It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19276763What does a neglectful childhood in an alcoholic family, a stint in juvenile hall, The Beatles, gang-bangers and prostitutes, teen marriage and motherhood, the state mental hospital, gang rape, life on the streets, rock and roll and a decade of drug abuse, battering, serious mental illness, the suicides of a brother and father, divorce, a broken neck, and an inoperable brain tumor all have in common? One woman. Me.

For those of you just joining me, welcome!  This is a memoir blog, which means that it details the story of one incredible life (mine!) from childhood to present.  The posts are written so that you can jump in anywhere, but to get the true gist, starting at the beginning (the bottom of the blog after you open May 2012) is the best.  Feel free to browse and see if you would like to sign up to automatically receive my complimentary e-book, “Becoming What You Might Have Been,” as well as all future additions to the story.  If you were signed in to my other WordPress blog via your WordPress account, “Light At the End,” your information didn’t transfer over to this new one (I switched to WP.org so I could offer you the free e-book).  Please sign up again and you will continue to follow and get the e-book as well.  I don’t want you getting lost in the shuffle! If you signed up with your email address before, no need to sign up again.  If you would like your own copy of the e-book, let me know in the comment section and I’ll send it to you via your email address.

Following is an excerpt from my first post:

When I awoke from brain surgery on October 16, 2006, I could hear my breath twice for each one breath I drew.  And it was loud, like the roaring of a waterfall. The first time I heard it, I was actually taking a breath. A couple of seconds later, I could hear it again…in between breaths. I thought, “That’s odd.”

My optic, auditory, and facial nerves had been damaged in surgery and everything looked and seemed weird.  For one thing, I saw two of everything, and each image seemed four feet apart and a little up to the left. The pupil of my left eye had moved over towards my nose.  My perception made everything seem strange, and it would take several years before the feeling of everything being “off-kilter” would pass.

I had steroids pumping through my IV in order to keep swelling of my brain to a minimum. I was hyped to the max. All I could think was, “I’ve got to tell people about this!!” I pictured myself before vast audiences of people, regaling them all with the story of the miracle God had wrought.  Actually, I have wanted to tell the story of my life for almost as long as I can remember. I have experienced so much sorrow, and yet I am so amazed at my own sense of joy in living. This blog is my attempt at creating hope, sharing what God has done in one life. If one person latches on to it, it is worth it to me.  Because what God would do for me, he would most certainly do for you.  Enjoy! And please comment or ask any questions you would like.

 

The Cage Door Swings

English: Monarch butterflies

English: Monarch butterflies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With my husband gone, I had to think about options.  I had not been able to work in about twelve years.  What had started out as simple panic attacks had turned into agoraphobia and raging, suicidal depression with psychotic features, all of which had been exacerbated by grief and despair.  My condition had improved somewhat over the years, but the stress of a marriage on the skids had taken its toll, and now I had a divorce to contend with.

I had never lived alone, and I was frightened.  On top of it all, my mother had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was dying.  Once she was gone, I would become the professed matriarch of our tiny family.  Even at thirty-four years old, I felt like an orphan.  I went to a well-respected church counselor at my large church for guidance.

“Linda, you need to move out of that house (the house I had rented with my husband, and could no longer afford on my own).  You need to get out, even if it’s to move into the housing projects.  You need to get a job…any kind of job, right now…this week!”

My mind reeled with this information.  I pictured it all…me moving into a dangerous neighborhood, raising my children around drug addicts and thieves.  The best job I could get with no skills was at a fast food restaurant.   I knew I could end up with a crazy ever-changing work schedule.  My youngest child was four-years-old.  What would I do with my children while I worked?  How would I ever better my life?  I would never get out, never be able to get an education.  I would be trapped in poverty forever.

I woke each morning with these thoughts replaying over and over in my mind. But this advice came from the church counselor, and I believed she wouldn’t be in the position she had on staff at our church if she weren’t thought of as someone who was wise, who heard from God.  Fear gnawed at me like a dog on a meat bone.

One day I mentioned what she had told me to my pastor’s wife.

“She doesn’t have to live it, does she?” she said softly.

