Michael the Archangel

Black eye, 3rd day

A chance meeting through the friend of a friend. Our eyes met across a crowded room (OK, there were about five of us and it was on the corner of Pier Avenue and 1st Street). Soon  we became the perfect little hippie couple. But at the end of it all, three years later, I would feel as if I had gone completely mad. It would take a decade to fight my way back from a pit of despair so deep that I still wonder how I survived it at all. And oddly enough, it the madness would start the night of a Tupperware party. But I digress.

I thought he was gorgeous (they always seem to be gorgeous).  Michael. I thought of him as Michael the Archangel. He was poetic and spiritual. He was calming. He was smart. He took over the parts of my life that I couldn’t seem to manage on my own. Everyone around us seemed to be as drawn to him as I was. My Svengali.

He talked me into moving away, making the break from Los Angeles and most of my friends and family. Technically still a teenager, moving away made me feel like a grown-up, striking out on my own. Only I wasn’t alone. I was with Michael the Archangel.

The first time it happened we were walking down the street talking. The conversation seemed to be going well enough, although I had been feeling more and more uncomfortable with the topics he brought up. Lately he had been telling me about his foray into white magic. At times he didn’t make any sense at all. At other times, I felt a definite darkness in my spirit, as if someone had turned off the lights.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked. It seemed like an innocent enough question. I didn’t sense the set-up. But I already knew I had better say, “yes,” when I knew that’s what he wanted to hear, so I did. “Well, I’m Jesus Christ reincarnated.” My breath caught in my throat, and I stopped and turned to face him.

“Yeah, right,” I said.

I didn’t even see it coming, that explosion of pain and blackness. My face went numb and I thought my eye had popped out of its socket. I screamed. Horrified, I tried to run, but he caught up to me and pulled me by my blouse. I thought someone would have had to hear my scream and the crack when his fist landed on my face. I hoped someone would come out of their house and rescue me, but the silence, other than the barking of a dog, was deafening. Suddenly, a beautiful sunny summer day turned gray.

“I ran into the kitchen cupboard,” I later lied to my friends.They just stared at my face and turned away. I wanted them to sense I was lying, confront me with it, and demand an explanation. I wanted someone to take charge and hide my son and me somewhere safe.  But no one did, and I kept silent, and I was 360 miles away from home.

Once you tell your first lie, the first time you lie for him, you are in it with him, and then you are lost.

Anita Shreve, Strange Fits of Passion

There was calm after that storm but it was just the eye of the hurricane. One night soon after, I was beaten while the soundtrack of “A Clockwork Orange” played in the background. I was left with lumps all over my head that were covered by my hair. I ran to a friend’s but she didn’t believe I had been hurt at all because my face looked fine. Resigned, I went back home.

I tried to spend most days taking my son to the park or long walks downtown, anything to keep us away from home as much as possible. Every so often we stopped and I watched  while he gathered his “collections.” Later, as I sorted our laundry, I pulled these treasures out of his pockets; stones and leaves, and the olives that fell from the trees on our street. I felt so proud to be his mom, but I was filled with shame at the situation I had put us in.  Somehow, I had to get us out of there; somehow I had to save us.

I was pregnant again and leaving seemed out of the question. There was no way my parents would take me in again and all my friends were Michael’s as well. I felt trapped and alone.

I was awakened one night to find the police in my living room. A friend had called them after Michael slit his wrists and smeared his blood all over the walls, throughout the house. The police coaxed him off of our property by telling him the neighbors wanted to ask him a question, and took him to the hospital. It took me until dawn to wash the walls before my son woke up and saw it.

One day some new friends in fancy cars began coming by with freebies. They made Michael feel as if they would do anything for him…best buddies. Michael began using heroin. I came home one day from a walk with my son and heard voices in the room I was fixing up for the new baby. I found them there, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, handing each other a syringe. A drop of blood marred the brand new crisp white of the Winnie the Pooh rug they were sitting on. I fled to the garage, blood pounding in my ears. I stooped forward, and tried to catch my breath, hands on my swelled belly.  I suddenly knew what it was like to want to kill someone with my bare hands. And I began planning our escape in earnest.

The next morning, I casually mentioned how fun it would be to move away, to begin again; to be closer to our parents and friends. Maybe after the baby is born. A “do-over” of sorts. Michael seemed taken with the idea.

But, another year of hell followed me like an angry bee, sometimes stinging me, sometimes leaving me alone, but always buzzing around, too close, keeping me on my toes. A constant stream of adrenaline released into my bloodstream, attempting to keep me safe.  The trouble was, there was no where to flee…not yet.

And I Wasn’t Even Pregnant!

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21478329Whenever I tell the story about my marriage at sixteen, I always feel the need to say, “…and I wasn’t even pregnant!”  It still seems as crazy to me that my parents allowed me to get married at sixteen-years-old as it does to those I tell. I get a lot of wide-eyed looks of disbelief.  I always try to stave off that familiar sense of embarrassment by being flippant.  “Yep…crazy, huh?”  I  picture people thinking, “what, were you stupid?”

 

But, within two months of our walk down the aisle, I did become pregnant. I’m not sure I even understood how to prevent it.  At that time, my husband and I had rented a beautiful apartment with hardwood floors and two large bedrooms. Our only piece of furniture was a king-sized bed, purchased through the newspaper by my mother-in-law.  Maybe that’s how it happened.

 

My husband worked during the day (for a very short time) selling cookware door-to-door. The training program suggested taking off his wedding ring and flirting with housewives who were stuck home all day with nothing else to do. So, while he was out “soliciting,” I sat on the king-sized bed during the day and played with my Barbie dolls. Barbie and Ken became the couple I wished we could be, and they lived out the fantasies I had of married life.

