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This collection consists primarily of poems written during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time of loneliness and rumination.
Lyndon’s poetry stems from intense emotions that swing from one end of the pendulum to the other as she captures the agony of love and loss, along with innocent joy and lighthearted fun.
Each poem is an earnest response to life, love, and everything in between.
Here is one poem in the collection.
SAME OLD NEIGHBORHOOD
The neighborhood hasn’t changed,
But the draperies on the windows have been swept aside.
We see you.
Telling someone to go back to where they came from,
To the place where they had no voice
And no choice.
That place where they were beaten,
Neglected and shamed,
Where they never felt safe,
Never had a chance.
Oh, they’d love to go home,
But, home isn’t home anymore.
The neighborhood hasn’t changed,
But, the fanfaronade has consequences.
We hear you.
It’s not just words.
It’s not simply freedom.
It’s a weapon to harm and destroy.
To punish those who aren’t the same.
People just like you commit horrific crimes,
But you don’t identify them
Only with crimes because they mirror you.
People just like you hurt you and fight you and hate you
But you don’t see them all as threatening because they are you.
The neighborhood hasn’t changed,
But many more of us want to live here only in peace.
You can make that happen.
So many beautiful people I’ve known in my life
Were those people you rejected,
And they were full of warmth and kindness and wisdom.
You don’t see them because they’re not the same.
The neighborhood hasn’t changed,
And neither has any divine love for all who live here.
Like you, we are sacred.
All is sacred every moment of every day.
WHAT READERS SAY
“She has the ability to convey to the reader some of the most complex thoughts into words that truly reach our hearts.”— Love Books
“Her lyrical voice speaks with careful observation and passion. In the narrative mode, she is masterful in reading life around her. Kyrian possesses the sensitivity, insight, and soul of the true poet. Her writing provides a primer on how to compose meaningful poetry.”—Lou Jones
Please let me know if you are interested in obtaining an advanced review copy or if you’d like me to notify you about any upcoming giveaways. There will be a few chances to win a copy in the forthcoming months!
A few weeks into the fall ‘87 semester, Robbie finally called. Delighted to hear from him, I sprawled across my bed with the phone and settled in for a long, cozy chat. We talked about school and his new campus life before revisiting his last night at home.
“So, what baby were you dreaming about?” I asked. “You said you killed the baby.”
“No idea,” he responded. “I have a lot of bad dreams. How could I not in that house?” He began venting about my father. “He was always talking about how we should go to college. I got a scholarship for a fucking ABET-accredited aerospace engineering program at Florida State, and now it’s not good. People who graduate from college are dumb. That’s all his bitterness because he didn’t go to college.”
“No, he’s proud of you, Robbie,” I said. “They’re both proud of you and very happy for you. I’m proud of you, too. You’ve come such a long way.”
“Thanks, Dan. Don’t forget, I was supposed to be a doctor—after he failed to make a doctor out of Joey.”
“He was devastated when Joey dropped out of high school.”
“Yep … he wasn’t happy when Joey worked in the bakery either, or the pizza place, or as a trucking company dispatcher. He wasn’t happy when Joey took the firefighter exam and managed to get on the list. That’s the only reason Joe’s doing this elevator technician thing and working with Uncle Dom. Honestly, it would be nice if our father tried to find out what we might actually like. Just do this, do that. Fuck him. At my fucking grade school graduation, he tells me I should work on becoming a doctor. I didn’t even get to high school yet!”
“Yeah, well, I was not even good enough to push along the medical path.” I laughed, but it hurt. “He says to me, ‘Do you know how hard it is to become successful at writing or singing? Are you kidding me, Danielle? You’re better off learning some kind of trade.’” The realization that he didn’t believe in me stung. I would fluctuate between wanting to prove he was wrong and wanting to be gone from the world.
“Right,” Robbie agreed. “He was sure Joey and me could be doctors, and we don’t even wanna be doctors, but he knows you can’t be a writer even though you love to write.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “He has no patience with me, no faith in my ability. Like when he was teaching me how to drive—what a disaster! But he always had so much faith in you and Joey.”
“Not really, and, no, it’s not okay!” he said. “None of this is okay. He split your head open, the crazy fuck.”
It was true. I was twelve at the time. My father had been raging about Robbie breaking curfew and being asleep at one in the afternoon. He called him a goddamn stupid bastard then went into a rant about one of Robbie’s friends being black.
I first defended Robbie.
My father yelled, “What are you, his lawyer?”
I went on to defend the black kid and black people, and he continued to assail me with generalizations.
“You don’t know all the black people, Daddy,” I said. “You probably don’t know any!”
Not that he was alone in his concern about race and ethnicity. I saw it all around me. What I rarely saw was a black person. Neighbors didn’t think we belonged there either. It hadn’t escaped me that people mocked and ridiculed anyone perceived as different in any way. They didn’t know what else to do with people who didn’t fit their perception of what normal should be. I was tired of witnessing all the rejection. Granted, I loved my grandmother, but she would ask people flat out what they were in terms of ethnicity. My mother told me she had wanted my father to marry an Italian girl.
“Who cares how white or dark anyone is, or what part of the world they were born in?” I raged on that day. I rose from the table, making no effort to conceal my vehement disgust.
“Where are you going?” my mother asked. “We’re gonna eat now.”
“Wake up your brother!” my father roared.
I stormed off to my room and locked the door.
I heard the clinking of glasses and utensils downstairs and the plunk of each plate upon the hard surface of the dining room table. My father called me to come and eat, twice. I didn’t budge. Instead, I looked longingly at the jewelry box with the pink flowers on my dresser. My grandmother had given that to me. I opened it, wanting to hear the music and watch the ballerina dance. I was ready to wind it when I heard him yelling. It scared me enough to take my hands off the jewelry box, rise, and head for the door. I hastened down the stairs. We met in a narrow corridor, in the little alcove where the desk used to be before he put it in my room.
He slammed my head against the wall.
I felt nothing. I could see everyone around the dining room table as I walked inches ahead of him. There was the ravioli, the plate of meatballs, beef braciole, artichokes, boned rabbit, and sausages in sauce. I saw salad with black olives, olive oil, and homemade vinegar. There was the red table wine my father made with Uncle Dom. All eyes were upon me—shocked faces.
My mother’s chair swung back, and she sprang to her feet. She screamed at my father. “You beast!” Next thing I knew, she was rushing me over to the sink. I watched it fill with the blood gushing from my head.
My father paced.
“Get a towel!” she hollered at him. “Hurry up!”
He got the towel and wrapped it tightly around my head.
“You have to take her to the hospital!” she yelled.
I felt dizzy going down the outside stairs. “I’m so sorry, Daddy,” I sobbed on the way to the car.
He had a cold, faraway look in his eyes. I couldn’t decide whether it was anger and hatred for me, or his eyes had simply died. I sensed he was angrier with himself, dealing with the torment of his guilt, and I wanted to comfort him.
“I’m so sorry, Daddy,” I said again. “I should have come when you called me.”
He didn’t respond or look at me. He focused on the road with many glimpses into the rearview mirror.
I apologized all the way to the emergency room.
He pulled into the parking lot of Manchester Memorial, took the key from the ignition, and spoke with his eyes on the wheel. “I am the one who is sorry, okay? You have nothing to be sorry about.” I’d never heard him speak in such a shaky, fractured voice.
“I love you, Daddy,” I assured him.
An awkward silence ensued.
“I feel like you don’t love me anymore.”
“Danielle, it has nothing to do with whether I love you or don’t love you. You’re my daughter, okay? What happened should never have happened. You didn’t deserve that. Now, let’s go. We need to get you checked out.” He got out of the car, helped me out, and hurried me along through the entrance.
“I think he told the doctor I walked into a wall,” I said to Robbie now. “I remember him asking how long it would be, and the doctor telling him I was going to need a few stitches, but that I would be fine. He seemed relieved. The doctor said he could come back, that he’d just be outside in the crowded waiting room, and there was no point. It was true; they did have a lot of injured patients. They needed a place to sit. I told Daddy to go eat. I remember he smiled at me and told me to call him when I was done, that he’d come get me.”
“Wow,” was all Robbie managed.
“Yeah, I figured it was easy enough to find a phone booth, but when I was ready to go, I realized I didn’t have the money to call. I didn’t have anything. I went to a phone booth, and I was pressing the receiver up and down to see if I could get the operator, but, for whatever reason, it didn’t work. I was going to ask a nurse or someone to call, then a man from one of the shops at Glast Center recognized me and offered to drive me, so I went. He asked what happened, and I said it was an accident.”
“We were stunned when you came through the door.”
“Yeah, Mommy came over and hugged me. Daddy was asking how I got there, and why I didn’t call. He kept going on that I said I would call, asking why I didn’t, why I didn’t say I had no money, why I didn’t have the doctor get a hold of him.”
“You told him you were fine, and I had to laugh. It was so absurd … that you could be fine after that.”
“He felt bad. He was rushing around, filling my plate and my glass, and Mommy helping him. I saw you and Joey looking at each other like what the hell—?”
“Joey asked them, ‘Aren’t you gonna heat that up?’ He said, ‘It’s probably ice cold by now.’ They insisted it wasn’t. I also remember Joe asking you if you were okay, and you said you were. You told me later you didn’t want to upset Joey.”
“I felt bad for causing all that.”
“He hit my head, and it bounced against the wall.”
“He slammed it against the wall!”
“I know, but he didn’t mean to. He was as shocked as everyone else.”
“He couldn’t even wait for you! He didn’t make sure you had money for the fucking phone. You had to risk accepting a ride from some stranger that nobody knew you were with!”
“That was stupid of me. I could have asked someone at the hospital to call.”
“You were a child, Dan! It didn’t occur to them to warm up your food, when it occurred to Joey and me. I got the blame for all of it, you know. Mommy told me it was my fault, and when I said it wasn’t, she slapped me. I told her, ‘I’m not the one who slammed her head against the wall or the one who was fighting with him.’ I told her, ‘This is sick. Who do you think’s gonna eat all this crap after that?’ I felt physically sick.”
“I’m sorry she blamed you.”
“Will you stop saying you’re sorry? None of that was your fault! He was drinking before it happened. And you were worrying about Joey, too. You were worried about the people in the emergency room not having a place to sit. Stop worrying about everyone but yourself. Stop making excuses for Daddy. You always make excuses for him.”
I couldn’t help it. I felt the profound suffering deep inside him that had started long ago, the little boy heartache along with the pain of a soldier who’d never spoken about the war. I had watched him fight with Robbie, plead with him—desperate to find the underlying cause of Robbie’s troubles. He had no idea what to do. Convinced he was a terrible father, he blamed himself. I had caught him crying one New Year’s Eve when he’d had too much to drink. It was as if I lived in his heart during those moments and could feel what he was feeling—like his pain was my pain. It was hard to fathom at the time that he could never feel mine.
I once took it upon myself to reassure him that he was a wonderful father, writing a poem to that effect, which I wanted to read to him.
“I’m busy,” he had said, focusing on his newspaper at the dining room table.
“It’s not long,” I said.
“Go ahead,” he growled.
Seeing that he was holding his place in the newspaper with his finger and not looking at me, I read with a trembling voice and a lump swelling in my throat.
He said, “Thank you,” when I’d finished and then went on reading his news.
My mother had been smiling the whole time. She looked proud of me, and hopeful that this tribute would move him. “Beautiful,” she’d praised me. “Very nice.”
Yet I felt diminished and dismissed by my father.
I knew, too, that when Robbie broke curfew, as he often did, my mother wouldn’t sit down or go to bed. She continued wiping kitchen countertops long after dinner and dessert. She moved on to the stovetop, to the range, to the hood, to the cabinets, and every one of their knobs. She cleaned the sheathed cloth of the breakfast table. She wiped down the three upholstered chairs, and, every once in a while, wandered into the dining room and stole a glimpse out the window, her dishrag clenched tightly in her fist. With her free hand, she separated the drapes, magnifying the intensity of the darkness. I could see her forlorn gaze as she watched for her son. At times, I went to her and stood helplessly at her side. For what seemed an eternity, there would be nothing but twinkling stars and a beautiful moon over the vast, blackened earth. I felt her weariness and anguish.
“Sit down, Grace,” my father would call to her from the dining room table. He might as well have been invisible. She barely saw him anymore. I bore witness to my father’s dejected expression, and I believe her rejection marked the beginning of their marital woes.
Robbie would come home and apologize profusely to avoid punishment, but my father did beat him once.
Another time, I followed Robbie from the house to confront him about his behavior, and he walked faster to ditch me.
“Leave me alone!” he yelled, turning around. “Go home!”
“You know, Robbie, I idolized you since I was a child,” I shot back. “How dare you do this! You are destroying yourself, and, because of that, Mommy and Daddy are heartbroken. I worshipped you! I wanted to be like you. But now I don’t ever want to be like you. You are the last person on earth I’d want to be like!”
I saw a glimpse of the Robbie I thought I knew in that moment, but he turned from me and took off.
I reminded him of it now.
“That got to me,” he admitted. “It was the moment I’d always remember when I knew I was going down, and it was the moment I remembered when I finally decided to get clean and sober.”
It took a while for that to sink in. “If that’s the case, I’m glad I said it. I never meant to hurt you.”
“I know. I don’t blame you. I blame them. They live in their own little worlds, getting ripped on their wine and martinis.”
It was true they were oblivious to most of the troubles we’d had and knew nothing of the pressures we’d felt. We didn’t tell them. I would ask if I could babysit, and they’d say yes without a thought. They never asked for whom or for a phone number. They had confidence in the way they’d raised me. They wanted me to feel trusted, since, as far as they knew, I’d done nothing to betray their trust. When I thought of all the things they didn’t know I’d done, I felt guilty.
Another thought occurred to me. “Let me ask you something.”
“When we were talking about Daddy snapping and killing the whole family, it surprised you that I thought he was capable of that. After everything, why is it so hard for you and Joey to believe that could happen?”
“Oh, he has snapped plenty of times,” Robbie said. “It’s interesting that you think he would go that far. I never thought of that. My gut says we’ve seen the worst of it.”
“But how do you know?” I asked. “How do you know when somebody’s reached their limit? When they’ve taken all they can take and can’t take anymore?”
I hated this place and every place like it—uniformity, mediocrity, everything so black and white, cold, and clinical. It had taken me a while to work up the nerve to make an appointment, but, according to the phone book listing, the initial intake was free.
A woman called me in. It’s a face I can’t remember—except to say she looked average and seemed normal. She asked me to tell her about myself. She wanted to know what had prompted me to seek psychotherapy.
My mind seemed to have emptied itself, leaving only an uncomfortable notion that I was uniquely unacceptable. I told her my name and my age, and then paused before speaking again.
“I’m too honest,” I said. “I always tell people the truth even when I shouldn’t. If I don’t like something, and someone asks me if I like it, I can’t say I do, and I can’t talk to people I don’t like unless I really have to.”
She smiled. “I see nothing wrong with that. It’s not uncommon for a young person to be blatantly honest. You’re becoming more and more aware of your feelings, and you want to make them known.”
“I don’t think people like that honesty… or me,” I confessed.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t tell them what they want to hear.”
“You will outgrow that. Or, rather, you will sort out what is appropriate and what isn’t and find a more comfortable way of dealing with people.”
“I don’t know how to be myself.”