Shock and joy hit me simultaneously.  Simple words and it was as if a cage door just flew open and let me out.  I didn’t have to blindly obey the church counselor?  I won’t bring the wrath of God down on my life?  I can actually think for myself?  What a concept.  Simple, and yet I was forever changed.

One morning, I was staring into the bathroom mirror, hurriedly applying make-up.  I had nowhere to go, really.  I was deep in thought about my future.  Where would we be in two years?  Where would we be in five?  I had no skills, no education.  How would I provide for my children?  Where would we go?  What will we do?

As if God were standing right next to me, I sensed a strong voice interrupting my reverie.  “I’m not asking you to live five years from now.  I’m only asking you to live today.”  My mascara wand stopped mid-stroke.  My eyes widened as I stared back at my reflection.  It was as if I was having an out of body experience and I suddenly found myself once again standing in front of my bathroom mirror.  I only have to live through today?

Over the next few days, ideas danced around my head like butterflies flitting through a flower garden.  My first step was to sign myself up for six secretarial courses at the local community college.   It was challenging.  I fought through panic attacks and depression so deep I felt I was drowning, but I took a deep breath after each hour-long class and forged on.

One night I had a dream.  I lay in a huge mahogany four-poster bed with a beautiful white spread over me.  In this dream, I awoke to find my mother silently approaching.  She was wearing a long white nightgown. She sat on the edge of the bed, threw her arms around me, and began to sob.  I felt helpless, but I comforted her as best I could.  I awoke with a start, and lay there thinking about her.

Back in Los Angeles, she was very ill, having suffered several rounds of chemotherapy.  Her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and a particularly large tumor in the back of her neck had twisted her face.  I spent as much time as I could running down to Los Angeles to see her, but my younger sister was there taking care of her, and she insisted I do not uproot the children, knowing her time was short.  My heart broke for her.

One weekend I drove down to be with her to spend the night in her smoke-filled bachelor apartment.  As soon as I got there, I began to have the familiar sensation of panic.  This was unknown territory.  My heart had ached for my mother’s love for as long as I could remember.  I had never reconciled many things that had happened between us.  She had never expressed her love for me, never held me, had never bought me a “Hallmark moment” card.  She was not an affectionate person.  She was emotionally closed off, and guarded herself carefully.

But I loved her desperately.  Watching her suffer was torture.  I arrived at the apartment and sat down on her couch.  Immediately she came over and sat down next to me, put her arms around me, and began to sob. It was as if someone hit the play button.   The dream I had three months before appeared in my mind as if it were playing on a movie screen.  I stiffened, but I sensed the presence of God in the room and I tried to breathe into the moment. I held my mother, patting her back softly.

“Why did God give me cancer?” my mom asked me.  I fumbled for words.

“He didn’t give you cancer, mom.  He loves you more than you could ever imagine.  We get these diseases because we live in a fallen, toxic world, and we don’t always take the best care of ourselves.”

She asked me more questions about God, about his love, about how she could know him. I asked her if I could pray for her.  I was treading very lightly.  I felt I was on holy ground but it was shaky and I was afraid I could blow it.

“Please,” she whispered.

Those next few moments were the most beautiful and pain-filled moments my mother and I ever spent together.  It was like a precious gift had been wrapped up for us and left on the doorstep of our hearts.

What happened next will surprise you.  Picture me in a black robe, holding an open book, and saying the words, “Dearly beloved…”  Stay tuned.

Potted Mums and Forget Me Nots

PURPLE MUMS

PURPLE MUMS (Photo credit: JAMART Art Photography)

A few days after my brother killed himself, I went to the apartment he had shared with his wife and two-year-old daughter.  I was attempting to help his widow, who was also one of my closest girlfriends, pack up the apartment.  She was moving back home with her mother.  I was moving through my own days as if I were walking through black ooze.  Emotions of hurricane strength made my experience of life feel one dimensional, as if part of me, the thinking part, had died along with my brother.  All I could do is “feel.”  I couldn’t respond to the questions of others.  I stared at them and quietly wondered what it was they expected from me.  The only sounds I seemed to be able to make were sounds of groaning or weeping.  My eyes seemed to have lost their ability to see colors.  The view from where I sat was dark and made up of varying shades of grey.