Squeamish Warning….Stop Right Here

 

One night I awoke with a sharp pain, deep and low.  I went to the bathroom and found blood in the toilet and then on the bed.  I tried to wake my husband but he would not wake up so I went across the complex to my sister-in-law’s apartment and woke her.  She drove me to my in-law’s house a few blocks away.  Soon I was writhing on the floor of their bathroom while straining to hear their whispers and phone calls through the closed door. My mother-in-law came to check on me, and told me she and my sister-in-law were going to the apartment to try to wake up my husband, and more importantly, clean the bed she had just bought.  I was left alone on that bathroom floor, pain searing though me like a knife, the cold floor against my face the only comfort. I was so frightened I wanted to scream.

 

 

A couple of hours later, a trip to the toilet produced a tiny little baby. For a moment I stared in awe at the tiny arms and legs, the over-sized head. Then a hot, sharp knife seemed to tear through my insides. Soon I was out of my head with it and heard myself moaning as if from somewhere else, in some other place.

 

I barely heard my mother-in-law came trooping back into the house with my husband in tow. I tried to call out to him, but he didn’t come into the bathroom. More whispered phone calls, and finally in order to save money on a visit to the emergency room, I was whisked up and taken to a doctor’s office across town. He removed the placenta while I grabbed his wrists in agony. My head was spinning like a top. Then everything went black.

 

To be continued…

 

New Kid on the Block

Juvenile HallMy eyes flew open as the searchlight passed by the window for the umpteenth time that night. Sleeping was something you did in between. The room was about 10’ by 10’ with a big thick, double-paned window looking out at nothing.  There was wire mesh in between the glass.  About once every half hour or so, the light passed by each window on the south side of the “block,” shining into the cell.  Apparently, this was to make sure a visitor hadn’t baked a saw into a cake, allowing one of us to turn into a fugitive from justice.  I cannot remember now where the light came from.  The memory of its intrusion is enough.

I had to use the bathroom and wondered if I could hold it.  The very first night I was brought in to “juvie,” I slept on the floor, as there were no empty rooms.  There was about a dozen of us, all sleeping on the floor on futon type mats with blankets as scratchy and rough as day-old stubble.  I had a dream that I was sitting on a toilet urinating, and woke with a start to find that I had wet the bed for the first time in twelve years.  Fear and shame gathered me up, like the bedding I threw in the laundry chute, hoping my secret would go unnoticed.

A week later, when I had my own “room,” I got up and padded over to the locked door. I began to knock, tentatively at first.  Then, as my bladder complained, I knocked louder, banging with the side of my fist until it ached.  Finally, about an hour later, I heard the slow, methodical steps of one of the direct-care staff, her important keys jingling on the end of the lanyard.  She opened the door, rolled her eyes, and told me to hurry up. “That’ll teach you to pee before “lights out,” she grumbled.

My throat burned, making it hard to swallow.  I had the chills and realized I’m very sick.  Each morning after getting dressed, we stood in line down the long hall to see the nurse.  For the fourth time in as many mornings, she told me to gargle with salt water.  I finally refused to attend school and went on a hunger strike in order to get medical care. The ex-military nurse called me a baby before she found that my temperature was 104 degrees.

My plan had backfired on me.  The idea of running away to force my parents to wake up had almost gotten me removed from home permanently.  This was a place for castaways.  Here I’m taught how to smoke pot by a direct care staff. There is a nine-year-old and her two sisters who create more havoc in the milieu than the gang bangers from East Los Angeles. We all get pelvic exams, done in haste by a rough female nurse, and once they do mine they slap “Sexual Misconduct” on my record. I have never come close to having intercourse, the whole subject of sex confusing and still a mystery to me.

By the time I’m released, I’m angrier, more distrusting of adults, more disappointed in my parents, and more ready to take the world by the throat. I’ve learned a lot by being sent to juvenile detention. And none of it is good.

Unlike grownups, children have little need to deceive themselves.


-Goethe

That Big Expanse of Sky Called Montana

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15372074

Adventure had never been a part of my life. While some of my childhood friends had come home from trips to the World’s Fair or from far away mystery places like “back east” to see their grandparents, my only claim to fame was that we had stayed at the Motel Fresno (located in farming country in Fresno, California) six years in a row.  It was a halfway point between Los Angeles, where we lived, and Oakland, where my grandmother resided, so my parents and my grandmother met there each summer. And it had a great bar.  My parents could get pleasantly drunk while hanging out at the pool, watching us kids get blistery sunburns the first day out.

So, when Tom asked me to marry him and move to Montana, you can bet I was ready for an adventure. Tom described Montana to me the weeks before he left to start a new job there.

“It’s a land full of mountains, rivers, streams, and waterfalls.  And there’s animals, almost everywhere you look.  Bears and deer, antelope and elk, moose and mountain goats, everywhere! And the sky, well you can breathe in that huge expanse of sky all day long.” So I packed up my meager belongings and flew out to Montana that June.  And he was right about Montana. I’ve seen all those animals and more, sometimes all in one day. I’ve fly-fished those rivers and streams, watched eagles dive for fish on a sunny summer day, while wearing waders in the middle of a premier trout stream, and I’ve viewed some spectacular waterfalls.

Tom had bought a house for us on a street that sounded intriguing to me…Upper Miller Creek Road. He told me to always call it “Upper Miller Crick” if anyone wanted to know where I lived. Me, being me, refused, and I’ve said “creek” when I mean “creek,” for the last nineteen years, but I digress.