That was true. All my life, people had referred to me as Joey’s sister, Robbie’s sister, or “one of those DeCorso kids.” By eighth grade, my classmates considered me a tough girl, though I didn’t fight. My brothers did. Once they were in high school, and I was still in middle school, a different Danielle emerged. I became a popular, gregarious type—in school, anyway. I enjoyed making others laugh. By the time I got to high school, I was befriending classmates the popular crowd shunned, perhaps because I knew a thing or two about being on the opposite end of that spectrum. If anyone knew the hearts of those quiet, fearful souls, it was me, and I wanted to use what power I had to put them at ease.
I told the therapist about that, how I would invite them to eat with me, thinking I could end up an outcast, too, but it had the opposite effect. The others subsequently welcomed my new friends. While I had never expected that, I was glad.
A different structure existed within the family dynamic. Whatever flaws I saw in those I held dear paled in comparison with their goodness, but I did not extend the same courtesy to myself. My flaws erased everything else about me.
Quite possibly, it began with my barbaric entry into the world. I had arrived with my fists tightly clenched, looking more like a boxer than a baby, more like a boy than a girl, and ready to fight, rupturing membranes, and necessitating a C-section. A priest had administered Last Rites to my mother—Extreme Unction, as they called it, the Roman ritual that meant you were doomed.
My first recollection is of lying face up in my playpen. I could see shadows. One seemed small, compared to the others, yet it signaled danger and instilled fear. The moment I became aware of its presence, hands assailed me … pulling, hitting, and hurting. A larger shadow would appear, scolding, “You were told to leave her alone.”
It was as if I were witnessing my life from another plane.
Years later, I asked my mother if Robbie or Joey had harassed me when I was a baby, though I felt strongly it was Robbie. I asked if she had scolded him and pulled him away. She said I’d imagined it all.
“Sounds to me like you are a good person,” the therapist was saying.
“Then I don’t need help?”
“You do if you think you do, but something prompted you to come here today. You took a big step in doing that. Is there something else bothering you that you wanted to talk about?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you have hopes, Danielle? Dreams? Future plans?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Tell me about that.”
I told her about my writing and my singing.
She flashed a grin then said something nice and encouraging. That impressed me, so I tried to convey how those dreams kept me alive and how terrified I was that through the continuous horror and chaos that was life, those dreams might fade away.
“You’re so young,” she said. “What’s the hurry?”
Good thing I didn’t tell her I had initially hoped to achieve all of my goals before my seventeenth birthday—that, at one time, I vowed to kill myself if that didn’t happen. I don’t think I ever intended to do that, really, but I must have figured if it took much longer than that, I would be too old to enjoy my success. Where these absurd notions came from, I could only guess. I was drowning in my oblivion, and I thought these accomplishments would save me.
What I did say was, “I think I’ll be writing until they decide to take the typewriter away from me and lay me to rest in my grave.”
“Who are ‘they?’” she asked.
I grew more nervous and lowered my eyes. “You know, I thought I was … I mean, I felt … I just get so … I don’t know. I seem to be fine now. I felt something was wrong. I get very depressed sometimes. This is so stupid. I shouldn’t have come here. There are enough people out there who know what’s wrong with them, and here I am. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I don’t even know what to say.”
“Tell me about your family.”
Something inside me caved. I had butterflies but not the happy sort. It was panic. I hesitated before saying, “There’s my mother, my father …” My eyes filled with tears. “I have two brothers.” I hesitated again. “Joey and …” A lump swelling in my throat made it difficult to speak.
“Is there someone else?”
I shook my head.
“Take a deep breath.”
I did and then broke down crying. “Robbie,” I said, “Oh, God, Robbie …”
Deep concern filled the woman’s eyes now—and pity. It made me uncomfortable.
“I think you should schedule an appointment for regular sessions,” she said. “Although, because you are a minor, you would need parental consent. I’d have to give you a form, and you’d have them sign it, then we can begin.”
“No, I can’t do that.” I stood.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice.”
“They think you only go to a shrink if you’re crazy or want to find out who’s to blame for your problems and, deep down, they’ll think whatever’s wrong with me is their fault. No, they can’t know. Isn’t there a way you can bend the rules? Or is there something I can sign to say I take full responsibility? I’m going to get a job, and I can pay myself …”
She looked sympathetic while shaking her head. “I’ll give you my card. Please think about it, and if you decide to go ahead with their consent, give us a call. I think it would be a mistake if you didn’t.”
I took the card knowing I would not call. It angered me that I was not entitled to help unless my parents agreed. All the relationships I had nurtured thus far in my life meant the world to me, and I cherished them in the only way I knew how. Oh, my … how I cherished them! It was a big part of why I worried so much. I felt unworthy of their love and feared losing them all. My instinct was always to take care of them, as if their needs were more important than my own. I fantasized about being rich and famous and buying them whatever they wanted, I suppose as some way to compensate for my inadequacy.
Oddly enough, not once throughout the course of that therapy session did I mention what had happened with Phil and Sergio. I didn’t think about it. There was a little girl within me whose wails I ignored. On the surface, I was a DeCorso who would rather rebel and defy than admit defeat. People seemed to prefer that, anyway—that I bury it. It worked better for Farran, better for Angie. Maybe it worked for countless women who’d lived in places and times where you simply didn’t talk about those things. You picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and trudged on. Except I was certain, at this point, that I was not okay. I felt lost. I didn’t like myself. I wanted nothing more than to be okay again and to feel normal.
I had a dream that night. I was plummeting to the depths of something. It was a smooth, effortless decline in total blackness until I could feel a surface beneath me. People were talking to me. I smiled, wanting them to know I was okay and could hear them. In a subsequent dream, I saw angry eyes that changed from dark to light and then red, before flames began to burn in them with a fury. The eyes had no face or body. Though I didn’t recognize them, I wondered if they were a reflection of my parents when angered—or Robbie. They may have been the eyes of others who were angry with me. It may also have been me, I suppose, angry at the world.
When I woke, however, all I could think about was Robbie.
He was the brother who had looked for ladybugs and caterpillars with me in our yard. He watched me chase butterflies and elusive dandelion puffs that floated through the air.
“They’re wish nicks,” he had explained. “You’re supposed to catch one in your hand and make a wish, then blow it away.”
It felt like holding on to nothing, yet it saddened me to open my hand and watch it float farther and farther from my view. I didn’t want Robbie to be like that wish nick. It was a familiar longing I had. There seemed to be an ongoing risk of losing him in my life, resulting in this need I had to cling to him.
Everything changed between Robbie and me after the wish nick phase, and it seemed to begin with a boy named Tommy Catalano. There was more to it, of course, but I knew Tommy was trouble the first time I laid eyes on him.
I was four years old at the time, returning from the hospital with a black patch over my left eye, clutching my mother’s hand as we emerged from the car. We began our ascent up the staircase. Tommy headed toward us. He must have been eight or nine at the time. He passed and, after a few paces, turned around for another glance. It was a foreboding glare, and it chilled me to my core.
“Come on,” my mother encouraged me. She shot him a fierce look and moved me along.
When she wasn’t around, he made fun of my eye patch. He got other neighborhood kids to make fun of me, too.
Admittedly, he was a good-looking kid, with his dark brown hair in a regulation school cut, his downward-slanting eyes an unusual light golden brown. The fierceness in his face always reminded me of a tiger. I sensed, however, that although he acted tough, it was some sort of camouflage—an omnipotent, unshakable external facade masking something dangerously fragile. Perhaps something had distorted his countenance, stripped him of his humanity. When he laughed, he looked pained. I would see anger in his amusement.
He used to say my brothers and I should go back to wherever we came from with our spic mother. Robbie had told him at the time that we were born here and then called him a jackass.
When, after numerous eye examinations, I was able to trade the dreadful patch for a pair of glasses, Tommy called me “Four Eyes.”
Robbie had defended me, saying, “The doctors fixed Danielle’s eyes.”
But Tommy said I was still ugly, and he taunted me until tears blinded me, something collapsed inside me, and I could no longer hear him. In retrospect, it seemed such a pitiful waste of energy and emotion—the extent of my humiliation perpetuated by some bully who likely harbored his own feelings of worthlessness.
“He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” my father said when I told him. “He’s a stupid jerk. Your eyes are straight, perfect, beautiful. When somebody like that says something to you, let it go in one ear and out the other.”
“Don’t pay any attention,” my mother agreed.
Joey told them Tommy never said anything when he was there, or he would have beaten the crap out of him.
But all I wanted to know was why I had to wear glasses in the first place.
My father looked at my mother, and Robbie’s eyes shifted from one face to the next.
“You had what they call a lazy eye,” my mother said. “A lazy muscle in the left eye.” It didn’t escape me that both she and my father looked away, like they felt guilty or embarrassed.
“Didn’t the surgery work?” Joey asked.
My curious gaze shifted to him and then back to my mother again.
“Of course,” she said, “but the doctor said there are no guarantees. She wants you to wear glasses to keep the eye straight, so it doesn’t go back or more in. If you don’t, your eyesight might get worse instead of better.”
“I only have to wear them for a while, right? Like the patch?”
“You have to wear them until the doctor says you don’t have to, and if she says you have to wear them all the time, then you wear them all the time.”
“Whatever it is, it is.”
“No!” I screamed. With a vigorous pull, the glasses were off. I heaved them upon the patterned linoleum and stomped on them until they’d shattered.
I can’t forget the look of pain in my father’s eyes.
Robbie shrieked, “Oh, my God, she broke them!”
My father rose from his chair. He picked up all the pieces and set them aside, then moved toward the china cabinet. “I’m going to show you something,” he said. He opened a side drawer. There was another tiny pair of glasses in there. “Those are yours,” he revealed. “We bought them, just in case. But I’m not gonna make you wear them. I’m not gonna force you. They will be right here in this drawer.” He lifted them to show me, and then placed them down again. “If you don’t wanna wear them, you don’t touch them. Okay?”
I nodded, tears streaming.
Robbie seemed shocked. “But she has to wear them!”
My father clenched his teeth. “And how’s she gonna wear them if she breaks them again?”
“The doctor said it’s like water,” my mother said. “If you’re thirsty, you’ll drink. Or like medicine: If you need it, you’ll take it.”
It surprised me that the decision was up to me, but, for the moment, I was satisfied with my choice.
“You know if you don’t take your medicine, you get sick and die,” Robbie hounded me.
“So? I’m not sick.”
“You’re supposed to be wearing your glasses!”
“So the doctor said you’re gonna go blind if you don’t.”
“I am not.”
Now, I don’t know when exactly it happened, but Robbie went from defending my honor to laughing at me alongside Tommy Catalano. It was as if he’d reached inside of me and ripped my heart out, along with the rest of my insides, leaving a mere hollow cave behind. He had set about trying to convince others that something was wrong with me. In all fairness, I think he believed that to be true.
At seven and eight, I’d spent hours drawing pictures, mostly of children. I’d cut them out, so that each one was an individual on a rectangular slip of paper, and I named each one.
“She’s drawing her little girls again,” my father would say to my mother.
“They are not all girls,” I told him. “There are boys, too, and some of them are teachers.”
“She puts them in rows like school, and she talks to them,” Robbie tattled. “She thinks she’s the teacher, and they are her class.”
He seemed ashamed of me, and I got the feeling my behavior was worrisome to my parents as well.
“That makes it easier for me to study and do my homework,” I explained. It was a strategy I had devised to break the monotony of giving my attention to something I didn’t enjoy. Otherwise, it bored me to a level I couldn’t bear.
My pretend game worked with buttons, too. I collected them from my aunt Zuza and my grandmother. Concentrating on mundane tasks never got easier, but I would learn to devise other strategies.
My brothers, on the other hand, broke the monotony of life by fighting with other kids. It was par for the course to see one of them throwing someone into a pile of bushes or up against a wall. Adults told their kids that my brothers were crazy, and to keep away from them. I often hid on them myself.
As far as Robbie was concerned, I was the crazy one. I think he had a sense that I relished fantasy far more than reality, and that it was not merely an extended phase but very much a part of my nature. He would tell the other kids, “Oh, she’s retarded.” There were times he summoned friends, siblings, and cousins to his room and locked the door. They would be in there talking and laughing, and I would be on the other side, wondering how I’d managed to get myself placed outside the sphere of acceptability.
When Robbie was nice, he was irresistible. Though I could never interest him in all the writing I did, he praised my singing voice. We would listen to albums on the stereo in his room. We played a game where we took turns singing and acting out songs. I was ten and beginning to realize that music had an incredible power to lift me. Over the years, I grew to love Bach right along with Led Zeppelin. Christmas hymns during the holidays moved me to tears now, while, year round, I enjoyed gothic rock bands like the Cure, Bauhaus, and Christian Death.
At age eleven, I continued to play with dolls. Angie and I often sat on the rug in my room or hers with our Barbie dolls and their dream houses.
Robbie would wander in bellowing, “God, are you ever going to grow up?”
It broke my heart to think I might have to let my dolls go in exchange for more complicated things, but that’s exactly what happened in the fall of ‘82.
The following article by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes resonated with me. I found it very uplifting and beautiful. With all the unsettling events as of late, I wanted to share it. (For me, it doesn’t mean we won’t call attention to the problems we face or fight the good fight but that we don’t have to feel hopeless or powerless. Of course, too, we may have different perceptions of a higher power or the highest power, but the message is the same.❤️)
We Were Made for These Times by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
“My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall.
When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”~Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
It was Friday—the end of our first school week. Angie and I were officially seniors. Farran was unequivocally a college girl, and she insisted we celebrate by going to Marauders Cove. She borrowed her mom’s old Fairmont Futura, and, by 7:30 p.m., we were on our way to New Haven—a fifty-minute drive on I-91 South.
Marauder’s Cove was near the harbor on the north side of the Long Island Sound, where a powerful glow enduringly beckoned from a lighthouse on Southwest Ledge, about a mile offshore. Through the fog and mist, and through many torrential downpours, that monumental structure seemed to beam in all of its glory. For me, it was a symbol of hope.
After parking in the lot, we peeked through the pub’s large window, which provided a view of patrons on corner stools at the end of a long bar. You could see who was at the front end or at any of the small tables parallel to the bar. We went inside, turning one head after another.
Chocolate-colored paneled walls and wood-plank flooring gave the place a cozy cabin ambiance. There were tables parallel to the bar and more in the back, where framed baseball teams and logo prints lined the walls, and a large anchor hung in their midst. The kitchen was at the farthest end, and I could smell yummy burgers on the grill.
To be honest, I wanted to drink myself into oblivion, if there was such a state, and wash away every lingering bit of mortification. My plan, however, was to have one or two, and that would keep me on guard.
The first person we ran into was Billy McGrath. He was alone at the bowling machine, drinking beer. It was hard not to recognize him—all clean-cut and as preppy as in his high school glory days, his light brown hair in a classic taper cut. He had to be about twenty-two. His body looked admirably compact in its five-foot-nine-inch frame.
We went over to say hello. Farran asked a million questions. We learned he had a job installing security alarm systems and a nice one-bedroom apartment in North Branford. She asked about his family.
He said everyone was doing well, and then his pale blue eyes were on me. “I know you.” He bowled an easy strike and leaned back.
I figured he would. “I’m Joey’s sister, Danielle.”
“You were dating my little brother, Mike, a couple of years back.”
“How is he?” I asked longingly. “Last I heard, he was captain of the football team.”
“Yup, and made the local paper.” Billy knocked down eight pins with his next turn. “He’s living down south with his wife and kid. They’re with her folks in Tennessee, trying to cut costs.”
