting prospect this notion of not being alone, of not going through the motions solo. Despite my recent setback, he assures me that we’ll be riding our bikes and going fly fishing, just as we’ve talked about for months. So, this year, for the first time, I may be able to feel the sunshine in the middle of my winter. It’s an exciting prospect and one that I hope will cause a permanent thaw and alter my unnatural seasons forever. For he has surprised me in more ways than one, but mostly he has taught me to dream again – and once you let that bird out of its cage it refuses to be recaptured.

“Mom, I know you haven’t been able to provide me with much – I remember the homemade sword you cut for me – but, you know what? You’ve been able to give me the most important thing – you believed in me.” This, from my 7-yr-old son, brimming with pride after winning a free-throw shoot out against most of his peers. Why is it that our children can teach us so much and yet we are the ones with all the life experience?

He didn’t develop this concept on his own; after all he’s only seven. But, he did completely absorb it after an earlier conversation where I pointed out to him that the most important thing to do in life is to believe in you. You see, he had a peer in this contest who really intimidated him with his basketball skills. Those skills, and the fact that the boy also had a dad he could brag about, really proved to be almost too much for my son. He’d begun to opt out of sports because he felt smaller than this boy in every way. So, I’d begun, months ago, nightly talks about what makes up a person and how you prove yourself in life. I’d put this small-town world of 2nd-grade basketball into perspective for him.

That night, the two of us sitting snuggled under his covers, admiring his trophy, I knew he’d gotten the message. He’d practiced, worked hard, and learned that he was just as good as any other kid, no matter how much money they had or what their dad did. He’d learned that the true measure of any person comes from within and that in order to take stock you have to first believe in your own abilities. Once you feel that power, there is nothing that can stop you from becoming what you want to be.

I’ve been thinking about this connection between my son and me a lot and how it gives him strength. Curiously, his conversation with his father about it was one sentence, his dad congratulating him and the discussion moving on. Yet, with mom, it was an entire evening of celebrating; milkshakes with grandma, a little tomfoolery, and finally a long discussion before bedtime, trophy in hand. Whatever the reason for the difference, I thank God that I am here to be the celebrator with him and to share with him such valuable life lessons.

Hell, I’m just glad to be here. I’ve had a few of my own life lessons recently. I’ve always been one to push myself and test my limits. Certainly, I’ve never thought I did it foolishly or with any kind of extremism. After all, I’m a chicken on the ski slopes, wouldn’t jump out of a plane or bungee jump for all the gold in China, and won’t even watch scary movies. So when I say limits, I mean my own inherent limits and those are very different from the world of competitive athletes or thrill seekers. I guess I feel like the last time I ever pushed myself to extremes physically was when I ran a marathon at age 30. The rest of what I do, or have done, has been merely to survive and to provide for my young family.

So I’ve always been baffled when others remark on my inability to slow down. Most recently, this past summer, I had a guy I was dating dump me, saying, “You give everything 100%,” he said, “You just are full-on. It’s too much,” he summarized. Earlier, when I’d begun to date him and told my bike-riding pals about him, one surmised, “Well, hopefully he’ll slow you down.” I was caught off-guard by the first remark from my pal and completely knocked off my feet by the conclusion the guy I was dating drew. I shrugged them both off, figuring if the guy didn’t get me it was his loss, I was 45-years-old for Pete’s sake, how could I really be full-on about anything anymore?

Well, about a month ago, my body joined this choir of voices, trumping them all by simply shutting down. “Your right carotid artery is completely blocked,” the doctor in Lewistown said looking at me in awe, “It seems you’ve pulled through the worst of it.” A couple days later, in Billings, the neurologist confirmed the findings, indicating the blockage was near my brain stem and completely inoperable. He was clearly impressed that the only damage I had to show for my stroke was a droopy eyelid.  I don’t enjoy recalling any of how this might have happened, or what I went through, so I’m departing this train of thought immediately.

Essentially, my life hangs by the thread of a ¼” tablet, provided to me by the pharmaceutical industry, a blood thinner known as “Coumadin.” It is that which keeps my plasma thin enough to pass safely through what remains of my dissected carotid artery without stroking out. For the first time in my life, I understand so many things from so many different perspectives. For one thing, I understand what it must be to be old. For the past few weeks I’ve been sitting here, watching the world go by at what seems break-neck speed. Only those who know me and care about me pause long enough to give their regards and keep on moving. I am lucky, I am alive. Eerily, it also gives a sense of what it is to be gone. You finally see with clarity the impact of your life, the number of lives you really interconnect with and the necessity for the rest of the world to continue in your absence.

Mostly, though, it gives you the gift of grasping onto every single moment tenaciously with nothing but faith and love in your heart. So that those moments, like sitting in bed with my son the other night, become greater than they once were, filled with an importance and a very clear understanding of how fleeting they are. So, this day, this moment, I thank God for all those lives that have become woven into mine and my families. I also want to remind all of you to slow down and remember that each moment is special. Treasure them all, especially those you share with the ones you love.

I’ve been here before.

Waiting for my children, who are inside the belly of a big silver bird, that’s carrying them through time and space nearly 2,600 miles to me.