Tom and I were both a little skittish about getting married. We had only dated for eight months, and I knew less about Tom than he knew about me.  I only knew that I was going to commit the rest of my life to him unless one of four things happened, and he knew what those four things were. On his part, most of what he knew about me was the stuff I told him early on when I was trying to scare him away.

Tom and I were staying in a campground for a few days until the house closed and the inhabitants moved out, which was supposed to be on Wednesday of that week.  Since Tom had to travel about four hours north for his new job, it was up to me to take some of our things over to the new house and meet Tom there in a couple of days.  I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee to tide me over, and headed over to my new home. When I arrived, I saw that boxes and furniture filled the two-car garage from floor to rafters, and people were running in and out of the house carrying lamps, boxes, and more pieces of furniture to a rental truck.

Disappointed, I drove past.  It was legally our house as of that day and it didn’t look like they were in any hurry to vacate.  I also noticed that the gorgeous ¾ acre bright green lawn was now yellow and parched. Apparently once it was sold they decided they wouldn’t bother spending any more money on water. My stomach dropped, thinking about Tom and what he would say about this. I had never seen him angry, but I figured there had to be a temper hidden down in there somewhere. All men get angry easily, right?

I didn’t have a cell phone back then, and I knew Tom would be calling me on the phone we had already hooked up in the new house. I was in a new town, two states away from my home, family, and friends. I did not know one soul there, and I felt frightened, alone, and intimidated. I could not go to that house until those people were gone.

So, several times during that long day I drove back up Upper Miller Creek Road to peek at my new home. Each time, people were still there, carrying boxes and furniture to the rental truck. I explored the town, and finally, I decided to kill some time by taking myself to the movies.

Once the movie let out, I climbed back up Upper Miller Creek Road one more time, unsure of what I would do if they were still there.  It was six o’clock at night now, getting dark, and I was sure Tom had been trying to call me all day.

As I rounded the last curve and saw the empty driveway, I let out let out a sigh of relief. I drove up my new driveway and ran up to the house, used my new key to turn the lock, and opened the door. I did a quick glance around but then headed straight to our new phone.  I saw the light was blinking on the phone telling me there were six messages. As I listened to each one, I heard Tom’s voice sounding more and more worried. The sixth message sounded frantic. “If I don’t hear from you in fifteen minutes or so I’m going to drive back to Missoula,” he said.

I dialed the phone with shaking fingers. I knew how angry he would be. Who wouldn’t be angry? I probably did something stupid. I deserved his wrath. I should have marched into “my” house and told those people to hurry up and leave! I should have demanded to use my phone and let Tom know what was going on. Of course he’ll be mad…and he should be. Leave it up to me to cause a problem.

“Hello Tom? What happened was…” I reiterated the story, hoping he wasn’t regretting trusting me with something that should have been so easy.

“Oh, I’m so sorry that happened,” he said. “You must have felt so worried that you couldn’t call me and tell me what was going on. How about if I come pick you up and you can stay up here with me. We’ll drive down to the new house together in a couple of days.”

It’s been almost nineteen years since that first day in my new home in Montana. Over and over again, Tom has proven himself to be that kind, gentle man who was willing to drive four hours to come get me just so I’d be more comfortable. He has taught me more about God’s unconditional love than anyone I have ever known. And he’s never ever done one of the four things. Ah, I can finally breathe, and that big expanse of sky is a great place to catch your breath.

Learning to Fly on My Own

God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.

-Josiah Gilbert Holland

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

My mother had been dead for four months. I had become the matriarch of our family in one fell swoop.  At only 34-years-old, I felt alone on the planet. I had finally gotten my independence from an alcoholic, unfaithful husband, but my dependent nature clung to me like soot after a fire.  I wanted to wash it off, but a residue remained, leaving me longing for someone…anyone.

As I worked the microfiche machine at my desk at work, searching through other people’s family stories, I yearned to be part of a family and have a story of my own. I issued birth, death, and marriage certificates for other families daily. Performing marriage ceremonies seemed to feed my loneliness even more, leaving me empty and vulnerable.

I was working at the vital records counter in the county clerk’s office, listening to the good-natured chirping between my co-workers. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking.  The only sound in the large room came from the overhead fans and the rustling of paperwork on the desks near the open door.  Curious, I glanced up from the microfiche machine.

At first I thought everyone else recognized a movie star I had not seen before. Now I noticed all eyes were on me.  I fumbled around with the switches on the machine and walked up to the counter.

“May I help you?”  I looked up.  Our eyes met.  “Hey, I think I know you,” I smiled.

“I doubt it,” he said, dripping with sarcasm.  I took a step back.

“Well, I mean I think I’ve seen you.  Do you go to church?”  Wow…what was I doing?

He glanced up quickly, seeming to see me for the first time.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little friendlier.

I helped him with his paperwork, trying not to stare at him.  After he left, several of the women standing close by tittered and made little comments about his gorgeous good looks.  I was thinking about how I could sit nearby him at the next church service and try to catch his eye again.

Within two weeks he had volunteered to head a committee of men who would help me get my newly rented home ready for move-in.  It needed paint, some electrical work, and the carpet ripped out, and he was handy.   He came over every day, bending, stooping, and reaching.   I admired all 6’4” of him in all of his various positions.  He talked about the Lord constantly, incessantly in fact.  I tried to admire this, but it felt off and more than a little odd.

One day, coming back from running errands together, I asked him for a hug (sneaky strategy, huh?).  He sat there for several moments, not moving, not speaking, his eyes closed.  My stomach lurched.  I wondered if I had just made some terrible faux pas.  He reached over and hugged me so hard it hurt and whispered,  “The Lord told me I could.”