Crushed as I was by this news, I knew I had broken Mike’s heart. I hadn’t even started high school when we were a thing, and I felt suffocated, so I ended it.
Farran spoke up. “You won’t blow our covers, Billy, will you?” She told him she had proof for twenty-one.
He glanced in the direction of the bar. “My Uncle Tully owns this place. He’s not here now, but when he’s here, man … he won’t serve any of you.”
“What about the guy who’s on duty?” she asked.
My gaze followed hers to the middle-aged man with dark, slicked-back hair who stood behind the bar.
“That’s Steve,” Billy said. “To be honest, I don’t know if he would or not.”
Farran motioned for Angie and me to accompany her. Steve checked our ID’s and served us without hesitation. On a whim, I paid for the drinks.
Another McGrath headed in our direction—Shannon. She did a double take when I called her name. “Oh, my goodness … Danielle!”
I remembered Shannon McGrath as a fresh-faced, freckled, and ginger-haired girl with a joyous, melodious laugh. She was twenty now, and she evidently labored to tease her shoulder-skimming, layered cut for the big hair effect. The sculpted brows were new, like the makeup she wore to dramatize her grayish blue eyes. Despite these efforts, she had porcelain skin and cherubic cheeks that betrayed her youth. She towered over me in her high heels, appearing confident and comfortable in tight clothes that accentuated her curvy form. When she reached out for a hug, I hugged back.
Stepping away, she marveled. “God, look at you, you’re gorgeous! You have this exotic look with the high cheekbones, and look at this amazing figure! Jesus, what do you eat?”
Angie replied on my behalf. “She has an apple and a can of Diet Pepsi for lunch every day.”
“Are you serious?” Shannon’s smile was infectious.
“I bring a tuna fish sandwich on Fridays,” I divulged, “and I more than make up for it at dinner.”
“Oh, well, thank goodness! I’m glad.” She laughed, shaking her head. “Well, you’re fine. You should eat.”
“You remember Angie, right?” I wasn’t sure.
“Yes, I do!” She hugged her as well, then Farran, and zeroed in again on me. “It’s so nice to see you all! Tell me everything! The last time I saw you was years ago, back in the old neighborhood. You told me you wrote fairy tales.”
“Yeah, when I was eight.” I blushed, I’m sure.
Angie glanced at me, smiling.“I remember that! And now she wrote a book.”
Shannon appeared lost in amazement. “A book!”
Farran redirected the conversation. “Shannon, how do you like living in New Haven, compared to East Hartford?”
“I live in East Haven,” she said.“I have for the last couple of years, but I waitress nights at a club around here.”
She waved for us to follow her and then urged us to join Billy in his bowling game. Along with the McGrath siblings, I was on a lucky streak and bowling strikes, so I was happy, animated, and jumping up and down. Then Billy started going on about some gang called the “Lynx” and Shannon’s romantic involvement with one of them.
Farran asked who the Lynx were, and his small, never-fluctuating eyes fell upon me. “Ask her brother.”
“My brother?” I was confused.
“Your brother will be one soon, if he’s not already. He’s in tight with the Castel brothers.”
I savored every swallow of my drink. It loosened me up, and it felt good. It made all the humiliation, all the pain, go away. “What kind of gang?”
“He’s talking about their biker gang,” Shannon replied.
“Aptly named, since Lynx are wildcats,” Billy added. He looked at Angie. “Your turn.”
Angie cracked up. “My turn! I’m in last place. I don’t know why I bother going at all.”
We all laughed.
“So who are members of the Lynx?” Farran asked. “Tell me.”
“Hang around. You’ll see.” Billy took a hearty swig of his beer. “Man, they’re not fucking gods to me. Excuse the language. You always gotta watch what you say about them and who you say it to. If any of the Lynx is in trouble, they’re all there. They stick together. What, I should be grateful I get a nod from them while most of the patrons, regular customers for years, are ignored?” He took another swig and looked toward the door. “Speak of the devils … here comes the leader of the pack.”
We followed his gaze to a tall figure bustling confidently through the crowd. The guy looked more like a glam metal rock star than a biker and was clad in a sleeveless, black-studded vest, tight jeans, and boots, his magnificent head of dark hair falling two inches below his shoulders. I thought I’d have to pick up Farran’s jaw—and Angie’s.
Farran was salivating. “Damn! Is he drop-dead gorgeous or what?”
“Enough to make you forget Dave Navarro and every single one of The Lost Boys,” Angie concurred.“I mean, those cheekbones, too—like they were sculpted to perfection!”
He was svelte more than herculean, with a well-toned physique that included muscular biceps adorned with tattoos. I figured him to be six-foot-one, and in his early twenties.
“Wait,” Farran said, glancing at Shannon. “Is that the guy you’re seeing?”
“Who, Valentin?” Shannon giggled. “Uh, wait a minute. Come with me.”
Farran, Angie, and I followed as she led us to Valentin and hugged him.
He hugged her tight in return.
“This is Valentin,” she said.“I go out with his brother, Nico, but he and I are close friends.” During the subsequent introductions, she provided my full name.
“Ah, Joey’s sister,” he acknowledged.
I could see the tattoo on his left arm was a dragon. On his upper right arm, he had what appeared to be a king cobra amid a myriad of roses and flames.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said.
“The pleasure is mine,” he returned.
His dark eyes drew me in with their formidable intensity. I felt a chill in their power to seduce without effort. It was as if his soul was burning, and I could see its fire through the darkness. It forced me to look away.
Ironically, turning to Shannon, he remarked, “She has the most beautiful eyes.” I thought he spoke with an accent—a hint of Spanish, but I detected other undecipherable influences.
He exchanged cordialities with Angie and Farran, minus the compliment, and turned to Shannon again. “What’s your darling cousin up to?”
“She’s missing you,” Shannon replied. “Give her a call or stop by to see her.”
He said he would, and then made his way over to the jukebox. I didn’t know where Shannon went then, but Farran made a beeline for the jukebox. It was close enough that I could hear their exchange.
Using the sweet, Southern-accented voice she could turn on and off at will, she asked him to play Gregory Abbott’s “Shake You Down.” Well, she was from Biloxi, Mississippi before her family moved to Florida—Fort Walton Beach.
I knew Valentin had obliged when the song came on.
“Are you in a band?”she asked him.
He seemed preoccupied, looking at the song titles. “No, I’m not.”
“You look like you are.”
He glanced at her and laughed, then walked off.
Passing Angie and me, he flashed a polite smile—white, warm, and gracious, with a small chip on the front left incisor. I couldn’t help noticing a studded and spiked leather wrap and silver jewelry—a pendant and a bracelet.
Farran returned and resumed gushing over him. “Oh, man, look at his ass in those jeans. Perfect shape, and so tight.”
“Will you stop?” I had to say it.
“He smells great, too,” she went on. “I think he wears Antaeus. Do you think he likes me? I mean, do you think he found me attractive?”
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t,” I replied, “but for all you know, he could be married. He could even be gay.”
“Bite your tongue! That man is not gay, and he’s too young to be married.”
“No, he’s a few years older than Mike, and before I knew Mike was married, the only married people I knew were related to me or my teachers.”
“He’s got a hell of a package down there, too.”
“I can’t believe you!” I had to contain myself so I wouldn’t shout. “What … did you bring a measuring tape?”
Angie laughed her ass off, but I was mortified, wondering if any of the guys in the bar noticed Farran looking at Valentin’s various parts. I barely had the nerve to look below their chins or at their hands for a ring. It would never have occurred to me to look below their belts.
“You’re insane!” I said.
As for Valentin, he was alone all of three minutes before a trio of women crowded him. They obviously knew him but seemed brazenly flirtatious in clamoring for his attention. I caught a glimpse of Billy watching and shaking his head. One of the women ran her fingers through Valentin’s hair. Her gesture exhibited a peculiar reverence. She gazed into his eyes with such longing that he looked sympathetic, as if wanting to comfort her. After a few moments, he looked away. Perhaps he remembered something, or something else caught his attention. He left soon after that. In fact, Joey had arrived as he was leaving, and they interacted briefly in the doorway.
I wrote the script in my mind. Valentin could have taken advantage of the woman who seemed to adore him. I imagined she ached for him so pathetically that she would have allowed him to destroy her in every conceivable way. He was used to the attention and adulation but not quite sure how to handle it. I was certain of that, and I could relate.
Billy approached us. “Be careful of Lord Hades,” he warned. “He can be very charming.”
Farran raised a brow. “Lord Hades?”
“Yes, that’s my name for Valentin. He’s the king of the underworld, as in hell. Don’t let him fool you. He’s another hothead like the rest of his band of brothers.”
“Oh, bullshit!” The remark came from Joey, who had unexpectedly joined our circle.
Billy didn’t back down. “No? Take a look at the jewelry he wears.”
“You mean the Celtic bracelets?”That was Shannon, who now greeted my brother with a hug and a kiss.
“All the tribal gothic shit. I’m waiting for the skulls and bat heads.”
“I didn’t see skulls or bat heads,” Angie said innocently. “I did see a cross—”
“Yeah, probably the Viking Wolf Cross. Don’t think it’s any kind of representation of Christ, because, according to him, he’s a pagan.”
“What do you do, McGrath, study him?” Joey was smiling.
“I absolutely do not study him,” Billy replied, “but I have learned a lot about him—being that he knocked up my cousin, Katharine, and will leave her heart in pieces. Katharine, by the way, is married to Valentin. He’s got two kids now. And here’s the best part. He wants out. He wants out of the marriage, yet he lets her pal around with him out of the goodness of his heart, I suppose, or so she’ll never get over him. You’ll notice she wears the ring. He doesn’t.”
“You know, there’s a thing called minding your own business,” Joey said.
“Wait, why would Valentin have to represent Christ if he’s not a Christian?” Angie asked.
Billy shook his head. “Well, I don’t care what he claims to be. In my opinion, if he’s not on God’s team, there’s only one other team.”
Joey laughed loudly. “So you’re saying Valentin’s on Satan’s team?”
“Laugh all you want,” Billy maintained, “but what he wears—occultism is being represented.”
Shannon tried to make peace. “Why do you all have to fight? Billy, there are a lot of people in this world who are not Christian. It doesn’t mean they’re not good people.”
Billy shook his head. “He has you and God knows how many others jumping to defend his agenda, whatever that may be.”
“And what is yours, McGrath?” Joey asked. “Character assassination?”
“All I see of Valentin is a kind person,” Farran said.
“You see what he wants you to see.” Billy walked off.
Joey eyed us now, one by one. “Now for the million-dollar question. What the hell are you three doing here?”
“Visiting you,” I teased.
“I don’t think I like you being here.” His eyes were on me then shot to Angie. “Or you …”
“They’ll be fine,” Farran assured him.
“Do you trust me?” I asked.
“I do trust you.” He looked at Farran and flashed an enormous grin that encompassed everything from guileless youth to mischievous lad. “Hey, Farran, don’t be corrupting my innocent cousin or my sister.”
“If you are worried about anyone corrupting them, worry about your Lynx buddies,” Billy quipped, passing by again.
“Me?” Farran looked surprised.
“You got ideas,” Joey said.“Just remember—whatever you three do, I’ll be watching. As for you, McGrath, shut the fuck up.”
“Don’t press your luck, DeCorso,” Billy snapped. “I can get you all barred, and you know it. Stop fucking with me.”
We didn’t stay long after that, but during the long ride home, Farran wouldn’t shut up about Valentin. “So Katharine Jaeger is his wife? I can’t believe it.”
We’d met Katharine back in the early eighties. She was a blonde beauty who seemed to fascinate every male in sight.
“Yeah,” Angie said, “and just when you want to ask, does he have a brother? The brother is with Shannon. That pretty much sucks, but she’s happy and deserves to be. I’m happy about that.”
“And Shannon’s not even a pretty girl,” Farran replied. “I mean, her face isn’t that pretty. Her front teeth stick out a little. Oh, I can see how she’s attractive. I mean she has those big tatas, and that’s partly because she’s a tad overweight. Then, she just has this personality that’s larger than life—”
“She is pretty.” I said, “She looks great. But you should be careful throwing yourself at Valentin. He’s still married, and besides that, he could be dangerous.”
“Dangerous!” Farran laughed.
“Well, you don’t know him.”
“Darling, nobody knows anybody until they do,” she said. “Life is about taking chances. You win some, you lose some, but if you don’t play, you get zip, nada, and may as well be dead.”
Glastonbury, on the banks of the Connecticut River, was a heartwarming sight whatever the season. It often managed to console my anguish and somewhat ease my discomfort.
On this day, however, during the five-minute walk to Angie’s house, I glanced several times over my shoulder, fearing that those two creeps could show up anywhere. Their black sedan had circled my house a few times, but not in the past half hour. They continued to call.
The fear subsided as I reached Hebron Avenue and caught sight of Angie moseying toward me. We waved at each other, smiling. Whatever I had felt before now changed to invigorating hope and giddy delight. The new school year would soon begin. Beginnings were important in constituting an end, and I needed an end to that summer of 1987. With Angie by my side, I could easily embrace another glorious New England fall—changing colors, falling leaves, and farms brimming with apples, pumpkins, and cornstalks. Christmas wouldn’t be far behind, and in that wondrous season, trees, wreaths, and apple cider would replace the early fall offerings at the farm stands.
We walked along Hebron, turning down Manchester Road, and then onto Brook Street, near the bog. I told her everything that had happened with Robbie, with my dad, and with Joey the night before. She sympathized.
It was hard not to monopolize the conversation with Angie, as she seemed to prefer listening. If I tried to keep an even flow, there would be many lulls. My questions, asked often out of guilt, weren’t likely to elicit a loquacious reply, and, aside from that, I needed to talk. Admittedly, there was this desperate madness at times—wanting to get it all out. The impetus of the moment was what had happened with Sergio and Phil. She shut the discussion down, asking about my book.
“The agent sent me a six-page critique,” I told her. “It came in the mail today.”
“Is that good?” she asked.
“Well, I have a lot of work to do,” I said, “but they were encouraging.”
Our leisurely stroll continued to a place we had loved since the days of our childhood. It was home to the ruins of a wool factory that had existed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The surrounding woodlands were full of towering hemlock, white pine, and oak. We took the longer trail along the west side of the brook. Wind bustled lustily through the trees, and I could hear the rushing water of the brook up ahead. The brook, like a purposeful rainstorm, awakened my ears and silenced my soul. It was as alive as the singing birds. Its steady flow created an illusion of abundance, infinite beauty … eternal good. It didn’t matter that hikers and lovers passed, or that families strolled along the same paths. It was the enchanted forest of my dreams.
We did a lot of walking and climbing on rocks and then poked around the partial gray brick structures of the stone ruins, where a broken window hung.
“It helps to talk,” I said. “You can talk to me about anything.”
“I know I can,” she replied without looking at me.
We walked through the door of the structure.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
She continued to look away. “Yeah … are you?”
“Everything’s going to be okay, Dani.”
We sat on the remnants of the dam wall—on the rocks overlooking the marshes—and watched the ducks in the stream.
Angie started to cry.
As I turned and hugged her, we both cried. We held each other in that state for several minutes.
“I was terrified, Angie,” I said.
She let go. “Dani—”
“Most of the time, I didn’t know where you were.”
“I don’t remember.”