I walked into my brother’s closet and spotted a pair of man’s brown wool socks lying on the floor.  They were my brother’s socks.  I picked them up and brought them up to my nose.  My brother!  The smell of my brother when he was alive!  Desperately, I wondered how could I hold on to that pungent smell of dirty socks.  Longing sat like a weight on my chest.  My sister-in-law gently pried my fingers loose and threw the socks in a sack.

I helped to plan his memorial service carefully.  I bought a long blue dress with pictures of angels all over it.  I hoped there were angels there, wherever he was.  I asked a minister my brother and I knew to perform the service, and I picked out my brother’s favorite music, “Time in a Bottle,” by Jim Croce, and “So Sad,” by Alvin Lee and Mylon LeFevre.  That last song tore me to shreds.  I had played it for my brother many times, and now wondered if this helped to fuel his desire for death.

One by one, the small group of people entered the borrowed church.  The music played, the minister spoke.  A few people stood to pay tribute.  Too soon, it seemed to me, the service was ending and the last friend of my brother’s had stood to talk about what his friendship had meant to him.  No one else had anything to say, so the minister dismissed the small band of mourners.  As everyone filed out, all I could think was, “it can’t be over!!”  I screamed, and fell against the person sitting next to me.  Everyone hurried out, including my parents, leaving only the minister to try to deal with my hysteria.  He handed me a pot of mums that someone had brought to the service and patted my back, helpless to know how to help me.

A couple of days later, I took those potted mums and brought them to the Parks and Recreation Department in the small suburb of Los Angeles where we lived.  “Can you plant these in one of the parks?” I asked.  “They are from my brother’s funeral.  He died a week ago.”  I sensed his compassion for the broken, sorrow-filled young woman standing before him; he took the mums I held out to him.  “Sure,” he said.  A week later I tried to find them.  I drove to every park in town.  I pictured them languishing in the back of the landscaper’s pick-up truck and my heart broke for those mums, experiencing death all alone.  A second death in two weeks. My brother dying all over again.

The next day I went with his widow and my boyfriend up to the hills of Malibu, California.  We took a shovel, his ashes, and a packet of “Forget Me Not” seeds. It was sunny and warm near the beach that day.  I felt angry at the sun and felt the day should be shrouded in fog.  We buried him there in the hard, dry ground, and scratched the dirt enough to cover the seeds.  I would not know how to find that spot today, and I later regretted I did not make a map.

I cried for my brother every morning as soon as I woke up for two straight years.  I cried out to God during those dark, lonely days as well. When my father killed himself three years later, I knew the drill.  But eventually, step-by-step, day-by-day, I healed.  The colors of life not only returned, they became brighter than they had ever been.

A lot has happened since then.  It’s a pretty amazing, hope-filled story that continues to take twists and turns to this day.  I hope you’ll continue on with me as I weave this multi-colored tapestry.  People are amazed when they read about some of the things that happened, and frankly, I’m always surprised at that.  To me it just seems like “my life.”  I’m too busy just living it to stop and be amazed.  And yet a part of me understands their reactions, and that’s why I’m writing this story.  Please post any comments or ask any questions you would like.

The Beginning of Sorrows

Me and my brother, Robert.

The thing about tragedies is that they can catch you by surprise.  You get up in the morning and lazily eat breakfast as if you have all the time in the world.  You pick out something to wear (as if it mattered), and lackadaisically wander through the routine of a morning.  You think your meaningless thoughts, none of them giving you any warning as to what’s about to come.  All the while a tragedy, is secretly unfolding, sneaking up behind you, changing your life forever.