At first we found ways to spend time together without really calling it a date.  It was important to him that we went about this the “right” way for the Lord.   Nearing Christmas, we made a plan together (I thought) to take my children to get a Christmas tree.  My kids and I got up early.  They were clearly excited as we scrambled around the house, getting ready for the big day. Then we waited.  And we waited.  He didn’t show up.  He didn’t call.  Finally, I called him.

“Hi, what are you up to?” I feigned cheer.  “I thought we were going to take the kids to get a Christmas tree together?”

“You sound exactly like my ex-wife!”

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened as I tried to process what I just heard.  A sound came out of my mouth, but instead of forming a word, I slammed the receiver down on the cradle.  I began to hyperventilate.  It felt like something was being ripped away from me. The kids and I remained home for the day while I wrestled with my anxiety.  We were disappointed, and I felt totally confused…like I had just met Mr. Hyde.

Of course his next phone call smoothed away all my fears.  He was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right.

One night we double-dated with another couple.  He had planned the evening around dinner at a sushi bar and then it would be off to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa in Avila Beach, California, one of the most romantic places for a date.  Each oak barrel tub is separated enough from the others for maximum privacy.  Little lights line the dark paths winding up the hill through a sycamore grove.  I was looking forward to showing off my new bathing suit I bought, just for this occasion.  When I saw the truck drive up, I ran out to greet my friends. I opened the passenger door, jumped in, shut the door, and turned to smile.

“Don’t slam my door like that!” he glared.  Everyone went silent.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”  My face reddened, but I struggled to normalize the request in my mind.  Of course he needs to make sure I don’t slam his door.  It’s a new truck.  I worked hard in the next minutes to pretend I didn’t notice his anger in front of our friends.  It was clear they were as surprised as I was.

We ended up having a wonderful time and I let myself relax.  But my mind began to compartmentalize my experiences.  One part held fear, caution, and lots of confusion.  The other part held the picture of the six foot, four inch, romantic man with the movie star looks.  He had a good job; he was handy around the house and good with money.  He was a gourmet cook and loved to grow orchids.  And he was a super spiritual version of what was on my top 10 list.  He was everything a good Christian woman should want, right?

It seemed like every woman in the church, single and married alike was riveted on my relationship with this mysterious man.  I was suddenly catapulted into a type of churchy celebrity status.  For the first time in my life I had something that others wanted too.  Other single women approached him, and asked him out for coffee or for lunch.  He turned them down and I felt pride that he had chosen me over so many others from our large church.  Only I never felt I had a firm grip.  My stomach began to do a play by play of events and I ended up in the doctor’s office almost weekly after being diagnosed with colitis. My feelings were on hyper alert.  Is this what love is?

The next time we argued, he told me he was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right. And besides, I had pushed a button of his, and if I just had not done that, this would never have happened.  I would have to try not to do that.

He planned beautiful, romantic dates at the best restaurants, including roses and wine, and ending with long walks on the beach.  He drove me up to the mountaintop late one afternoon.  He brought a quilt, champagne and flutes, and smoked salmon and cheddar cheese, and spread them on the ground.  He helped me out of the truck and gently wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.  We sat and ate and talked until dark.   He tipped my chin up towards the sky and whispered, “Just wait.”  Soon, a trail of light blazed across the sky.  Then another.  Then another.  Then he kissed me.  I flung my doubts out to the sky and let them disappear into the black ink.

Our relationship became a series of conflicts, retreats and pursuits, the pattern repeating itself over and over.  I believed the only way to bring a stop to my insecurity was to marry him.  I was sure my own fears about his love were what were causing problems.  I believed it would be good for my son to have a strong male figure in his life.

The night we got back from our honeymoon was a turning point.  Now that we were married, Mr. Hyde quit playing hide and seek and decided to stay for dinner.  I felt helpless for several minutes while I listened to him bully my children about helping.  They weren’t doing anything right.  The silverware didn’t go the way they put it on the table.  They weren’t fast enough and dinner was getting cold!  He looked at them as if they were stupid.  They became quiet, and nervous, giving each other sideward glances.

“I sure hope you are listening to the Holy Spirit right now.” I said.  He glanced down and seemed embarrassed.  My chest swelled a little.  I had stepped in and taken care of it, just like that!  I am a good mother.

Soon, none of us were doing anything right.  Nothing happened without his approval.  If it wasn’t originally his idea, the answer was “no.”  If he said yes, he would change his mind at the last minute.  My friends could come over when he said they could.  They came less and less.  My sister could visit, but she walked on eggshells and spent time crying in the guest room.  He always answered the phone on first ring, screening all our calls.  He wouldn’t let my teenage daughter lock the bathroom door.

Then we were battling over how to cook ground beef or when to start a load of laundry.  He was disgusted when I didn’t know to put two slices of cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich, so he threw it in the trash.  I began to filter everything I did or said around what the consequences would look like.  What would he say if he knew I thought this, said that, or did this other thing? What would he do?  Mostly I knew what he would do, and it wasn’t pleasant.

At times I escaped by hiding in the tree house in our backyard.  I took long walks or I got in my car and drove to a nearby gas station and cried to a friend from the payphone.  My anxiety attacks and depression worsened and I needed medication.  My children were miserable.  I started calling some friends to see if we could come stay with them for a while and no one could help.  I began stashing change from the market in a shoe along with a spare set of keys.  I ordered a credit card in my own name.  I knew I had made another stupid, stupid mistake, and I felt ashamed.  I stopped looking into my friend’s eyes when I went to church.  I lied to everyone.  I’m fine, how are you?