“I don’t remember everything either, but—”
“No, I don’t remember a nightmare experience or fighting anyone. I remember going to the beach in their car, walking around Pleasure Beach, having fun, and then we went home. They drove us.”
My heart sank. It ached and pounded in such a way that it terrified me.
I had gone over it in my mind many times, the parts I could remember.
The room was a blur. Sergio had lifted me in his arms and carried me to the bedroom. It felt like a dream. I was present and then not present, slipping in and out of consciousness. Screaming and crying, I fought, but I visualized someone else fighting, as if I had separated myself from my body, and the person lying there was not me. Other times, it appeared I had surrendered while the terror, chaos, and confusion continued to swirl violently in the inner recesses of my mind. I fought so hard that I was sure my hymen remained intact—having seen no blood after all. Maybe I made it too difficult for them, or perhaps they felt sorry for me. Either way, I held on to that with all of my heart.
My father often talked about incidents of rape on the news. He had lamented, more than once, that pressing charges would put the girl on trial and not the guilty person. He said the lawyers tried to make her look like a tramp so the bastard would get off.
I struggled now with what to say to Angie.
“Remember when they went to the concession stand at the pavilion, and we were waiting for them?”
“They got soda for themselves and us, too.”
“I remember that.”
“When they gave us the sodas, the cans were open, and they wiped the tops. I thought they were trying to be gentlemen, but they must have put something in the sodas.”
“I only remember walking around the beach and having a great time.”
A great time on the beach—these words stung. My mind’s association with beach days had shifted from joyful, carefree memories to regret. I fully realized that Angie and I felt empathy where others could not, but it never occurred to me that we were so naïve. My sinking heart shattered.
“I’m not crazy.”
“No, no, I know you’re not.”
“If you don’t remember what I remember, why are you crying?”
“I don’t know!” She wiped a tear. “I want to help. I don’t know how. You remember things no one else can remember, like from when you were little, just a baby. You remember all these details from a long time ago—astonishing details about every room you’re in, every person you meet, and I believe what you say. I know you. I trust you. You’re not just a cousin to me. You’re like my sister.”
My lips parted to answer, but a lump swelled in my throat. I wondered how I could shield her from harm, how I could save her from any and all pain. Something told me to say no more, yet I often wished that I had.
Confused as I was, I, too, wanted to forget. I wanted the voices of those two predators out of my head, as I did not intend to relinquish anything further for their gratification.
When I went to bed that night, disconcerting thoughts and concerns had led to what seemed a foreboding nightmare.
Though the light was off, my room remained lit in the dream as I slept. Opening my bleary eyes, I noticed water stains on the ceiling. They were ugly stains—the color of urine—and I thought I should see if they were wet, indicating a leak somewhere. A ladder was there for my convenience. As I scaled its rungs, I heard the distant voice of a woman calling my name. I didn’t recognize the voice, but it echoed like we were in a cave. She called again. Her tone seemed neutral, and yet reeked of deception. Disregarding her, I continued my climb, reaching the second highest rung. The water stains I had observed were now splashes of blood. As I turned slightly to climb down, the ceiling began to crack. My heart pounded, and I stumbled, attempting to decline. An unsightly hand reached through the crack and grabbed me. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t shake its tenacious grip on my arm. I told myself it was over. It seemed evident that I’d lost whatever battle this was.
Awake now, I tried to sort out what the dream meant. In my interpretation, confusion prevailed as to what was real and what wasn’t. When the world around me was light, it appeared dark. It was light when I sought to fade into darkness. Something had tarnished me—something ugly. I bled anguish. People reached out, offering the nurturing I craved, but then yanked it away. Locked in this unyielding fear, there was a sense that no one could intervene, and that no one ever would. I felt defeated in my struggle to rise from despair, thwarted at every turn. In that frightful moment of my nightmare, I was alone, same as I felt these days while fully awake.
I managed to drift off to sleep again, only to awaken once more to the sound of Robbie’s voice.
“I killed the baby,” he was saying. “It happened so fast.”
Oh, my dear Robbie … it had only been a few years since that night he’d woke me up, insisting there were naked people climbing all over the walls in his room. He said they were beckoning him.
Joey had lived here at the time and had rushed into Robbie’s room.
“Robbie’s having a bad dream,” I told him.
“It’s not a dream!” Robbie swore to it.
“You think they’re real, but they’re not. Look, you’re gonna wake everyone up.”
“Maybe we should wake everyone up,” Joey said.
“They’re still there,” Robbie maintained.
Joey told him no one was there, but he didn’t believe it, so I offered to lie beside him and talk to him until he fell asleep. We were up most of the night. Joey came in several times to check on us. In the morning, I glimpsed Robbie’s face as he slept. It was the face of pure innocence, as though none of it had ever happened, and as if everything bad had faded with the darkness.
I hurried to his room now, aware that his chatter about killing a baby was not part of my nightmare or any past recollection. His mattress was smoldering, and when I flipped on the light, he was standing there as if in a trance.
“I thought I killed the baby,” he said.
I raced to get a bucket and fill it with water. “Help me,” I beseeched him as I dumped the contents of the bucket onto the mattress. I made several trips back and forth before he snapped out of it and began to assist me.
“What happened?” I asked. “Were you smoking in bed?”
I urged him to help me get the scorched mattress down the stairs and out of the house. How I thought we would manage the situation without my father’s help, I’ll never know, but I feared that man’s wrath.
He came out of his room, my mother trailing, holding her robe closed.
“I smell smoke!” my father bellowed.
I thought of the “fee-fi-fo-fum” giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk” who smelled the Englishman’s blood.
After I explained, my father took charge, dragging the mattress to the woodlot.
“I’ll deal with that thing in the morning,” he said upon his return. He yelled at Robbie. “Where the hell would you get the crazy idea to smoke in bed? Did you ever see anyone here do such a stupid thing? Do you think I’m buying you a new mattress?”
“It’s okay,” Robbie said. “I’m leaving for Florida Sunday.”
“You can go right now and go burn down the whole goddamn state of Florida, for all I care. Robert, you’re eighteen years old. If you don’t know better by now, when will you?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “When I get a job in Florida, I’ll send you money for the mattress. I can sleep on the couch tonight.”
“No, you will not!” my father shouted. “Go stay at a hotel or sleep in the street or go sleep outside on the mattress you ruined!”
“Come on, it was an accident,” my mother pleaded.
My dad shifted his gaze to her. “And how’s he supposed to learn?” He looked at Robbie again. “All right then, give me the cigarettes and go sleep in the basement. There’s an old sleeping bag in one of the closets there.”
“Are you serious?” Robbie asked. “What is the point of that? That makes no sense.”
I gave him a gentle push toward the curved, carpeted stairway. “I’ll help him find the sleeping bag,” I said.
I had always dreaded going down to that basement alone, and I surely wouldn’t have slept there. Most of the rooms in our house had a refined, almost imperial, look with their dark-paneled walls, vaulted ceilings, and crown moldings. The basement door seemed to bar us from a contrasting world.
The switch at the top of the stairs cast only a dim light upon the stairwell. When I was alone, I’d descend with a frantic urgency to pull the switch near the bottom of the stairs. It would cast only another dim light.
“Don’t worry, I’ll stay with you until we think of something,” I said as we descended.
Robbie clenched his teeth.“He’s out of his fucking mind.”
“You’re lucky,” I told him. “He had his explosion before you got here.” I shivered, as it was cold down there, always, despite the paneled walls. An antique marble fireplace that had all the elaborate gilding my mother loved was the first thing we saw, but it was fake and purely for ambiance.
Robbie’s curious eyes widened. “What are you talking about, Dan? What did he explode about?”
“He got mad at Joey for cutting an apple. He thought he was going to cut the tablecloth, and he went nuts.”
“Yeah, it’s probably why you’re still alive.”
Robbie laughed. “You think he would kill me?”
“I don’t know.” I told him the rest of the story, and he agreed with Joey that my father wouldn’t likely kill anyone.
He evidently had a bigger concern. “Does he really think I’m gonna sleep in this dungeon?”
With its many ominous doors, it did look like a dungeon. “Yeah, I always feel like someone’s watching me here.”
I glanced at the long extension table. My father once told us that my grandfather liked to sit there alone in the dark, drinking wine from a goblet, smoking, and making weird whistling noises. My grandmother maintained he still did.
In old home movies and photographs, my grandfather was a silver-haired, clean-shaven image of my father with a broader face, deeper lines, and wrinkles. Joey told me he’d been a dockworker in Brooklyn who’d had a bunch of mob friends in New York. Joey always believed he’d gotten involved in some of their shady dealings, come into some money, and then bought the house in Glastonbury. He died weeks before I was born.
“Grandma hears footsteps when she’s down here,” Robbie said now, “and they don’t come from upstairs. She thinks they’re Grandpa’s footsteps. She hears floors creaking when she’s alone in the house, and all this rapping and banging. She says she hears music, too, and Grandpa calling her.”
“I think she just misses him.”
“Are you kidding? Who would miss that monster?”
“Shush!” I hushed him.
“Why? Do you think he’ll hear?” He laughed.
“How come it’s not happening while we’re down here?”
He shrugged. “Maybe he’s waiting until you’re all by yourself like he waits for Grandma to be by herself. I heard he was really mean. He abused Grandma. He was always yelling at her, making fun of her, calling her names. The old geezer was even locked up in Cedarcrest for a while.”
I shook my head. I had never been sure what the deal was with Cedarcrest. It was in Newington, an old place in the woods left in ruins. Robbie insisted it was an insane asylum. I read that it had been a psychiatric facility, but not until years after my grandfather died. My father told us it was initially a sanatorium for treating patients with tuberculosis and other incurable illnesses.
“Remember the spookhouse events we held in this creepy cellar?” Robbie asked.
“Yeah, the ones we’d set up down here with no adult permission or supervision.”
“I was always hoping that ghoulish fiend would make an appearance.”
“Oh yeah, I bet you were.” I rolled my eyes.
It was odd, since we’d had parties down here for the first several years of my life. There was a paneled bar across from the table that had seemed alive with guests on the New Year’s Eves of my early childhood. Left dark now, it looked like an abandoned old relic.
Robbie wandered into the small basement kitchen now, and I followed. He sat on top of the retro dining table, and though there were three folding chairs around it, I sat in the spindle rocking chair with the puffy back cushion and held one of its fringe throw pillows in my arms as I rocked. It reminded me of Robbie’s bizarre childhood game, where one person would sit in the chair, and another would get behind the chair and rock it, singing “Rock-a-bye Baby,” drawing the chair farther back until he or she let it drop to the floor. I suppose, if there had been a bed of nails somewhere, we’d have been on it.
Uncle Dom had walked in on us one afternoon. He was on his way to the wine cellar to take home a bottle of wine. Robbie had let go of the chair in that instant, and I plummeted to the wood floor.
“Whoa!” Uncle Dom had hollered. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” He was looking at Robbie, and then shifted his gaze to me, clearly disconcerted. “Are you okay?”
His genuine concern had melted me. He didn’t have my father’s screen idol looks, but he was this old world gent with cheerful brown eyes and a sweet, handsome face. Despite a few gray hairs, he hadn’t changed much over the years.
“I’m okay,” I’d assured him. “It didn’t hurt.”
The entrance to the wine cellar was a few feet away, and he had gone in there. It was a separate room, where rows of jugs filled with wine lined the stone walls. There was a pull light for the front section, but all you could see beyond the barrels was darkness. My dad made the wine in that cellar with Uncle Dom, but when they were around, the place was somehow cheery.
“Good thing you didn’t crack your skull,” Uncle Dom had said when he came back with his wine. He looked at Robbie. “Don’t do that anymore! I’m going to talk to your father, and you’re gonna get it.” He motioned a spanking with his hand. “This is not the way for kids to play. Let’s go upstairs.”
My parents had given us a stern lecture, mostly directed at Robbie.
I never knew whether to feel happy or sad about these memories. I recalled them with giddy delight and underlying disbelief.
I reminded Robbie of the game now.
“How would you know if I’m responsible for anything that happens in this house of horrors?” he asked.
“Are you gonna tell me it’s Grandpa?”
“I saw Mommy walking around just before I went to bed tonight.”
“She did not start that fire.”
“I’m not saying she did, but I never told you this. It started a couple of years ago. She came in my room and asked for a lock of my hair. Then she told me to put these coins under my pillow.”
“Uh … yeah?”
“You say that so casually, like you’re not even shocked.”
“I read a little about it.”
“She goes to see a psychic, Dan. She told me not to tell anyone about it. She asked the psychic for help straightening me out.”
“She’s desperate to help you and is getting taken for her money.”
“She’s also desperate to save her marriage.”
I knew what he was talking about, since Robbie and I had listened with cups to the wall whenever my parents fought.
“You were there,” I’d heard my mother say to my dad. “I hired a detective to follow you. Your car was there. He saw everything.”
“Look who’s talking,” my father had replied.
“You’re a liar,” she’d shot back. “There’s never been anyone.”
“No, I’m not a liar. Someone saw you come out of a car a block away.”
“Who saw me?”
“I’m not gonna say.”
“Because you’re making it up.”
“I’m not making it up. This has been going on for years. You want this guy or you want me? You better decide.”
She’d begun to cry. “If you’re going to make up stories and not believe what I say, I might as well get a divorce.”
I could hear a breaking down in his voice as well. “If you want a divorce, we’ll get a divorce.”
“She said the psychic doesn’t charge her anything,” Robbie continued. “She can make a donation if she wants, but it’s all free. Don’t tell her I told you.”
“I won’t, but I have to get upstairs before they come down here looking for me.”
“Fuck this,” he said. “I’m not staying here.”
“Why don’t you go to Joey’s?”
“And drive all the way to New Haven? I don’t want to do that. I have a friend I can call. Let’s go up, and I’ll get some of the things I need. I can come back for the rest.”
My father had gone to bed. My mother asked Robbie questions about where he would go, what he would do, and he assured her he would be fine.
He did come back the next day to say goodbye to my parents. They were kind to him. My father wanted to feed him, advise him, help him. My mother had tears.
I walked him to the door and cried when I hugged him. “You know, I’m really going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too, Dan,” he said, “but this is the best thing for me. I don’t feel safe in this house. I never did.”
“I understand.” I kind of did, and I kind of didn’t. I found the house strangely soothing despite many moments of fear.
Our house was an antique colonial nestled in the hills—all muted gray and charcoal, even the brickwork. It was a marvel of rusticated stonework. We had a spacious garden, a well on our expansive lawn, and a private wooded lot. The steep staircase had the look of stone and slate, and only those of us under the age of twenty-one managed to hear the bell by the arched gray door. My grandmother would embroider pillows for the seat of the wrought iron bench on the porch, where she liked to sit. She would cut flowers from the perennial gardens and arrange them in vases on the windowsill.
“Tsk,” I heard now. “Get away from the window.”
I turned as my mother approached. There was no need to ask whether her concern was about me putting smudges on the glass or what the neighbors might think. I’m sure it was both, although I couldn’t imagine what she thought the neighbors would think: A girl is looking out the window—oh, no! Something is not right in that house. Surely, her mother is to blame.
Friends told us she had an exotic accent—northeast Brazilian; I’d suppose—but we didn’t hear it any more than we heard our father’s Italian accent.
I relinquished my hold on the drapery and turned from the window. “You look nice.”