But, this year, it’s different. Someone is waiting for me. He’s babysitting my little tow-headed lab with the painted ears, and has given me specific instructions that I’m to text him announcing the safe arrival of my bugs on Montana soil.

Love has found me, at 46-years young. It has arrived in storybook fashion, unexpectedly and with such a jolt as to send my world spinning from the outset. I’ve spent the better part of my days trying to capture what poets, artists, and writers have been trying to get at for millennia – this thing called love.

I read recently that the heart has its own central nervous system. That it should be given the same due respect as our brains. Since its arrival in my life, I now believe this to be true. I thought only my children could cause me to feel my heart so separate from the rest of my being.

But, his absences tug and stretch at my heart, while his nearness causes me to feel as if it will certainly explode from my chest. He only has to think of me, no matter how far away he may be, and my heart registers his thoughts. I should know from my children that it is possible to be completely emotionally linked to another soul.

“I am strong, if you are strong,” the bracelet said. I’d worn it until I met him and then taken it off thinking I no longer needed it. I’d given it to a friend who seemed to need it more. But, right now, I can heed those words and remember that it is true of him and me, as well as of me and my children. He is now a part of my emotional linkage.

Tonight, I can be strong for my children because he is strong for me. I can feel it. This is my blessing, my start to a new year and the doors to my future. I thank God for him, for us, and for the life we will build together.

The passing of my Bella this past fall and the depth of that loss, has caused me to spend a great deal of time reflecting on what is truly important in my life. Obviously, my children are at the top of that list. The life that we have, that we’ve created from scratch together is beyond my wildest expectations. I will forever wonder why God chose to bless me with my Aleutia and Elias, but it has given a depth to my life experience that never existed prior to their accompaniment. What we have is true, it’s real, and it’s eternal. It is a bond of love that will never be broken by time. It is God’s greatest gift – love.

In reflecting on this, I began to consider what other true things I’ve had in my life. Surprisingly, at 46, I found the list quite small. After the love of my children, and my companion Bella, I can only point to a few relationships that have been the glue which has kept me together over all these years. The dear friend who’s always been by my side despite our completely disparate lives, and a few family members who’ve never faltered.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to grow up experiencing unconditional love. It is something I work hard to demonstrate to my children. The opposite is conditional love, which is destructive. It teaches you to be mistrustful, guarded, and insecure because you never know when your love will be rebuffed for some slight or when it will be accepted again.

Instead, I teach my children that no matter what they do, they can always count on my love. Sometimes, I might need a moment to regroup after I’m upset with them. If I do, I always make a point to hold them afterwards and tell them they are loved. I want them to be strong, confident, and trusting of other people.  If you trust love, then you can embrace life with an open heart and without fear of reprisal.

So, my epiphany, after this thought process and thinking about my future, has been that I only seek one thing in life. Most people talk about their “bucket list,” as they get older, which is typically a list of things to do before they die. While that would be an adventure, I seek something deeper, something that will outlast me. I seek the kind of love that I can only call “the one true thing.” The kind that has the same magic I share with my children and like my love with them will not only stand the test of time, but live beyond.  This love can come in many forms and doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic. Just as long as it’s real, it’s true and I can count on it to anchor me for the rest of my life.

Because, really, it is those “one true things” that have kept me afloat over the course of my life and helped me navigate the roughest waters. Without them, I fear where I would be and I recognize how much I need them. I do not have a “bucket list,” I only have this – to find that “one true thing, and if I do, to hold onto it tenaciously, courageously, and with a passion that only those seeking anchors like myself can understand. Image

This past week I had to let my beautiful companion of 13 years go. She was only in real pain for a few hours until my vet returned from tending to cows. I was fortunate enough to lie with my body wrapped around her and her lovely head in my arms during that time. She was awake, alert, wagging her tail and putting up the best front that she could. Unfortunately, the x-rays revealed an enormous tumor above her heart that was pressing against her trachea and spine. She only had a few days the vet said and she was in obvious pain.

I told my vet she’d already told me it was time to go that morning. And she had, with one painful look into my eyes. She’d told me that it was time – that I needed to let her go. In fact, she’d told me that a couple nights before when I couldn’t rouse her to come upstairs to sleep on my bed. I’d said my goodbyes that night, but when I rose to leave her she struggled to her feet and I held onto her crying and begging her not to leave me. I knew it was selfish, but I didn’t understand at the time how selfish.

You see, I’d gotten a new pup just a week prior and I thought she was giving up on me. I thought I’d hurt her in the worst way possible. So I was begging her to not give up and to stay with me. I told her how I had room in my life and heart for both of them. What I didn’t know was that it was her body giving up, not her heart. 

I am grateful for the knowledge that her body was what failed her, but it does not ease the pain of her passing. This is a letter to my dear sweet Bella, the kind of companion you are blessed to have once-in-a-lifetime.

Bella

We had some amazing times together and no one can ever take that away from us. What we shared was a bond that I’ve never known with any human being in my life. People have come and gone in my life, always leaving. You never left. And, I know that in your heart you weren’t ready to leave. If your heart could’ve sustained you, we would still be together. But, your stupid body failed you. I know now, after seeing the condition of your body that your heart pushed you to stay with me as long as it could. Thank you for that. You knew how much I needed you.