My church family and pastor seemed to turn their eyes away, as if they couldn’t stand to watch the train wreck happen.  No one called; no one came to help. The church counselors knew I had bruises, but by this time his charisma and charm had landed him a position on staff at the church. They believed him when he told them I was out of control.  Many times I drove onto the freeway and just screamed out to God in desperation.  But I didn’t believe I deserved his help.  After all, I had done this…with eyes wide open.

Finally, I was ready.  I called my husband and asked to meet in the middle of a parking lot at the shopping center.  With others around for protection, I told him I was divorcing him. It had been two and a half years of pure hell.  I was a shell of who I had been starting to become.  Thin, hollow-eyed, defeated.  I was filled with guilt over what I had allowed to happen to my children and myself.  I believed God was so disappointed in me that he had turned his back altogether.  In one month’s time I had managed to lose a husband, my home, my car, and my job. It was my third divorce.  I was wrecked.

So I did what I did best.  I ran.  There’s a story in the Bible about a concubine of Abraham’s.  Her name was Hagar.  She gave birth to Ishmael, before Abraham’s wife had her own son, Isaac.  In Sarah’s jealously, she mistreated Hagar to the point of desperation.  Hagar ran out to the desert with her son, alone, and seeming without friend or protector.

I thought of her as I ran out to my own desert, away from church, friends, family.  I ran empty-handed. And then, just like God met Hagar in the desert, God met me there too.  He picked me up and carried me like a wounded little bird in a cardboard box.  He was gentle, tender, giving me little sips of water.  He slowly restored my spirit and eventually, he restored everything I had lost.

And then he began to teach me how to fly on my own.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Well with Tolstoy

edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy

Another Think Coming

Walking on Water Hajdudorog

Walking on Water Hajdudorog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post I wrote about how I expected that asking God to take over my life would lead to instant emotional healing.  I would love to be writing about how much better life got after I made a commitment to Christ.  In some ways, life got worse, at least at first.

The church was small, and about fifty to seventy-five members attended on any given Sunday.  The atmosphere was warm and intimate. It was like an incubator of sorts, and I truly do not think I would have survived in a large, mainline denominational church.  Even the pastor who recommended I start attending did not invite me to his own church!  I’m sure he pictured how difficult it would be for the proper ladies of his congregation to reach out to this poor, wretched, emotionally scarred scarecrow of a young woman.  They may have been tempted to simply ignore me, or tell me how badly I needed to clean up my act.   And it wouldn’t have taken much to push me over the edge, to make that break between me and life on planet Earth.

The people in this little congregation cared deeply about me.  Not one word was uttered about the state I found myself in.  I was legally married to my first husband, never having bothered to file divorce papers, even though he had abandoned us many years earlier.  I was living with my boyfriend, who was smoking dope from the moment he got up in the morning.  Looking back on this, I think it’s very unusual that no one proffered his or her opinion about all this.  It was almost like someone called a meeting and they agreed to allow God Himself to do what he does best when it comes to changing people’s lives.  Like I said, very unusual.

But this was a time of great confusion for me as well.  A well-meaning parishioner would throw a Scripture my way that was supposed to take all the fear out of my brain like a vacuum cleaner sucking up sand.  All those particles making noise and then silence.  Ahhh! But when quoting these Scriptures didn’t seem to work for me, I became sure that God saw me as an imposter, attempting to squeeze by unnoticed.  To me, that meant I was rejected.  My feelings of abandonment rested on a hair trigger.  It didn’t take much.  And if God abandoned me, that meant I was going to hell…no matter what.  And if I were going to hell no matter what, I might as well go ahead and make the trip rather then knowing about it for years ahead of time.  Who can deal with that knowledge?  Like a doctor telling you you have one to three years to live.  Yikes!

So I would be on the verge…making the plan.  I wrestled with it, worrying about my children, but thinking they’d be better off without me.  I worried about the church members, feeling all guilty and everything.  And then, like clockwork, it seemed like the Lord Himself stepped in to keep me planted on this side of the veil.  Once in awhile he just stepped right in to the scene in a dream I was having during stage 4 REM.  Other times, I would be pretty close to ending things when the phone would ring and one of the church ladies asked how I was doing, or there would be a knock at the door.  I became more and more sure that God was the one doing the knocking.  “Hello!  I’ve got a plan, and it doesn’t include repeating “fear not” while pointing your finger in the air or pretending to stomp on ‘ol’ slewfoot’s’ head!”

Winter’s comin’ on and it’s twenty below. And the river’s froze over so where can he go. We’ll chase him up the gulley then we’ll run him in the well. We’ll shoot him in the bottom just to listen to him yell.

“Old Slewfoot,” by Johnny Horton – The Legend – 1975 Columbia House 2P-6418

And it was enough…enough to keep me coming back to the little white church with the mural of Jesus walking on the water…enough to hang in there and keep breathing long enough to live another day.  I was still grieving the death of my brother, still waking up and crying first thing.  I still couldn’t drive a car, go grocery shopping, and I was still lying on the floor all day long just trying to get my breath at least once a week.  And I was still seeing Dr. Teemis.  And Dr. Teemis was still royally screwing with my head.  But things were definitely looking up a little.

One day I was talking to the pastor about my fear-filled thoughts about the future.  “Linda,” he started, if we got a list of all the things that would happen to us at the beginning of each year, we would go crazy with fear.  But all those things take place one at a time, and God gives us the grace to handle each one as they come.”  That helped a little, alleviated some of the dread I felt inside when I had certain thoughts.  But there was one thought that produced so much adrenaline flowing through my veins that the thought of God’s grace coming in after the fact wasn’t comforting at all.  Turns out all that dread was justified.  If I thought I was done with trauma just because I had become a believer, I had another think coming.