She did, indeed. No one would believe the woman was forty. Nor, in my estimation, could anyone sufficiently praise her beauty. Her dark chocolate hair reached her shoulders. Long mascara-laden lashes enhanced her dark eyes. I noted the familiar beauty mark next to her round, pouty lips, the red lipstick, and the hint of blush on her fair skin. The dainty summer dress she was wearing for another day of work at my Aunt Zuza’s dress shop complemented her well-proportioned figure. Pearls glistened around her neck, and tiny diamonds sparkled from the bracelet on her wrist. She had elevated her five-foot frame with high heel sandals.
It was hard to fathom that this delicate creature was the same woman who became enraged during her Saturday cleaning, as I had witnessed throughout my childhood. She would go on and on about “these people.”
“All these people do is make a mess. These people don’t give a damn about nobody.”
Like she was referring to people we didn’t know, or who weren’t there, and she hated these people.
The anger seemed to consume her. She would say she wished she’d never had kids, and that we had ruined her life.
I thought I should help at the time, but the energy flowing around us had an incapacitating effect. We sat on the couch, watching cartoons and movies, while she cleaned around us like a robotic toy gone mad.
Back then, she frightened me. Not that she harmed anyone physically. Aside from tossing her tiny slippers at us from a distance, she merely scolded or resigned us to sitting in separate corners of the dining room.
She grilled me now. “What are you going to do? It’s a beautiful day. You should go out, take a walk somewhere.” What a paradox she was—loving one minute, and then preoccupied and oblivious the next. I didn’t feel as connected to her as I once had.
“Maybe later,” I said. “I’m just going to write.”
She smiled, and, of course, to me, there was nothing in the world prettier than or as gracious as my mother’s dimpled smile. It soothed me now, and then she was gone.
I went upstairs to my room. My father had recently furnished it with an old wooden desk and a six-foot-tall bookcase to accommodate my collection of books. When I was eight, he bought me a journal to write in. Five years later, he’d allowed me to take a home correspondence course for writing. We bought a series of books, which I read cover to cover. Now he seemed to think I was wasting my time.
It made little difference that I’d completed a novel, or that I had gone ahead and contacted a literary agent. Given a rare opportunity, I traveled to Westport, hours on the bus with my five-hundred-page manuscript bound in a three-ring binder, holding it close to my heart, as if it were everything in the world I owned and as precious as a child from my womb. I was excited, full of confidence. The agent I had spoken with on the phone seemed eager to introduce me to her colleagues, all of whom were in awe. They must have thought it was cute, me traveling all that way, novel in hand—a novel about everything I had witnessed in my sixteen years of existence. They saw my passion and hope and wanted only to do right by me. I thought we needed people like that in the world, and happily left that copy of my book with them.
While awaiting their response, I dusted and polished my office furniture daily with a pitiful Cinderella kind of hope. The bookcase, like the desk, was solid wood with a mahogany finish, and displayed volumes of classic literature, poetry, and philosophy books, as well as books on writing. More recently, I’d begun collecting books on astrology, occult history, and witchcraft, in part due to my thirst for knowledge and my boundless curiosity. Perhaps I needed to believe, as many do, that there were other miraculous realms beyond our comprehension providing infinite hope, and that anything was possible. I needed to believe that now more than ever.
Anyway, I was alone—something I’d come to dislike intensely, despite my tendency to isolate myself. Working at my desk, every noise distracted me, compelling me to rise and investigate. I don’t know if I expected the two men who’d been circling my house or some unknown intruder, but I was afraid. That fear had to coexist unnaturally with my passion and drive, which it did, right up until I heard the vigorous thunder of a motorcycle. Certain it was Joey, I went downstairs and ventured out the door.
He was in the driveway, perched on his black Harley, wearing no helmet. The sun was blinding after a day of symbolically dark isolation, and I struggled to transition from my fictional world to reality.
I knew why Joey had foregone the helmet. He used plenty of mousse and pomade on that cropped blondish hair of his, perfecting the textured, tousled style.
“Daddy didn’t want you to get that bike because you have no protection, if you get hit,” I said. “If he sees you riding without a helmet, you’re going to get another lecture. He doesn’t know why you had to sell the Camaro.”
Joey’s prominent green eyes glared. “Do I ask him why he insists on driving a Buick Regal that seats more people than he’ll ever like in his lifetime?” He pursed the lips Farran gushed about—the lush “Mick Jagger lips,” as she would say, proclaiming they could tempt her to the fires of hell. She would lavish praise upon him. Joey was so cute. Joey was adorable. Joey was a hunk. I got it. His devotion to hitting the gym on a regular basis had rewarded his five-foot-ten-inch frame with a ripped body. He looked like a rebel these days—tight denim jeans, a cutoff jean jacket with an American flag emblem on the back, a new tattoo covering his left bicep, and a tiny hoop earring in his pierced left ear.
I laughed at his remark about my dad. “Nobody’s here yet,” I told him, “but since Robbie’s leaving for Florida Sunday morning, Mommy’s going to make his favorite tonight.”
“Yeah, spaghetti,” he said. “She told me when she invited me.”
My mom drove up now in her taupe-colored Toyota Corolla, flashing a sweet smile before hugging Joey and then me. We went inside. She was quick to change and get down to the business of dinner, while Joey and I sat at the square kitchen table she had draped in a dainty floral tablecloth. The sun continued to brighten the room through ruffled Priscilla curtains.
My father arrived next, earlier than usual, in what seemed a good mood. Considering how handsome he was, he could have been a movie star. He stood five-foot-ten with a solid build and a wavy batch of chestnut brown hair. He wore it slightly longer than average, while sporting a painter’s brush moustache and goatee. His thick eyebrows curved inward toward the bridge of his nose, framing his compelling green eyes.
Joey grabbed an apple and a knife to cut it. We moved to the dining room table, where my father eventually sat to read his newspaper.
Despite the elegant beauty of the baroque furnishings and a crystal chandelier, the dining room had always come across as spiritless to me. Nothing was to be imperfect or out of place. Under the relentless overhead lighting, things had a tendency to become tense without warning.
“Why are you eating that now?” my father asked Joey. “We’re gonna eat.”
“It’s an apple,” Joey said, “not a three-course meal.”
“Be careful with that knife.”
“I’m just cutting the apple.”
“You could have used the apple slicer in the kitchen and brought it here in a dish.”
Joey ignored him. We kept talking.
My father looked up from his paper again. “Joe, you’re gonna cut the tablecloth.”
“I’m not cutting the tablecloth!” he bellowed. “I’m cutting the apple.”
We resumed our conversation. Another moment or two passed before my father jumped up. “Joey, goddamn it! You’re gonna cut the tablecloth, and I’m gonna kill you!” He was livid, screaming at the top of his lungs. I noted the clenched fists and saw his cheeks flush with the increased flow of blood. His eyes were terrifying! Perhaps it was attributable to the bulging blue veins, but from my perspective, they seemed to have turned purple, transforming him into a creature I barely recognized.
He lunged at Joey, who remained calm and seated. I sprang up and got behind my father, ready to jump on his back to restrain him, as if I could. In that instant, I believed he might kill Joey if I didn’t intercede.
He turned around so fast that he startled me. “What do you want?” he yelled.
Joey laughed. “I told you I wasn’t cutting the tablecloth. I’m not an idiot.”
They argued, and I ran to the bathroom. In a state of panic, I locked myself in. I believed my heart would continue to pound at this furious pace until it exploded and killed me.
Moments later, Joey came knocking on the door. “Dan?”
I came out, and he hugged me.
“Don’t be scared.”
“When he gets like that, I think he fits the profile of one of those guys who snaps one day and kills his whole family,” I said.
“Nah, he’s just barking. What did you think you were gonna do, anyway, sneaking up on ‘im?” He laughed.
“I don’t know. I just wanted to keep him from hurting you.”
“He ain’t gonna hurt me. I could take ‘im.”
“But if he went and got his guns …”
“Oh, come on, don’t worry. He’s not gonna kill anybody.”
It seemed odd to have these feelings about my dad. For the most part, he was the kind father who would pay us fifty cents to eat a dinner we didn’t like. When Robbie and Joey said they could eat an entire box of chocolate-coated ice-cream bars, he dared them to do it for five dollars. A couple of times, he brought all three of us to work with him. There, I had seen how the name Luca DeCorso had garnered respect. He was gone by 7:30 a.m. six days a week and returned twelve hours later. He never called in sick and rarely took a vacation.
He had come to the U.S., learned English, and taken a minimum wage job. Shortly afterward, he went to aviation maintenance training school, earned his licenses, and became a successful avionics/electrical technician with a high level of expertise. Now he held a senior-level position at Gulfstream in Westfield, Massachusetts. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the blueprints and schematic diagrams in his briefcase, but seeing them made me proud. In my eyes, he was a responsible and reliable role model who never left home without his trusty Omega watch or the three-stone band of gold with faceted diamonds around his ring finger.
How was it then that I could see a monster in him as easily as I could see his dignity, his integrity, and his charm? I had learned over the years that he held everything in for as long as he could. When he reached his limit, unrelated incidents could unleash that pent-up anger to an unprecedented degree. My mother once complained, at the wrong moment, about my grandmother putting one of her pots back in the wrong place so she couldn’t find it. My father got so mad he broke the handles off every one of her pots. He was in a blind rage. My mother had gone to her room and shut the door. When she returned, I could see she’d been crying. It wasn’t long before he apologized and bought her a new set of pots.
I returned to the dining room with Joey.
My father was still reading the newspaper, and Robbie was there after working his last day as a cashier at the local market.
Robbie was handsome, too, of course—a slim five-foot-eleven with sparkling hazel eyes. He wore his wavy, dark brown hair in a traditional medium-length cut, and his defined cheekbones were identical to mine. I had often seen that smile of his light a room with its brilliance, although that was a rare sight while he was under this roof.
He took a seat and made small talk before introducing the topic of college. I announced that I wanted to go to NYU or to Amherst in Massachusetts.
“Forget about New York,” my father said. “When I was young, you could walk around there any time of day or night, but not now. You can’t even go to Central Park anymore. And Amherst is too far.”
“I would live in a dorm,” I told him. “Those are great schools for an English major, and I would love to be in New York. It’s where I belong. You can’t believe everything you read in the paper, Dad.”
“You don’t have to live in no dorm,” he said.“I told you—apply for a scholarship to Yale. It’s right here, and it’s a better school.”
Robbie looked both stunned and annoyed. “She won’t get into Yale! And if she’s not allowed to live in a dorm, she’ll still have to drive an hour back and forth every day!”
My father chugged down some wine. After setting the glass down, he took a different approach. “You know, everybody’s talking about college, but the best thing to do is join the military. I’ll tell you, it was wonderful.”
“Oh yeah, wonderful,” Robbie quipped.
“I’m not talking about what goes on in combat,” my father said. “What I’m saying is, it’s a good experience for anyone. They teach you to grow up. All of you should go. It’s an honor and a privilege, if you want to know, and if your country needs you …”
“I’m not good at killing things,” I said. “If they made me go, I wouldn’t shoot anyone.”
“And you’ll be killed.”
Joey laughed but kept mum.
“I don’t care.”
“You’ll care.” He nodded. “You would not only shoot to protect yourself, but to protect your comrades.” He went back to reading his paper, but he had piqued my curiosity.
“You were in Vietnam, Daddy, right?”
He didn’t look up. “Mm-hmm … frontline infantry battalion.”
“I remember the day we found your old army uniform in the drawers of the china cabinet,” I said. “Did you have to go?”
He held his place in the newspaper with an index finger, but his eyes didn’t shift from the page. “I didn’t have to, no. I enlisted.”
“Why?” I asked. “Weren’t you scared?”
His eyes began to deviate from the page, but he kept the finger there, marking his place. “Danielle, when you’re that young, you’re not scared of much.”
“But why did you go if you didn’t have to?”
“Hah! Why?” He released the paper and looked up without meeting my gaze. “I came here to become a citizen. I wanted to learn the language. I wanted to work. It was an honor to serve.”
My mother entered, drying her hands with a dishtowel. “He was a sergeant,” she stated with obvious pride. “Sergeant, First Class.”
“They move you up quickly when you’re on the frontline,” he interjected.“Anyway, that was almost twenty years ago.”
“He came home with a Purple Heart,” she said. “It’s something to be proud of, but he never wants to talk about it.”
He dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “I told you I got it, didn’t I? You get it in the line of duty. I’m not the only one who ever got it.”
She shook her head. “You did something to deserve that honor.”
“And that’s why I got an honorable discharge. Grace, you don’t go over there to get praise or a pat on the back. You go to serve your country and do your duty. Anyway, I’m sure your pasta’s been boiling for ten minutes over there. We gonna take the spaghetti out or what?”
He got up to drain the pasta for her. My grandmother shuffled out of her room. I removed the faux fruit from the long rectangular table and wiped the plastic shielding of the tablecloth. My dad poured the wine. Ordinarily, he’d wash everything down with beer in his favorite mug while he watched the news on the dining room television set, silencing us whenever we spoke. Now, he resumed the discussion about college.
“If you want to know the truth, all they teach you about in college is sex.” He was drinking his wine. “I got college people working for me that are dumber than a box of rocks. I don’t know what they teach them, but they can’t figure out the simplest things.”
Robbie clenched his teeth and got up from the table.
“Where you go?” my grandmother asked in her broken English. “Stay. Eat.”
“I’m done eating,” he said.
“Have more,” my mother urged. “You like this.”
“I had two bowls.”
“Your mother’s got cake,” my father said.
“Yeah, shut up and have cake!” Joey bellowed.
The two of them left not long after dessert.
I helped my mother and grandmother clean up until Farran called. We talked a while, but I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. By the time I returned to the kitchen, my father and grandmother had retreated to the family room.
“Where did you go before dinner?” my mother asked. “When your father was upset?”
I told her I hid in the bathroom.
“Ah …” She looked sympathetic. “That Joey likes to push and push. You don’t do that with your father.”
“Do you ever feel afraid of him?”
“No. I know how to handle him,” she said. “I know when to keep my mouth shut and when to walk away.”
I was glad, because, despite all my fear, he had easily become my hero. I loved him desperately and had worried about him throughout my childhood—mostly that he wouldn’t come home. Out of the blue, I would fear someone might hurt or kill him, and I prayed to keep him safe. The obsession went on for years, though he was a strong man who could take care of himself. He always turned up smiling, and whenever he arrived, all was well with the world.
The seeds of loyalty to my family, planted long ago, had created a blind and unlimited devotion. I became increasingly willing to go to great lengths to protect them from harm. Thus, telling any one of them what had happened to Angie and me wasn’t an option. Aside from the shame, I could never have added to their burdens or caused further disappointment.
It might have been a glorious beach day. Horned larks looked happy among the plum and bayberry shrubs, yellow sunflowers, and purple roses. The blue waters of the Long Island Sound were as beguiling as the landscape. Young men were perched on railings that glistened under the glare of the sun—ogling, whistling, and confessing their undying love. I witnessed this phenomenon whenever I walked to and from the bus stop in my school uniform, and came to realize I could easily disrupt traffic and possibly cause a collision.
I had never achieved a placid familiarity with the horn-honking and people clamoring for my attention. I had spent many years feeling like the ugly duckling muddling haplessly through the dark green marsh. If I had advanced from there at all, it was to become the tiniest winged critter, never able to keep up with the flock, and never certain I wanted to.