As far as my part in it, it began with a phone call from my mother, but it had been put into motion hours before.  If only I had known…

My older brother Robert and I were extremely close.  So close, even his wife was envious of our relationship.  We could be in a crowd of friends, look across the room at each other, and nod, as if to say, “yeah…I get it, I am thinking the same thing as you.”  As my psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis told me once, my brother and I had to keep close to each other just to survive our childhood.  We remained close even after I had gotten married at sixteen and was pregnant with my first-born son and he was a world away, fighting for his country and his life in Vietnam.  He was eighteen-years-old.  I tried not to let my worry consume me, but I kept a good luck charm for him on a shelf in my living room.  Some days I would take it off the shelf and hold it in my hands, hoping it was working its magic and keeping him safe.  But fear still gathered in my stomach and buzzed in my ears when I thought of him there, alone, without me to watch over him.

When he got back to the states, he had seen too much, done too much, to ever regain the innocence of youth.  He self-medicated with drugs, and got kicked out of the Army with a “bad conduct” discharge after getting caught stealing pills out of the pharmacy at the Presidio.  By the time he got back to Los Angeles, he was suffering from major depression and the after effects of malaria.  I watched him sometimes, while he slept with his eyes open.  I worried more about him now that he was home then I did when he was in Vietnam.

Several years went by; Robert had married and I had finally gotten away from Michael the Archangel.  Both of us were suffering the horrible effects of our childhood and our own choices.  His depression was as bad as my anxiety.  He was living with my parents, and I was frantic, trying to get him help.  I took him out to the Veteran’s Hospital, but he was turned away (bad conduct discharge).  I took him to the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.  Before we went for his appointment, I called and made sure they understood the problem in case he wasn’t exactly open about it.  I told them that he had tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and that I was really worried about him.  A week later, he left the appointment with a 30-day supply of Elavil.  (His estranged widow later won a lawsuit involving this incident).

The call came at noon.  “Linda, I can’t wake up Robert!  I’ve tried all morning long.”

“All morning long?  I’ll be right there,” I said.  My legs turned to jelly.  I got my boyfriend to drive me to the apartment, about five minutes from my place.  I ran into the bedroom and shook him.  “Robert,” I yelled.  He was lying on his side with one arm over his head.  He looked peaceful, as if he had just fallen asleep. When I shook him and yelled his name again, he grimaced, and the word “seizure” entered my mind for the first time.

I ran into the living room and grabbed the phone.  I called for a paramedics and waited for what seemed like a half hour.  Once they got there, they took over.  I waited in the living room with my mother and tried to listen to what was going on in the other room.  My fear kept me frozen to the chair.  I kept waiting for one of the paramedics to come out and tell me that he was sitting up and talking, but all I heard was the beeping of some machine they had taken into the room.

“Seizing! Seizing!” I heard one paramedic shout. The two young paramedics burst out of the bedroom, and wheeled him quickly through the living room and out the door.  He looked gray.  One young paramedic attempted to reassure me as he passed by, but even he looked scared.  By that time my father was home and we all jumped into his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

As we got about halfway there, the paramedics suddenly pulled over and tried to wave us on.  My father pulled up behind them and stopped anyway.  I was sitting in the middle of the front seat, hanging on to the dashboard, unable to sit back into the seat.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my breath caught in my throat.

One paramedic jumped out of the van and threw open the back doors.  I watched as he frantically pumped on my brother’s chest.  The other paramedic shut the doors behind him and jumped back in the driver’s seat, turning on lights and siren as he screeched away from the curb.

Once at the hospital, I did not see Robert again.  By the time we parked and got through the emergency room doors they had taken him away.  We gathered together in the waiting room.  No one said a word.  Finally, a doctor came in and shook his head.  “I’m so sorry,” he said.

For some reason, all I could think was that I had to call someone, a pastor who had been counseling both my brother and me for free through the Salvation Army.  I had called him as soon as we arrived and asked him to pray.  I stumbled over to the pay phone and placed my quarter in the slot at the top. I needed him.  I needed him right that second. He answered on the first ring.  “Wilber?” I started.  I heard myself start to scream.  “No!!!!” I wailed.  I screamed again.  My knees buckled and the receiver flew out of my hand.  A young woman, sitting by the pay phone, jumped up and ran out of the room.  A doctor hurried in and told us it would be best if we went home.  There would be nothing left for us to do there.  We had to leave my brother in that cold, unfamiliar place, all alone.  Robert.  Robert Bruce Amthor: March 27, 1950-August 24, 1975.