Free Fall

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies (Photo credit: Bryan Gosline)

(If you are new to this blog, a good way to read it is to start with the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.”  This is a memoir, the story of my life.  If you are offended by expletives, you may want to skip this post.  I do not use them to add shock value, but to just tell the story of what happened as honestly as I can).

The terror was relentless.  It punctuated every waking moment.  On the worst days, I lay on the floor all day long, just attempting to breathe. My thoughts went pinging around my head like a highly polished steel ball in a pin-ball machine.  I lost all ability to daydream, as I attempted to control each thought; making sure one didn’t get away from me like a runaway semi-truck.  There was no emergency ramp in sight, no way to put the breaks on going very quickly and completely insane.   I didn’t understand what was happening, how I could suddenly lose myself so quickly, so easily.   I had no name to pin on it.  I knew no one who had ever experienced it.  I felt alone in my madness.

I went to my physician and he put me on Valium.  He sent me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis.  Every two days I waited in Dr. Teemis’ waiting room until he called me in, holding the door to his private office as I walked through to the inner sanctum for those privileged enough to have gone crazy.  Then he shut and locked the door, then shut and locked another door, which was right in front of the first one. I thought all psychiatrists must have double locking doors, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this was so.

I sat in a chair, as far away from Dr. Teemis as possible. Each visit began the same way.  He’d lean back in his black leather and chrome office chair and put his feet up on his desk.  He folded his hands in his lap and stared at me from across the room. I would wait for him to speak, to take over, to offer a solution, some answers.  But he almost never spoke first.  Once in awhile, he broke the silence by asking a question, but he never seemed satisfied with my answers.  He asked about my relationship with my parents, the alcoholism, the neglect, and traumatic events of the past.  I left every session feeling worse about my life than I had when I was actually living it.  There was no way I was going to talk to this guy about Michael the Archangel.

Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”
― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Dr. Teemis always asked what it was that I was really afraid of.  I was afraid of being afraid for no apparent reason!  What’s not to get about that?  Didn’t he understand that one day I felt fine and then the next day I felt such horror and dread I thought I would die from it?  I believed Dr. Teemis had the key and was waiting until just the right moment to give it to me.  I grew to rely on him to keep me sane enough, to keep me from ending up back in the state mental hospital.  I didn’t think he liked me very much but he seemed resigned to see me week after week nonetheless.

As the fear increased, my world narrowed.  It became terrifying to drive a car.  At first I just stayed in the right-hand lane so I could turn the corner and take the side streets back home if I had to.  That worked for a while, as long as I didn’t have to get gas and sit there, waiting for the attendant to take the nozzle out of my gas tank.  I was sure that one day I would panic and drive off, pulling the hose right out of the pump. Another day I panicked in line at the market, and I realized that even if I told myself over and over and over again that I could make it through just a few more minutes while the checker rang me up, the truth was, I couldn’t make it.  My fear was that one of these days I was just going to start screaming at her and run out of the store without bothering to pay.  I left a full cart of groceries in the middle of the store more than once, and drove quickly home, picturing the ice cream melting all over the floor before the cart was discovered and the food put back on the shelves.  Shopping soon became a thing of the past.

Depression piled itself on top of the fear, and suicide became an option.  I thought about it all day, and then at night too, when I would wake in a sweat, my breathing shallow, and my heart racing.  The thick wool blanket that felt like the top of my head got heavier by the month.  Soon, I spent most of my days in bed, just trying to make it through the next five minutes.  I would watch the clock as the minute hand ticked on, and felt good about making it through another day without dialing the number that would bring the paramedics to my door.

During one of our sessions, I began to talk to Dr. Teemis about how these crazy feelings were affecting how I felt physically as well.  At times I was sure I was having a heart attack.  I ended up in the emergency room at least twice a month, positive I was close to death.  I explained how during the week before, my left leg had felt numb.  Dr. Teemis explained how being a psychiatrist meant that he had medical training as well, and he asked me to lay down on the couch while he checked my femoral artery.  He pulled down my pants and pressed his fingers on the artery, close to my crotch.  He stared into my face, attempting to gauge my reaction.  I went stiff and silent.  Disgusted, he pulled my pants up and told me to have it checked by my own doctor the next time I went.

I worried about that femoral artery.  I was sure it was clogged and I was about to stroke out.  That look on Dr. Teemis’ face was proof something was wrong!  Who cares that most twenty-three year old young women don’t have strokes? Maybe it was the years of drug abuse.  Maybe it was the blows I took to my face and head at the hands of Michael the Archangel.  I had to do what Dr. Teemis told me to do and ask my own doctor right away.

“What did he tell you?” Dr. Hutchinson asked.  I noted the tone of his voice but chose to ignore it.  I repeated the conversation I had with Dr. Teemis and how he felt my artery with his fingers and told me to have it checked.  Dr. Hutchinson paused, watching my face, then quickly looked away and began writing in my chart.  “Nothing is wrong with your femoral artery,” he said.  He sounded irritated or impatient.  I couldn’t tell and I didn’t understand.  Certain thoughts ran through my mind but I couldn’t let them land.  After all, if there was something wrong with my psychiatrist, then I was done.  There was no one else who could help me.