My metamorphosis was magical. I had the same golden brown hair—by then almost waist length—the same hazel eyes, coveted high cheekbones, enviable skin, and ravishing lips as before, but it had all become relevant! I believed I had willed and constructed this change. More accurately, I’d grown into my beauty, and my painstaking efforts to straighten my thick, wavy tresses made no difference. People looked mostly at my chest. I was a busty girl of five-foot-four who kept herself trim and toned with exercise.
Pain hindered my walking that day.
“We should rent a summer beach house here—or a cabin,” Farran said. “You met those two older guys here the other day, didn’t you? The ones you made a date with?”
“Yeah, one of them was thirty,” my cousin Angie chimed in. “The other guy was twenty-nine.” Her angelic voice was a touch above a whisper.
“Well, they knew you were both sixteen, didn’t they?”
“Yes, they knew,” I replied.
Mental images intruded—gold crucifix chains upon masculine chests. I had noticed those chains from the moment the men approached us on the beach. Perhaps I had an ingrained trust in that sacred symbol. I shouldn’t have. People wore things for different reasons. We adorned our arms with plastic jelly bracelets in neon colors because Madonna wore them, and she was the most fussed-about pop star. She also wore crucifix chains, which Angie and I had displayed with devotion since childhood.
We spread out our blankets in the middle of the beach. All eyes were on me when I stripped down to my halter-style swim top. In light of the ensuing commotion, I decided to keep the shorts on.
“With you around, I get no respect for my B-cup,” Farran complained. I saw the twinkle in her electric blue eyes when she smiled. Her high-cut one-piece elongated her pretty legs and flattered her figure. She was taller than me, with a nice head of light brown, shoulder-length hair that she often wore in a ponytail or chignon.
“What about me? I have nothing,” Angie lamented. She left her shorts on as well, with a skimpy bandeau top.
Angie and I had grown up together in Glastonbury. We’d been in the same classes since kindergarten. In a couple of weeks, we’d be seniors at the same high school. She was an inch shorter than I was, and always in sneakers, jellies, or flip-flops. Her dark hair was past shoulder length, framing a heart-shaped face and prominent brown eyes.
All three of us wanted admiration and, yes, adoration—from males, especially. When it became uncomfortable, I figured I wasn’t used to it. At the same time, I preferred being uncomfortable to being ridiculed and shamed.
I don’t recall which of the two men that day had asked what country I was from, insisting he detected a trace of European, and possibly Latin, in my New England accent. This extravagant attention to every detail did more than flatter me—I felt like it validated my existence. I’m certain I had blushed when I assured him I was a Connecticut native from Glastonbury.
“The whole thing was a nightmare,” I blurted out, as if Farran and Angie had been following my thoughts.
“A nightmare! Why?” Farran looked at Angie, probably to gauge her reaction. “Wait, I thought it was a date you all went on yesterday? I mean, you were both there, right? Angie said she liked the guy.”
Yes, Angie had liked Phil, the muscular, tattooed one with the mustache and short blond curls. When she’d unexpectedly begun kissing him, I had wanted to pull her away and shout, “What the hell has gotten into you?” She had always been painfully shy, but while surrendering to Phil’s embrace, there were moans coming out of that girl that she would not likely have emitted in private, let alone in a room with three other people.
I remembered how horrified we’d both been in seventh grade when a group of boys from our class began following girls to the bus stop. They would wait for an opportunity to grab a girl, and then pull her into the bushes or woods. They did whatever they could get away with before she broke free. Angie and I had had to walk, sometimes run, in a different direction, and wait until they were gone before we could return to our bus stop. They never caught us. When I told my brothers, they made it stop.
Angie and I had clung to our perception of that sacrosanct bequest—being “saved” for the right person. Our parents had never talked to us about defiled reputations or unwanted pregnancies, but in school, there were proclamations that only bad girls welcomed attention from boys. I didn’t think Angie had intended to go beyond kissing, but these men could not have known that. She had this tranquilizing humility, and though she kept her composure now, I could see a trace of fear in her large, haunted eyes. Could Farran not see it, or was I wrong about that, too?
“It was supposed to be a date, just to Pleasure Beach,” I explained. We sat on the blanket. I used some of Angie’s lotion on my already bronzed skin.
Farran applied sunblock. “Pleasure Beach … my parents used to go there back in the fifties.”
Things came to me in shadowy flashes. Phil had carried Angie away, and I was alone with the other guy. Sergio was his name. Though I did think he was cute with his close-cropped brown hair, brown eyes, and pencil-thin mustache, I was not attracted to him. I had felt dizzy trying to stand. The room spun, and I fell back on the sofa with only a blurred impression of the room. Sergio’s voice sounded like it was a distance away. I couldn’t see his face.
“They told us they’d forgotten their camera and wanted to stop and get it, since it wasn’t far,” I explained. “It might have been one of the beach cottages on Long Beach West. I had to fight them …”
Yet I remembered them driving us home. Angie was in the front seat, talking to Phil, who was driving. She appeared to be okay. Sergio was in the back with me. I had slept most of the time, with my head resting on his shoulder. We’d gone over that rickety bridge.
“Come on, Dani!” Farran’s smile was ingenuous. “Sounds like you had some wild experience that maybe got out of control, and you’re feeling guilty. You shouldn’t. Guys would be celebrating! I mean, you can’t take it back. It sounds like that’s what you’re trying to do. Maybe it’s time you grew up. I’m serious! Don’t be such a baby!” She laughed.
Farran was generous with smiles and laughter, right down to the wrinkling of her nose and an occasional wink. I imagined those eyes would shine until her dying day, and she would forever be as lovable and sweet as she was. I adored her. With her self-deprecating humor, people liked her in an instant. I expected boys to be falling all over her. What I didn’t understand was their interest in me. My assets were merely the luck of the draw.
“It was horrible,” I insisted. “I thought about going to the police.”
She looked dumbfounded, and that solidified for me the idea that going to the police would be futile.
I looked to Angie, and she didn’t avert her eyes. Those dark pools were now an ocean, with depths I couldn’t fathom. I saw her concern for me. Farran seemed to latch onto how Angie hadn’t confirmed any of it, but she ignored that Angie never denied it. Still, I backed down. My sense of reality had been undermined, but I didn’t doubt what I’d recalled, not for a moment.
Farran grabbed her radio, reminding me of how she and I would sing at the beach. When she turned up the volume, I looked away.
I thought about my family.
My dad had liked this beach when we were kids. It was Hammonasset in Madison, a two-mile stretch from Tom Creek on the western end to the Hammonasset River and Clinton Harbor on the east. He used to take us to West Beach. We were on East Beach now, which we preferred. It was quieter, with fewer kids.
The waves were no more than one or two feet, and I liked the gentle breeze. I loved watching the birds—osprey, piping plovers, sandpipers, willets, snowy egrets, and all the amazing herons. Birds resonated with me.
Innocent singing on the beach was a pleasant memory, as were family days when we searched for shells and copper scraps, marveling at starfish. Joey liked big-clawed hermit crabs and breaking rocks on the pier to find garnets. Uncle Dom usually brought a kite to fly—Angie’s favorite thing. Joey and Robbie played Frisbee. There were coolers with food and drinks. When the adults had had enough sun, we packed up and moved over to a picnic table in the shade. We could spend hours at the beach and still not want to go home—until Robbie had about had it with the stinging black flies that came up from the marshes. By his reaction, you would have thought they targeted him alone.
“Are you okay, Dani?” Angie was searching my eyes.
“She’s fine,” Farran assured her.
I held back tears. “They keep calling me. They called me five times when I got back from the so-called date and a few more times this morning.”
“Well, tell ‘em to call me,” Farran quipped.
“I don’t want them calling!”
“Dani?” Angie called out.
“I’m okay.” I didn’t know what else to say.
Her wide-stretched lips eased into a smile, endearing her to me, as always.
Farran, however, was off on another tangent. “Hey, we’re not far from Marauders Cove. It’s about twenty minutes from here. Isn’t that where your brother, Joey, hangs out? And doesn’t he live only two blocks from there?”
“He hangs out with bikers,” I reminded her.
“I know.” She beamed.
“Besides, you have to be twenty-one.”
“Well, Joey’s not twenty-one.”
“He will be in a couple of months.”
She waved if off, flashing an ear-to-ear grin. “Danielle, Marauders Cove is an old-fashioned pub owned by the McGrath family. I practically grew up with them.”
Yes, and the McGrath family included Mike McGrath, my first and only love—someone I had always been able to trust. The mention of his name now evoked a twinge of melancholia that fanned the flames of my anguish.
“I’m sure your brother will be looking after you anyway, and so will his friends,” she went on. “I can get us phony proof. Hey, I’m starting college in the fall! It’s a rite of passage!”
This behavior was typical of Farran. She thought nothing of suggesting we hitchhike to the beach if we didn’t have a ride. Thankfully, a neighbor of hers had given us a ride that day. The plan was to meet up with the woman by three-thirty at Joshua Rock, just to the east of the park entrance.
“I’m not sure we should be barhopping,” I said.
“Oh, please.” She lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and exhaled. “You are always so uptight, Dani. You have to live a little.”
I wanted to address the absurdity of that second statement, but I didn’t know where to begin.
“School starts in a couple of weeks. It’s probably our last beach day. We gotta do something for excitement—like meet up with people. Maybe if I were a total knockout, I could sit home and wait for them to beat down my door, but that ain’t gonna happen.” She laughed. “Hey, I’m surprised you didn’t bring one of your car magazines. Still looking for a Nissan?” She was making nice, I could see, piling on the sugar.
“Yeah. I’m hoping by my birthday I will finally pass the road test.”
“Third time’s the charm, right?”
Angie laughed, a gentle laughter, but I saw the change in her. She looked more fragile to me.
There was no blood. I was dead inside, but not bleeding. Zipping my shorts in a daze, I focused on the brown and gold hues of the wall tiles. I washed my hands over the sink, avoiding my reflection. The hexagon-shaped mirror was antique and gilded. I now felt debased in its presence as well as in these familiar surroundings. After turning off the faucet, I stood there for a moment, and then hastened to my room.
The brass bed, dressed in white eyelet sheets and frilly pink bedding, was an update of my choosing. The nativity scene plaque on the wall above it had been there throughout my childhood—Mother Mary in a protective stance over Baby Jesus. I suppose the intention was to comfort and protect me. Still, I lined the bed with stuffed teddy bears and kept a sixteen-inch porcelain doll with golden hair and dark blue eyes on my white dresser. She wore a pink Victorian dress with lace trim and glimmering beads and a hat to match. I picked her up now and held her tightly to my chest. A tear fell as I snuggled her to me for as long as I could. After setting her down, I approached the window.
I could see far from these foothills. A woodlot of mixed forest surrounded our home. In one direction, I saw the Hartford skyline—in another, steep, rolling hills in their divine and blissful glory. My room faced the direction of Old Buckingham, not half a mile away. The ancient cemetery was set back from the road, just beyond a fortress of trees. We heard stories of weeping spirits, distant cries of agony, and diaphanous circles of white light floating above and between the tombstones. I never knew whether people convinced themselves of these things or merely embellished the truth. One thing I knew did happen: Fierce hurricane winds had nearly destroyed the little church on its grounds.
Much as I loved this house, it was an eerie place to grow up. That had little to do with ghost stories. I would lie awake in my bed at night, listening to the sounds of darkness—imagining that the hoarse caw of the crows warned of impending doom. I got this sense of urgency from yapping dogs, yelping coyotes, and the ear-piercing whistles of the woodchucks. Some nights, even the benign chirping of crickets grew louder and more intense with each moment.
I prayed, always.
Watching from the window now, I felt like some reclusive old person who got all the neighbors whispering. I watched for a dusty black Cutlass Supreme, needing to make certain it was nowhere in sight.
The phone rang, and I panicked. My father had mounted it to the wall between my room and the master bedroom, so I had to leave the room to answer it.
“Hello, Danielle,” the voice cooed.
Sickened to my core, I hung up.
It rang again, the innocuous ivory phone that seemed suddenly possessed. I wanted to rip it off the wall.
I lifted the receiver.
“Don’t hang up.” It was the other guy.
“Stop calling here!” I ended the call with a slam.
They had the gall to utter my name! They sounded so casual, so elated—as if the atrocity I had endured earlier that day had been mutually rewarding. Granted, it could have been worse, and yet a part of me had died. More unsettling still, they knew where to find me.
Starting on Saturday, December 5th, I will be posting a free serialized version of my debut novel, Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths. A new chapter will appear right here on my blog every week, always on Saturday morning.
Winter is on the way, and, while we’re spending more time at home, it’s a great time to cozy up with a new book! Right?
Follow my blog and read along. For book discussion, feel free to leave comments and questions for each chapter.
Missed chapters will still be available on this site for catching up.
So, what is Shattering Truths about?
Imagine, for a moment, being able to go anywhere on the earth at any time with absolutely no threat of danger lurking and luxuriating in that comfort of being safe. We felt it as children if we were lucky, and it’s sad to think many of us experience harsh reality and betrayal and then never feel safe again. Yes, that is life—the world we live in—but it’s often a rocky road to recovery.
Let’s start with the assumptions—the “one size fits all” solutions, the one-size process of healing, and things others decide for us, like how we should behave and react, the determinations regarding what we should be doing.
Many form conclusions with a lack of understanding and empathy. They try to justify what is unjustifiable, doling out additional punishment and shame. These reactions often discourage people from disclosing what has happened to them. As a result, recovery can be a much longer process if it happens at all.
So, while not for the faint of heart, Shattering Truths is about one young woman’s path to healing from trauma.
Since the main character and her friends are underage and living with their parents, some readers felt it was a story for young adults and didn’t read it. While Shattering Truths does fit young adult fiction criteria, it is chock full of weighty adult themes. It was the adults, in fact, who, in reading the book until the end, seemed to appreciate and enjoy it the most.
Here are some of the things they had to say about it:
Ken Scott – 5.0 out of 5 stars
Shattering Truths is a most compelling story that weaves family and peer relationships into a fabric of great strength and fragility at the same time. The main character and her cousin are teenage girls on the cusp of adulthood who seem to be over their heads relationally in some ways and who, unwittingly, become engaged in activities that have subsequent emotional repercussions. Family dynamics and interactions between the girls and other characters, many of whom are somewhat older and more mature, are brilliantly presented to the reader by this author. I’m sure my comments thus far regarding the story line of the novel are “preaching to the choir” but I must also praise the author’s writing prowess. I find it difficult to express the depth to which she pierces emotional barriers in order to share the struggles the characters in the book were required to face. I was literally brought to tears on a couple of occasions. I really believe I felt the writer’s extreme range of emotion that she must have had as she was writing this novel. Her profound understanding of human emotion and spirituality are evident in her poetry as well. Basically, a brilliantly written novel by a brilliant writer. I can’t wait to read more from her.
C.L. Cannon – 5.0 out of 5 stars
This coming of age story is eloquently written and will transport you back in time to 1987 to witness the journey of 16-year-old Dani as she comes to terms with the horrors, joys, and often the shattering realities of growing up. This book has well-rounded characters that are multifaceted, genuine, and believable. It also deals with feelings of self-worth, loyalty, family, and friendship. I would recommend this to every person I know and even those I don’t. It truly is a compelling book that you will not be able to put down after you begin. It flows effortlessly along and leaves you aching for more. I am looking forward to reading more titles from this talented author!
Chelsea Girard – 5.0 out of 5 stars
A confused teen with a rough past has her conflicts conveying more than it may seem. Love Triangles, teases and mysterious character’s leave the story with your mind wandering.
