#ThrowbackThursday to 1984 and as far as I know, the only family portrait we ever had.
Recently, my dear friend from high school and college, Marianne, and her beautiful family came to visit me. It was a beautiful two days filled with laughter and love, but it also stirred up quite a few unpleasant memories too. There are so many reasons why I moved 2000 miles from my home, mostly all positive, but as it turns out, that’s all I’ve really wanted to remember. When Marianne said, “Gosh, we all didn’t know how you survived when your dad moved out and left you alone in the house, you were only 16, how did you survive?…”, It almost didn’t seem real. And then, it was if the flood gates of memories came crashing down. I find it simply amazing how our brains can protect us from memories too painful to manage on our own. It’s like it’s our own kick-ass Bouncer, dressed in a sweet tux, with arms bulging with muscles, keeping all the heartache and pain from entering while allowing all the gorgeous memories inside to party.
After Marianne left, I had a couple of really hard days. One of those days I dug out this photo. Mom was wearing a high neck shirt because he had a baseball sized tumor on her clavicle. She had Stage 4 metastatic melanoma with no treatment options. Zero. Her oncology team at Emory had told her to come home and make the best of what time she had. And, I know, she truly did that. I was 15. Marianne and I talked briefly about how my family dealt with her illness by not talking about it, or maybe they did, but not to me. Just a couple of months after this photo was taken, she was gone.
I think I was offered counseling, but I didn’t accept it. It was not covered by our insurance, and I knew my dad was deep in debt from doing anything and everything he could for mom. I did the best I could, which was to put on a happy face and just keep going forward. Mom had made me promise not to cry, never to go to her gravesite again. There was no reason to dwell on the past she said. Go forward and make the most of what time I had. No looking back. No regrets.
Dad remarried about a year after mom died to a woman who was the poster child for anger, bitterness and hate. I withdrew from both of them. I left for college in 1987 because, honestly, I had to. With dad moving in with Jessie, I wasn’t welcome. Dad had put our childhood home on the market and it was clear I wasn’t welcome in their home. My brother and sister had married and started families, I didn’t have a place. I couldn’t afford college, but I made it work. It took me six years to graduate and I worked a lot. But, I graduated, and with zero debt, and that makes me proud. No looking back. No regret.
In 1995 I moved out west with my boyfriend, who helped me start a new life, a new identity, a new career and a new network of friends. While we didn’t work out, he and his family will always be my family. Time marched on and the distance helped me forget. In 2001 I moved to Flagstaff and in 2003 I had a breakdown from burying grief. I got help, and I survived. I got tools to help me, and depression medication to ease the pain. It worked and time marched on. Again. No looking back. No regret.
Arizona has been wonderful to me, and I’ve created my own family. In 2005 I met my husband and we carved out a loving life in Flagstaff. I can’t complain. But the grief continues. And now it’s amplified. In the past four years, my husband and I have lost my father, his mom, his father, his grandmother and three beautiful animal friends. The cycle was brutal. Once I came to terms with one death, another sickness started. I couldn’t recover. It’s taken its toll on so many levels. My heart. Is. Broken.
Now I’m at an age where I know the No Looking Back and No Regrets theme is bullshit.
It’s time for me to make friends with the Bouncer. It’s time for me to process. And, it’s probably too late on so many levels for me to ever be the same. Looking at myself in the mirror is hard these days. I see that shadow of a girl who hid from her pain. Is see the outline of my heart in shambles. I see the precious things I’ve tossed aside because I was waiting for the next hit. And I’ll never be the same.
I don’t even know how to process all this grief. It all seems so overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I repair and renew? It seems impossible.
For most of my life, people say things to me like “Time heals”. And you know what? That’s bullshit. 100% Bullshit. It doesn’t heal. It gets worse unless you tackle that asshole of a Brain Bouncer down and beat the crap out of him. And let me tell you, he’s intimidating.
It’s time to Look Back. And Regret.
Let’s hope I survive.