Months went by, and I continued to deteriorate.  I believed my visits with Dr. Teemis were the thin thread keeping me hanging on to reality.  I sat in his waiting room, two or three times a week, trying to make it through the ordeal of being out, away from the one place I felt somewhat safe; my bed at home.  One day his receptionist sat behind the tall counter and chatted away on the phone.  It sounded like a personal call, but I didn’t care.  Where was Dr. Teemis?  Thoughts of suicide had overloaded my brain that week, and I did not think I could live through another day without a session.  I waited for 45 minutes and finally got up the courage to interrupt her and ask where he was.  She covered the mouthpiece with her hand.   “I’ll try giving him a call.”   She hung up the phone and dialed another number.  I heard her ask someone if he was there, and a few moments later she said, “Linda is here to see you.  She’s been here for quite awhile.”  She hung up the phone without another word and told me he’d be there in a few minutes.  She quickly redialed to continue her own call.

Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the door to his private office opened.  I sighed and smiled as he asked me to come in.  As soon as I entered the room I smelled the alcohol.  He loosely waved his arm at me, gesturing at me impatiently.  He seemed angry.  He leaned back in his chair and it tilted back a little too far, forcing him to grab the edge of his desk for support.  He swung his feet up on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers behind his head.  “How’s the fucking?” he asked.  My stomach lurched and I stared down at the floor, unable to speak.  “How’s the fucking?” he repeated, more forcefully.   His tongue tripped over the words and it sounded like he had too much saliva in his mouth.

“I don’t know.” I stammered.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” He sneered and I looked towards the double locking doors.  “Well, I don’t really feel like it much right now,” I offered.

“I bet you’d feel like it if a sexy neighbor down the street asked your husband to screw her!”

“I guess so,” I said.

“I guess so,” he mimicked.

We both grew silent. Dr. Teemis can’t help me, I thought.  I was at the bottom of the pit now.   There was no deeper, darker place to go.  But unfortunately I was wrong about that.  I had stepped off the edge and was in a free fall.  But I was just bouncing off of ledges.  The bottom was there, and eventually I would hit.  And when I did, I would lay there for a long while, stunned, and unable to move.

Making My Move

Michael the Archangel and I had finally found our way back to Los Angeles.  His mother had allowed us to temporarily move in with her.  She already shared the three-bedroom bungalow with her elderly mother, who had lost a leg lifting a car off of a six-year-old girl.  We were supposedly saving money for our own place.  I had a different plan in mind.  I just hadn’t figured out how I was going to pull it off.

The next time I felt Michael’s fury,  the blow to my face was so loud it woke his mother out of a deep sleep.  She flew into our room, screaming for her son to get out of the house.  Instead, he dashed into the bathroom and ran a razor blade over wrists already scarred from previous attempts.  Somehow his mother kept him in the bathroom so he wouldn’t bleed all over the house, but neither one of us made an attempt to call for help.  We just stared at each other, as if daring each other to make a move to the phone.

Finally, his mother made the call and an ambulance arrived. This time Michael landed himself in a facility for a three-day evaluation, but as always, he convinced the docs he was ready to face the world again.  Looking pale and haunted with his wrists bandaged up, he attempted to gain my sympathy.  He related how the EMT told him that if he really wanted to end it, he would need to slice vertically up his wrist, and not waste his time marking up his arm side to side.  Information offered too late.  For the next several weeks I hid out, not wanting anyone to see my face in public.

As soon as my eye was almost back to normal, I applied for a job where Michael’s mother worked.  Garrett AiResearch manufactured and sold turbochargers to the military, so to even get into the plant I had to drive up to the guard shack and show my photo I.D. badge.  Once in the building, I felt safe.  Michael the Archangel would not be allowed in.  But my children were not there with me.  So I waited and then made my move.

I was hardly ever left alone, but one day Michael decided he could trust me long enough to take my car to the repair shop.  He’d hitch back, so I figured I had about 45 minutes.  I carefully pulled the curtain aside and watched as he backed out of the driveway.  I waited about one minute and then ran into the kitchen and pulled a large green garbage bag out of the cabinet.   Scarcely breathing, I pulled socks, underwear, pants and shirts for my son, diapers for the baby, bottles, a couple of toys, and tossed them without looking into the bag.  I threw the bag into my son’s Little Red Wagon and pulled the baby up onto my hip.  “Come on!” I told my four-year-old.  “Follow Mommy!”  “Hurry!”

My son didn’t even question me.  It was as if he knew exactly what we needed to do.  The three of us raced out of the house, with Michael’s grandmother helpless in her recliner, yelling at us to stop.  I walked as fast as I could and still keep us all together.  We went around the corner, up a few blocks, down a street, up another block, zig zagging away so as not to be found easily.  I was petrified, sure that if Michael found us I would be killed.

I knocked on a door in the middle of a block.  A middle-aged woman answered the door.  She took one look at us; me at eighty-two pounds, long, stringy brown hair, shaking like a leaf; my son, a look of bewilderment on his face.  And then there was the baby in my arms.  “Could I use your phone to call a taxi?” I said.  She hesitated, folding her arms.  Surely she’s not going to say no!  I almost began to scream, “Let me in your house!!”  “Please!”

There are far too many silent sufferers.  Not because they don’t yearn to reach out, but because they’ve tried and found no one who cares.
― Richelle E. Goodrich

She let us in and with fumbling, shaking fingers I looked up the number and made the call.  She asked us to wait on the porch, exposed.  I saw her watch me out the window.  Thoughts of being killed in front of my kids raced through my mind but I felt trapped, cemented to the spot.  If I left the taxi would not pick us up.