There is some comic relief that shows she is still young and learning about who she is and what she wants to do with her future.
Her dreams left fears in my mind and I certainly could not get some of her thoughts out of my head. The novel was fast paced and had a great couple twists that kept me reading.
Love Books – 5.0 out of 5 stars
Kyrian Lyndon has the ability to turn words in beautiful mosaics of description. This gift shines throughout this emotional story of a girl trying to dig her way out of heartbreak and turmoil while growing up in teenage life. She does a wonderful job developing all of the characters and you become attached to their fates, their losses, their victories.
One can sympathize with the main characters as they try to find their place in this often chaotic world, struggling with inner and natural desires, looking to set up boundaries to live life with dignity. It’s a harsh lesson for Danielle. Society is ready to devour her, and she’s confused in how she should respond.
The vulnerability of the characters makes this a terrific first book in the series.
Final note – Though some of the book’s characters allude to a supernatural existence, this is not a paranormal romance or adventure. It depicts the harshness of life’s rude awakenings, and I believe it will resonate not only with women but also with the men who genuinely love and care about them.
I dedicated the book to trauma survivors—
“May you become free to love and be loved in return.
May happiness never elude you.”
I believe that until we fully heal from whatever it is we need to recover from, we remain in bondage to something or another and prone to all kinds of obsession. Disentangling from all that is a painful process, and that’s where the path to healing begins.
I’ve recently created a site at https://culture-cave.spruz.net/ that allows members to share work, blogs, photos, videos, memes, etc. We also have groups, discussions, and chat rooms.
This social network is for everyone involved in the arts (literature/art/music, etc.). It is also for people who appreciate these contributions (book lovers, music lovers, etc.) All are welcome to share, educate, and learn in a supportive space. Recovery from anything is another welcome topic. We strive to heal, evolve, and succeed!
Our “events” feature allows members to post about online or real-life events, including book launches, signings, and promos.
Our “links” feature will enable members to post their websites for interested readers/clients, etc.
The chat rooms can be utilized by members to host events, meetings, demonstrations—whatever helps them in self-promotion, and we will assist with the invites. They also exist to just chat. 🙂
We can continue to build this site together, so if you think you and anyone you know might enjoy this opportunity, please join us.
Once you join, I ask that you read the “IMPORTANT” note on the left side of our landing page and then “How To Use” this site on our “DISCUSSION” board so that you can achieve the maximum benefits of membership.
The sun rises with
Foreboding crow caws,
While the day brings
Sirens of uncertainty.
Well, for the lilac pansies,
And the daffodils…
Oh, and the tulips in all colors,
Beautiful and bold.
We see the sun
From behind the glass.
We hear the rain.
Upstairs, there is music.
Below we talk like survivors
Of dystopian madness
Taking shelter in a cave.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Are you?”
The days are longer.
Open windows let in the breeze.
Outside, the trees are tall and proud.
With all their flowers,
We are powerless,
Our illusion of safety
Violated once more.
Oh, but the birds chirp in a frenzy!
The earth is alive!
We need to laugh and
Everything is tragic
But some have no one to talk to,
Little, if anything, to eat,
No way to get well,
And nowhere to hide.
Others rise to an occasion
They never could have fathomed,
Working toward their lifelong dream
With infinite empathy.
Does it wreak desolation?
We don’t even know the extent
Of how harsh life can be.
People die for greed.
Dreaded knock on the door now.
No one should come here—
Maybe not for a while.
Behind masked faces.
Down the stairwells then,
One flight at a time,
I go beyond the door,
Where the world is.
Experience it once more,
For a short time.
The sun is bright
Across a vivid blue sky.
There’s the scent of fresh-cut grass
And the sweet caress of the wind.
It’s like a summer day
With pillowy clouds
The world’s magnificent beauty.
Then it’s back to the safe place.
Do you have one of those?
A safe place to be?
I hope you do.
Because the stars are still there at night,
Like the glorious moon.
I watch them as I hope
Things get better.
Like they always did before,
At least, for a little while.
“How Are You Feeling These Days” poem by Kyrian Lyndon
As someone in quarantine who thrives on isolation, I had to reflect on that recently, and I was inspired to divulge what I concluded, partly to see if anyone could relate.
For the longest time in my life, I believed writing was my destiny or my calling, and that there was never any choice about it. It made sense because I started doing it when I was eight years old and kept on no matter who or what happened in life. It was automatic and the equivalent of breathing (almost ). Romantic relationships were usually complicated since I gave so much to writing and didn’t want to make that same type of investment in potential partners.
My marriage was different because I had a child to raise, and my maternal instinct took over, allowing me to devote myself to my husband and my son. That became a permanent bond. With others, it was most likely I’d eventually back away. Real friends were the only exception to that, and even with my nearest and dearest, I can shut down in the moments I need to and remain in my little bubble until one or the other calls upon me. (This COVID lockdown has me in shutdown mode more than usual.)
So, what I realized is, there is a high probability that I started writing for one simple reason. It allowed me to escape to a world far removed from reality. And that was where I wanted to be. It was never that I didn’t care—more like I cared too much, and I knew it, and it hurt.
As a child, like so many children, I was blown away by The Wizard of Oz. I grew to love role-playing and parallel universe fiction. When role-playing games became on online obsession, combining these two elements, I was among the obsessed. What more could I ask for than the opportunity to vanish into a fake world of my own choosing and explore it fearlessly without ever having to face any consequences?
It’s a weird thing to explain because, from the moment I could fully experience it, the real world has thoroughly fascinated me. I immensely enjoy being out there whenever I am. But, yes, in the general sense, I prefer fantasy to reality. I always have, and I know I’m not alone in that. It’s not a sad thing, not to me. You can be happy and sad, laughing or crying, talking up a storm or perfectly still, and it’s all good. I love and embrace it all, but when I can’t deal at that particular moment, I don’t. I thought it was the poet in me who felt that way, but maybe it’s just me.
I’m not sure if any of it is normal, but becoming aware of it did make me feel selfish. At the very least, it made me realize I have been selfish at times. (Ironically, I had to get in touch with reality enough to understand how deeply flawed I am, and to begin working on it.) That work began years ago and continues to this day.
Still, I had to ask myself this question. If what I had wanted all along was to escape reality, why did I base some of my work on things I’d witnessed or experienced?
Well, for one thing, I compartmentalized my feelings and traumas. The people on the page were not real because I’d turned reality into fiction. I was playing God, and, most importantly, I was in control. I needed to be in control. (The focus of my work, by the way, has now shifted to 90% fiction.)
The good news here is, everything is all about learning and growing. It never stops, and because of that, I’ve become increasingly grateful and so incredibly appreciative of the people in my life.
It’s much easier to be “present in the moment” when you know to cherish it! I find that these days, I genuinely care without needing anything in return. So, I’m not all bad.
I suppose the need for self-protection will override progress when necessary, mostly out of habit, but in this life, if you’re committed to improvement, you will achieve it!
So, here is the story of what happened this weekend.
I had a stereotactic guided core needle biopsy scheduled for Friday, August 16th. The place where I was having the procedure is affiliated with a good hospital.
Before the procedure, a nurse told me they would be using a local anesthetic called Lidocaine to numb the biopsy area. They cautioned me about driving. I live, maybe, four blocks away from this place and said I would walk. She thought that was a long walk! I don’t know, but I am from Queens, and we walked all over the damn place—nearly a mile, no sweat. Some people out here on Long Island are the same, but others think even two blocks is too far to walk. 😲
For the biopsy procedure, they had me sit in a chair, so they could take tissue samples to test. I didn’t feel a thing. It took a while and then even longer for them to come back and tell me they had biopsied the wrong area and had to do it all over again. I was reluctant because, at that point, I didn’t even know if I wanted to use their facility again. They told me my insurance would cover the second procedure. That was ridiculous because my out of pocket for that procedure was $600. I told them that wasn’t happening, and they suddenly decided I wouldn’t have to pay the second time.
I left then, and no one asked if I was okay. I’d forgotten all about the Lidocaine myself, to be honest. I made it about ¾ of the way home and then just fell like I was sliding into home plate. A woman came along and helped me to stand, but I couldn’t without her assistance. Then a second woman and two men came over and tried to get me to sit. They called an ambulance for me. I heard the EMTs talking in the back, and one said, “She was given Lidocaine for a biopsy. That could have made her dizzy.”
Once in the hospital, they took a bunch of x-rays. That was almost the worst of it, getting slung from bed to table and back again a bunch of times, but you hear people saying all this nice stuff about you. They were like, “Oh, this one’s easy, she’s light.” And, “You’re young.” Don’t know how many times I heard that, but okay. My son is thirty-four, but if you think I’m young, I’m not going to argue with you.
According to the x-rays, I fractured my left hip and also have something they called an impacted, nondisplaced left transcervical femoral neck fracture. The for-sure worst thing had to be the spasms that would shoot from my thigh down the leg, making me want to jump out of my body. The doctor said the nerve does that when the bone is broken. They did a hip pin where they placed a screw in there to hold it together. That stops the nerve from spasming like that. The surgeon did a fantastic job.
By now, however, I am an old hand at this fracture stuff. I sprained my arm at 15 when my friends and I got drunk once. I sprained my ankle twice as an adult and fractured my foot a couple of years ago. Maybe I am just too preoccupied with everything around me, always processing. HA! That’s probably not the reason, but life seems to fascinate me, no matter what is going on. I’m in the ambulance, I’m fascinated. Being wheeled into the OR, I’m fascinated. Giving birth, talking to people, eating, walking, listening to what happened to the patient next to me, I’m fascinated. It’s all so fantastic when you think about it. I know I can’t be the only one. There must be kindred spirits out there who feel the same way.
And things just amuse me so much.. Nurse: “When you go from walker to chair, just make sure the chair is under you.” Don’t know why I should find that so funny after what just happened to me, but she said, “You’d be surprised!”
I was thinking then; now I will be picturing that all day and laughing.
One of the doctors told me it could take almost a year for my hip to be 100% back to normal. When my physical therapist was here, I asked him about that, and he was shaking his head. He said, “I know you only five minutes, and I can already tell you’ll heal a lot faster than that. It isn’t going to take anywhere near that long.”
He is super kind, and the home care nurse was, too. She was at the door, all nervous, saying, “I’m the nurse.” I was like, “Well, hello, the nurse.” She laughed then. They must always be apprehensive about what they’re walking into because they deal with a lot of nastiness, people who are upset, angry, and scared. I’ve witnessed that with other people receiving care. I’m sure the home care team has to cut those people a lot of slack because they are patients and they’re sick, but these empathetic healers deserve way more appreciation and respect than they get.
Anyway, every experience, whether I want it or need it or deserve it or not has taught me so much about myself and others. And also, what to do, what not to do. It reinforces for me, too, in a divine way, really, that there are angels out there with beautiful hearts, and that most people do tend to have kind hearts.
What helps me, too, is everything I learned in recovery. Like the idea that you must accept the things you can’t control, control whatever is in your power to control. And then, there’s the part I added where you step up and embrace the challenge. If I hadn’t been able to do that in my life, I wouldn’t be here today.
Oh yes, and I have since looked up whether it’s common for a doctor or radiologist to biopsy the wrong area, and the truth seems to depend on who you ask. I found this cancer forum where laypeople thought it was unacceptable and would never go to that facility again. Medical professionals seemed to have more of an understanding of how that kind of thing can happen. One thing for sure is; you always get a second opinion, especially with biopsies. I knew a woman who thought she had ovarian cancer. I told her to get a second opinion and then a third if the second was different from the first. She did not have cancer.
People run from life in many ways. We can want a hug so desperately and yet recoil from it. We can crave love more than anything and build fortresses to keep it away. There’s this idea that the more bridges we burn, the harder it will be to go back to the things that caused us pain. Sometimes, that is true, but, at the same time, we keep looking for that place where we belong, and, in some situations, trying almost too hard to fit in, until we accept, with a great deal of shame, that we need to move on. Reaching out to people is overwhelming and terrifying, but we try it, and when we feel unheard, we vanish again. So many goodbyes––until we don’t want to do the relationship thing anymore or the intimacy thing or ask anyone for help or love or whatever the hell we need. Intimacy doesn’t seem worth any of that, and we lose interest. We shut down, close our doors for business, and thrive in our safe, predictable worlds.
We wonder if we are crazy, but people tell us only sane people question their sanity. Sometimes we think we’re monsters, but we come to learn that monsters feel no guilt, no shame, and no love. We do love, from a distance and we absorb the world’s pain.
In my twenties and beyond, I kept changing my name, my hair color, my address, my phone number, my job–you name it. It was as if I couldn’t run fast enough, couldn’t hide in a safe enough place. Without realizing it, I was running away from the trauma of childhood and teen years.
At some point in the healing process, something tells you that you don’t need to hide anymore. You don’t need to run, so you try not to. What’s unsettling is how far you can come in your healing and still get thrown back there in a heartbeat.
Progress can seem slow, but it keeps happening. I’m not a patient person, but I’ve learned to be patient about healing. I’ve had to, and I love healing because I’ve reaped its rewards. Often, I look back and ask myself, “How did I survive, being such an idiot for most of my life?” That may seem harsh, but in light of how far I’ve come, it makes sense. We can’t fix what we don’t know is broken. We can’t benefit from learning the truth about ourselves until we feel safe in rejecting the lies.
As survivors, we want this healing for everyone while needing to learn, too, that people are only ready when they’re ready. And it’s painful when we love people who need desperately to heal but remain trapped in their fear. Sometimes we wish we could absorb every bit of their agony; even it means holding on to all of it ourselves because we know we can handle it. We have.
We can’t get stuck in that inability to forgive either. It’s understandable because we witness so much unnecessary cruelty toward ourselves and others, and we don’t know what to do with that. For instance, how do you come to terms with the fact that someone willfully tried to destroy another person, or that person’s reputation, or his or her life, that they did everything in their power to annihilate another human being?
What I realized, quite a long time ago, is that revenge and punishment are not up to me. Divine retribution happens without the least bit of my help—no matter how we interpret divinity and even if we are divinity in the sense that we represent it in the universe. It works that way because we can’t destroy people without destroying ourselves. If it’s destruction we want, it’s destruction we’ll get, and it’s never one-sided.
A better solution is to keep following our path and goals and let go of the burdens people give us to hold. The weight comes from feelings of not belonging or being worthy and accepted as we are. It comes from others mischaracterizing us or our actions to suit their agendas and punishing us for not being who they need us to be, not wanting what they require us to want.
We have to find our own happily ever after. It’s undoubtedly not the same for everyone, and that’s another place we can get stuck—wanting what we don’t have and realizing it’s not even what we want but what we think we’re supposed to want and have. Most people want to find that special someone, get that dream house and job. From the time I was eight years old, what I wanted was different—maybe, in some ways, the opposite of what everyone else wanted. It took me a while to realize that I have everything I’d ever wanted or needed in my life and, while I may have moments of feeling sad for another or sad for the world, I am happy.
One thing I’ve always known is to never give up. It does get better, a little at a time, but it gets so much better. Our survival not only gives hope to others but sharing our experiences allows us to help in their healing. We help each other, yes, and we give each other the love that’s been so hard for us to ask for or accept.
I’m not a religious type, but the prayer below has always been my favorite. It can certainly get you through it. ❤️
Brave Wings is a new online magazine that focuses on the human condition—whatever we experience in life that helps us learn, grow, and evolve. Sharing perspectives about healing and empowerment can be exciting and helpful, but we also want to provide entertainment and fun while sharing the beauty of creativity.