My heart is broken Bella and the pain I feel enormous – at times seeming more than I can bear. But, you know what my responsibilities are in my life. I must persevere. I understand now, though, how two people who’ve shared a life together can die just moments or hours apart. Were things different I would not want to be here without you to share my journey. But, my life is much more complex than that and we both knew you would be the first to go. Still, I take comfort knowing that I will see you again and that always you are in my heart.

Mostly, I take comfort in the memories we made together. So many images over so many landscapes and you were there for me in all of them. Always you gave me comfort, instilled courage, and lent me strength. Because of you I am here today, strong again, able to be the mother that I need to be for my two little bugs. I can’t imagine embarking on the journey I began nearly six years ago without you by my side. And, while I feel such loneliness deep inside, I know that I am never really alone. You are in me.

God, I will miss you my dear sweet dog. I will try to love this new little guy and give him a chance to fill your shoes. But, always I will see you watching over us, knowing that he’s just trying to occupy a space that is forever yours.

I’ve lived and loved enough to know that will change, but right now, in this moment, I want you to know that is how I feel.

All my love – always my dear sweet Piglet. May there be ample water where you are now and lots of dirt to roll in after. Goodbye my love.

Andre

This morning I had my soul sister drop in for coffee. Her kids still sleeping, it was the perfect time for the two of us to curl up in our armchairs with a hot cup of Joe and catch up on our lives. The focus of the conversation was on me, as usual. Don’t get me wrong, my friend gets her time, but it seems when my kids are gone I get a lot of air time. At any rate, the conversation was about relationships. Somehow, we managed to spend the better part of an hour on this topic. It wasn’t until later in the day, after I’d closed up my work folder and popped the lid on a Twisted Tea that I began to reflect on our conversation.

My friend had referenced power several times. She was referring specifically to the personal power that each one of us carries which allows us to make decisions and control our own ship. Her concern was that I had a tendency, in her opinion, to sometimes give that power away in relationships. Not just in friendships, but also in romantic relationships. I listened to her comments, but honestly had no idea what the hell she was inferring. But, over the course of the day it sat in my head like a piece of uncooked corn that refused to pop. Finally, towards the end of the work-day, however, that kernel began to bounce around in my head a bit until it finally popped.

The fact is, she’s right. After five years in a destructive relationship, I am still too quick to give away my power and take a subservient role. For those of you who know me well, this is really hard to understand.  After all, I’m the woman who’s raised two children entirely on her own without the help of family, friends, or a husband. Something that I never really consider until I come across status updates from friends on Facebook who are whining because they’re   solo for a week or weekend while their significant other is away. This always makes me laugh, since I’ve never had anyone to lean on.

But, I’m straying from my point about personal power. I began to think about that and the little ways that I might give it away. And, I realized the first thing I do is I discount my own wants and needs for that other person. I put his needs in front of my own. In fact, I do so to the extent of being no longer able to identify what my own needs are anymore.  Which, really, is not only unhealthy, but if my significant other is a good guy drives him crazy because I am incapable of saying what I really want. So that’s my first way of giving away power, which I vow to change immediately.

The next way that I give away personal power is by giving. When I care about someone I give freely everything that I can to that person; from the little things like making meals, or giving back-rubs, to bigger things like gifts and doing thoughtful things for them. This is a great trait if it’s appreciated and reciprocated, however, when that’s taken for granted, then I’m just giving too much and I’m handing over my power with it. So, second note to self is to put the brakes on until I’m sure exactly what kind of man I’m dealing with.

One of the most damaging things I’ve ever done to myself in terms of giving away my power was in the sack. Yes, I’m talking about sex. I know, you’re aghast, but we’re all adults here. It’s true, I had a man tell me once not to use sex as power and I relented despite not being in the mood, being upset with him, or whatever other reason I really did not want to have sex at the time. I haven’t been to a psychiatrist to have them explain to me what this might have done to me, but I think it stole some of my beautiful spirit and robbed my core of valuable inner strength. So, that is a huge note to self – do not give in the sack, unless it’s what I want.

Which brings me to my final thought about the many ways I’ve given away my personal power, and that’s being a cheerleader. That’s right, a constant cheerleader for my man, even if deep-down I really don’t believe what I’m telling him. One of my best skills is to assess the average guy and attribute all kinds of unwarranted, positive traits to his character. Then, I’m great at telling him about those traits and cheering on his every move or attempt to move. Hell, I’m surprised I haven’t congratulated a man on how he got his ass off the couch to switch channels on the television. Yes, it is that bad. So, keeping a balanced perspective and being honest about a man’s positive and negative traits is something else I have to work on.

Really, all I’ve covered here is giving away personal power in a romantic relationship. Since my soul sister inferred that I’ve handed her my personal power at times in our friendship, I still have more to ponder. I’m puzzled by that comment, but it’s not nearly as interesting as thinking about how I’ve done that in my relationships with men.  Perhaps a second Twisted Tea will lead me to that subject, for now, I have enough to contemplate.

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