The driver looked incredulous as he lifted the red wagon and the garbage bag into the trunk of the cab.  I wondered if he was going to call the police on me, as if I were some fugitive from justice.  I gave him the address of a guy I had met at work.  He had stopped me in the lunchroom one day and asked me what was wrong with me.  Why was I so thin?  Why did I shake?  I unburdened myself and he offered to help.  I was sure he didn’t really expect me to take him up on it and show up on his doorstep, but I gave the driver his address anyway.  It was our only chance.  I felt myself begin to breathe again as we drove away, and I melted into the back of the seat.

I didn’t stop shaking for weeks.  I never saw Michael the Archangel again…ever.  I never showed up for another day at Garrett AiResearch, and within a week we were living miles away in another city.  I heard years later that Michael had died of an overdose in a fleabag hotel in San Francisco.  As for me, I made it for another year before I really began to unravel, before I began to lose myself completely.  It was finally safe to let go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael the Archangel

Black eye, 3rd day

Black eye, 3rd day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A chance meeting through a friend of a friend.  Our eyes met across a crowded room (well, I think there were five of us).  Soon we became the perfect little hippie couple.   At the end of it all,  I would be completely mad.  It would take a decade to fight my way back from a pit of despair so deep that’s it’s a miracle I survived it at all.  And oddly enough, the madness would start with an invitation to a Tupperware party.  To this day, I don’t like Tupperware parties…but I digress.

I thought he was gorgeous (they always seem to be gorgeous).  Michael.  I thought of him as Michael the Archangel.  He was poetic and spiritual.  He was calming.  He was smart. He took over the parts of my life that I couldn’t seem to manage on my own.  Everyone around us seemed to be as drawn to him as I was.  My Svengali.

He talked me into moving away, making the break from Los Angeles and most of my friends and family.  Technically still a teenager, I felt like a grown-up, striking out on my own.  Only I wasn’t alone.  I was with Michael the Archangel.

The first time it happened we were walking down the street talking.  The conversation seemed to be going well enough, although I had been feeling more and more uncomfortable with the topics he brought up.  Lately he had been telling me about his foray into white magic.  At times he didn’t make any sense at all.  At other times, I felt a definite darkness in my spirit, as if someone had turned off the lights.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked.  It seemed like an innocent enough question at the time.  I didn’t sense a set-up or anything.  But I already knew I had better say, “yes,” so I did.  “Well, I’m Jesus Christ reincarnated.”  My breath caught in my throat and I stopped, turning to face him.   “Yeah, right,” I said.

I didn’t even see it coming, an explosion of pain and blackness.  My face went numb and I thought my eye had popped out of its socket.  I screamed.  Horrified, I tried to run, but he caught up to me and pulled me by my blouse.  I thought someone would have had to hear the crack when his fist landed on my face and I hoped someone would come out of their house and rescue me, but the silence, other than the barking of a dog, was deafening.  Suddenly, a beautiful sunny summer day turned gray.

“I ran into the kitchen cupboard,” I later lied to my friends.  They just stared at my face and turned away.  I wanted them to know I was lying, confront me with it, and demand an explanation.  I wanted someone to take charge and hide us somewhere safe.  But no one did, and I kept silent, and I was 360 miles away from home.

Once you tell your first lie, the first time you lie for him, you are in it with him, and then you are lost.

Anita Shreve, Strange Fits of Passion

There was calm after that storm but it was just the eye of the hurricane.  One night soon after, I was beaten while the soundtrack of “A Clockwork Orange” played in the background.  I was left with lumps all over my head that were covered by my hair.   A friend didn’t believe I had been hurt at all because my face looked fine. Resigned, I went back home.  And of course, that wasn’t the worst of it.

I tried to spend my days taking my son to the park or long walks downtown, anything to keep us away from home as much as possible.  Every so often we would stop and I would watch him while he gathered his “collections.” I pulled these treasures out of his pockets before I did his laundry and it was one of my greatest pleasures.  I never knew what I would find; rocks, leaves, olives that had fallen off of the trees lining the street on which we lived.  He was a little over two-years-old and so funny already.  One day, I flipped a cigarette into the street.  “Does that look like an ashtray?” he quipped.  I laughed out loud and stared at him. He’s only two and he’s already got our family’s sarcastic sense of humor!  I felt so proud to be his mom.  Somehow, I had to get us out of there; somehow I had to save us.

Soon I was pregnant again and leaving was out of the question.  There was no way my parents would take me in again and all my friends were Michael’s as well.  I was awakened one night to find the police in my living room.  A friend had called them after Michael had slit his wrists and smeared his blood all over the walls, throughout the house.  The police coaxed him off of our property by telling him the neighbors wanted to ask him a question, and took him to the hospital.  It took me until dawn to wash the walls before my son woke up and saw it.

Then there was the problem of the heroin.  I watched his addiction happen just like in a film we saw in middle school.  New friends in fancy cars came by with freebies.  They made Michael feel as if they would do anything for him…best buddies.  I came home one day from a walk with my son and walked into the bedroom I had fixed up for the baby.  They were sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, handing each other the syringe.  A drop of blood marred the brand new crisp white of the Winnie the Pooh rug they were sitting on.  I fled to the garage, blood pounding in my ears.  I stooped forward, trying to catch my breath, hands on my swelled belly.  I suddenly knew what it was like to want to kill someone with my bare hands. I began planning our escape in earnest.

The next morning, I casually mentioned how fun it would be to move away, to begin again; to be closer to our parents and friends.  Maybe after the baby is born.  A “start-over” of sorts.  Instead, another year of hell followed me like an angry bee, sometimes stinging me, sometimes leaving me alone, but always buzzing around, too close, keeping me on my toes.  Adrenaline released into my bloodstream, attempting to keep me safe.  The trouble was, there was no where to flee…not yet.