For entertainment, we are interested in short stories and book series (all genres). We’re interested in humor.
For creativity, we may be interested in photos, handmade products, something that showcases your talent.
Content for submission will include blogs, videos, audios, slideshows, and photographs. Please see the submissions page for instructions on how to submit!
We will not pay for submissions at this time. However, we will always share your work on our social media sites, and we encourage all contributors to share magazine contents submitted by others on their social media sites. Helping one another with exposure is what will make this site work.
In addition, we will provide the following for all contributors to the magazine:
A listing in the contributor section, where more information (links, etc.) will be added with each contribution. The most frequent contributors may also have a few of their books, products, or recommendations in the listing.
The opportunity by contributors to submit news that provides opportunities for artistic communities, as well as their own business events and significant personal news, all of which we will share on our social media sites.
Access to the chat room (as a moderator, if they prefer), and the ability to hold monitored topic meetings to promote their talent/business.
For those privileges, you must be a regulator contributor. There are no deadlines. However, you must have contributed at least twice with acceptance and publication.
We do intend to have a community that includes a discussion forum and chat room where we can present topics hosted by contributors.
Our Announcement page will provide news of available opportunities within the artistic communities, including contests and contributor events.
We will post book reviews that are submitted by contributors, but we don’t assign books for review.
We will post interviews by our contributors if they are relative to our platform. If you feel you are a good candidate for an interview, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If this venture is a success, we may eventually monetize and pay for content.
For those interested in getting involved, we may also need editors, site moderators, group moderators, page moderators, etc. who will have contributor status. Those most involved will be given domain e-mail addresses for the magazine. We have four more available, so if you love this idea, the opportunity is there to get as involved as you’d like.
Another thing I’m tossing around is whether we’ll have a group or newsletter for interested parties, so please, please, weigh in with your thoughts about everything! All suggestions are welcome!
“What other people think of me is none of my business.”
Yes, I’ve heard that, too, but I agree only in part. We still have to be accountable for our behavior, and it doesn’t help to stubbornly insist we are fine—and that whatever we do is okay regardless of how many people say otherwise.
It doesn’t mean we have to believe every negative thing anyone says about us. It’s more about the willingness to consider what others have to say, whether we like what they’re saying or not. It’s about our responsibility to learn, grow, and evolve.
Everything comes back to balance for me, but when you’re able to set aside ego and keep an open mind, discernment about what to take personally and what to blow off becomes easier.
You can surely tell if something is malicious or plain stupid.
For example, and speaking as an author now, we put our work out there before a world that seems divided on just about everything. Everyone has opinions, not all of them based on reality or given by someone who has a reasonable frame of reference. Someone may read about a tragic event and say it isn’t an accurate portrayal. You can write something that did happen or describe someone that was very real, and someone might see it as a misrepresentation because that’s not what they’ve experienced. People also have personal biases and triggers. And, yes, sometimes the reason they don’t like something has more to do with them than you. I have seen fellow writers get two-star book reviews for reasons that had nothing to do with the book. Some trolls will say negative things merely because they can.
But most of our antagonists or legitimate critics in life, personally and professionally, are people with their own agendas who may or may not have a vested interest in us. And sometimes, they are right on the money.
Unfortunately, however, some people fear criticism so much that they’re not able to live their dreams or find true happiness, They may put a toe in the water but never dive in.
What I have to say may help. It’s worked for me.
Change Your Relationship with Criticism
Years ago, I grappled with panic attacks and debilitating pain. I read somewhere that I could change my relationship with pain by changing my perspective on it.
That helped tremendously, and I soon realized you could do that with just about anything.
Criticism, like pain, isn’t comfortable. It feels horrible, and we don’t like feeling horrible, so we tell ourselves we can’t handle it.
Take yourself out of fear mode and the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness. Acknowledge that you’re not comfortable. Tell yourself you can handle it, then decide how you will do that. You want to find the solution, control whatever it is you can control, and let go of whatever you can’t. Stress only makes things worse.
You’re not alone. What’s happening to you is happening to others, maybe even at the same moment. So many people have been through it. You are no different from any of them and no less capable of handling it. Maybe it seems so much worse because it is happening to you.
Take Yourself Off the Pedestal
On a professional level, people could tell us a thousand times about all the famous people who’d been rejected over and over before the world realized how amazing they were. Many will say, “Well that won’t be me. Oh, but, what am I going to do if it is? How can I control that?”
You can’t, and it’s not easy to get past all that righteous indignation you feel. Someone is criticizing or rejecting you or your behavior or your work, and you instinctively want to defend yourself. You become angry. You feel sad or ashamed. It hurts.
Understand first, that you are not the exception to every rule.
In recovery circles, we laughingly refer to ourselves as “just another Bozo on the bus.” It may sound a bit harsh, but it’s a way of humbling yourself, and taking yourself off the pedestal. I like to think of myself as just another writer, another voice in the choir, and mostly just another person trying to learn and figure things out. That’s an accurate description. We are babies in this astounding old universe, and it’s okay to accept that we’re all vulnerable—not only to the force of nature and random happenings but to each other.
When we respect that, we don’t see people as enemies and haters. We see them as people struggling to survive, like we are.
You are not this person the whole world is watching, and with ridiculous expectations, all the while hoping you will fail or die. I know we meet some nasty people in life that make it seem that way. It’s not surprising that we end up seeing people through such a negative lens. But let’s refuse to believe anyone is that obsessed with us or that petty.
No matter what’s happening, we need to believe that the world is with us, and that the universe supports us.
And with this shift in perspective, there’s little need to be competitive or combative, no need for drama or denial or damage control.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of better things to do than spend my time and energy doing damage control for the sake of my ego. It’s a full-time job, really, with plenty of overtime—controlling how the world sees us and everything that we do. In fact, the business of hiding an inferiority complex behind some shield of superiority is downright exhausting. It becomes impossible to admit you are wrong and say you are sorry. It has you taking credit for all the good in situations and relationships but none of the bad.
Listen to Learn
Do you enjoy a challenge? Do you love to overcome problems and obstacles? I know I do. Understanding that you can do better helps. Wanting to do better can save your life.
Sometimes, we are lazy about fixing stuff. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much work. The reality of life is harsh and can bring unbearable pain. Denial is much more comforting.
I can tell you that, in the past decade, many people have praised me for things I once sucked at, and that’s because somewhere along the line, someone provided me with valuable insight. I was willing to work at it, and so I benefited in the end.
Every critic is a teacher, planting seeds for our improvement and healing.
As far as I can tell, we have to keep listening to learn. On both a personal and professional level, there is always room for improvement. I am obsessed with learning more and more about things that have affected me in my life—things that tripped me up when I had to deal with them in others or myself. I want to learn all I can, not because I’m looking to point fingers but because awareness is everything. I’ve loved those big hallelujah moments where I’ve said, “Hah! So, that’s what’s been going on!” Those were game-changing, life-altering moments. I can’t help feeling grateful for every one of those opportunities.
So, fall in love with the process of learning, growing, evolving, and recovering. It helps us to succeed more and suffer less. And do it with the understanding that this is precisely how it’s supposed to go. Everything is an opportunity for growth, and even shitheads can make valid points. Embrace it. Accept it.
It’s all part of a divine process that is always happening, and we are both a part of and a child of that divinity.
Not everyone likes to plunge into that seemingly endless abyss where we face painful truths and endure the grueling process of healing.
Some deliberately avoid it, or they scatter a little bit of dirt to the side and then dart off in another direction, taking cover until they feel grounded enough to dig a little deeper.
People like us, though, we want to keep digging.
We’ve already been traumatized and shattered, you see, and, in those moments, we learned some of the best lessons of our lives. So, we know we’ll be okay. We know, too, that we are learning to love with our whole hearts.
Amazingly enough, we’ve been walking away from people that have exploited our vulnerabilities. We’ve been doing it for a while now, and we’re getting better at it. Maybe we were condemned for it, too, at one time or another, but we’d do it again in a heartbeat. You see, we know we are vulnerable. We know how vulnerable we are. That is good because before we understood this, it was easy to lead us, to fool us, and to enslave us.
We’ve become patient with our healing process, and we’re trying hard to become more patient with the healing processes of others. We’ve been around long enough to wonder what is worse— dealing with our own fears or the fear that motivates the masses.
It often seems that people don’t truly want to understand each another, or they simply want people who are different or feel differently to go away.
Letting go is easy for some; I know. For us, it is painful and confusing. Maybe the energy needed to explain isn’t there, or we’re tired of explaining, tired of the world, tired of ourselves. We examine our motives, our expectations. We don’t always like our motives. We don’t always trust our egos, and that’s a good thing. People without clarity of conscience don’t question themselves. They won’t say, “I’m glad I caught that. I can refrain. I can resist. I can do the right thing.” They’ll just keep doing what they’re doing, often not understanding what they’re doing or why.
So, yes, the world can overwhelm. It makes some of us want to keep our worlds a little smaller, and, in our broken moments, we need time to fix things in our hearts.
We will work through the sadness. In a poet’s heart, anyway, it has its honored place. We’ll embrace it, feel all of its intense beauty, and we’ll let it run its magnificent course.
Those of us who do this work and this digging do it because we’ve had it with being terrified, with trying to protect our hearts and our secrets—the image, the illusions, the payoff. We’re tired of the denial that was our sole comfort, our only way to survive. When we came to fully accept that we are all just struggling humans, equal in importance, the shame that drove us to compete and control began to dissipate.
We kept replacing false with real, and we’ve hung on to hope. It’s not as easy as living in denial, but we know we have to get better. We know we have to do better.
For what it’s worth, as I see it, the truth is never one extreme or the other. There’s a lot of gray, and we always need balance.
But just so you know? When we shut down, when we distance, when we go deep or even go away, we don’t hate you. We don’t want to hurt you. We’re grateful that you have been part of our experience. We’re grateful for what you’ve taught us. We’re grateful for every blessing we have. Our hearts are bursting with love and often joy, and we still care. We continue to root for you, no matter what, and we’re always ready to listen, ready to resolve, and ready to heal.
We all become conscious, at some point in our lives, of ways we can sabotage our physical well-beings. When it comes to sabotaging our emotional well-beings, and even our financial security and stability, things seem to become more complicated.
Brilliant individuals are sometimes incapable of motivating themselves enough to change their lives or gravitate toward the ideal. They tend to become problem-oriented rather than solution oriented, boxing themselves in with an almost unwillingness to compromise. They may set impossible goals instead of practical ones.
Maybe someone convinced them they didn’t deserve success, or they convinced themselves based on how someone made them feel about their competency or their judgment. Either way, these old tapes keep playing in their heads, telling them they can’t accomplish anything, can’t succeed, can’t win, and there’s not enough to go around. In this predicament, we fear success as much as we fear failure, because they are two sides of the same coin. We keep that coin as a reminder that we don’t trust ourselves with the dreams we cherish or the plans we’ve made.
We tell ourselves we don’t deserve success any more than we deserve money. Perhaps once we get our hands on the latter, we don’t manage it well. I’ve been there. I can attest to the fact that when you finally realize you do deserve these things, you’ll likely find yourself working your tail off, accomplishing one goal after another. We have to be rid of whatever that little voice is in our head that says we can’t do it, and we’re not good enough, and that all this is impossible. We can, we are, and it’s not.
We get into this pattern of self-pitying victimhood. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that we’ve been a victim of something or someone, or expressing anger about it, and shedding tears. We have a right to our grieving process. But sometimes we get use to the payoff—attention, pity, praise, the temporary ego fix. So instead of becoming solution oriented, we become more and more problem oriented, more and more likely to want an audience of sympathizers. And we get stuck there because solving problems would take that attention away and whatever else we get from being constantly burdened. It’s not that we don’t deserve to be comforted. It’s that we don’t move forward. We don’t get better.
This pattern normally goes hand in hand with excessive worry about people and things. Social media is a perfect example, because it mirrors life. I have seen people in a pattern of deactivating accounts only to resurface in a matter of days. Sometimes it may be that they legitimately need a break, but very often it’s because expectations are not being met. People are not responding to them in a way they could perceive as favorable. They’ve made assumptions about what people think or what someone meant, and after a considerable amount of time wasted on obsessive worrying, they take a drastic action to disengage. When they come back, it’s because they need to try it all again. They have too much riding on acceptance. It’s all self-defeating because we create unrealistic expectations, and we tend to assume wrong. Comparing and assuming tends to cause more mental anguish than is warranted or bearable. All we can do is be who we are, our ever-improving version of that.
Many stress about their looks, their bodies. Perfect is boring, and there is beauty beyond someone else’s chosen ideal. Beauty does, indeed, come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and people will have all sorts of opinions on what looks good. In fact, I realized at one point, that I never cared if someone didn’t like the hair color I chose. I knew how I wanted to look. I would never consult anyone about it, not even my significant other. So if we are trying to satisfy ourselves rather than appeal to every single person on the planet,we should set the standards for ourselvesnot appease clothing designers, the model industry, or the men who rate women on AskMen.com. Because when we’re finally okay with how we look, imperfections and all, we exude the confidence we need to get oh just about anything. And if that’s not enough, we get to focus more on being the best human we can be. When we finally love who we are, we learn to respect ourselves and treat ourselves better.
While it’s normal to want attention and approval, it’s the excessive, almost desperate need for it that can destroy us if we let it. People take unnecessary risks for the fix without realizing. They may trust the wrong people, throw caution to the wind, make excuses for bad behavior, cling to people who have repeatedly demonstrated the harm they’re capable of inflicting upon others. We don’t even realize that the payoff is attention we craved, validation we needed, admiration we couldn’t resist. Because it comes at just the right time, and creates such a bondage that we continue to crave it from a dangerous source.
Sometimes it’s less extreme. We try to be generous with people regarding our time, our attention, our praise, but we do this with relationships we don’t honestly want to nurture because we want to be nice. I find that when people want to be nice or perceived as nice, they immediately have expectations and create obligations. Then, on top of the resentment about doing something they don’t want to do, and the expectations or obligation that likely won’t be met, they go from ‘nice’ person to fire-breathing dragon in a matter of seconds. So what happens next is far from what they initially intended. People get hurt.
Well, it’s okay not to want to be friends with everyone. It’s okay to feel emotionally exhausted and want to have only genuine relationships. It’s okay to walk away when you’re not feeling it, not trusting it. It’s okay to save that overflowing generosity of spirit for those who matter to you. You can still do nice things for others along the way if you want. Quite simply, it doesn’t have to be like wearing a thorny crown while carrying a cross over your back.
I’ll say this. The more I become aware of how people think (thanks to social media), I tend not to want to meet any more people or reconnect with people from the past. I’m happy to avoid everyone outside my window… even while loving to hear them all out there—the comforting humdrum. Isolating can be a peaceful, healing thing, but it can also be another way of self-sabotaging if we don’t check it. I’ll admit, I have to push myself to get out there and deal with the world as it is, on its terms. Whether I like it or not, it’s necessary. I’ve had to accept that I’m not always going to be comfortable, and I’m not always going to be safe.
I still believe, though, we have to take our time getting to know people, especially when we are very empathetic. Because while we can recognize serious issues people have, our compassion for what they’re dealing with can override any need to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, we have to because these people can hurt you and will do so again and again. We need to pay attention. We need to be careful. We have to stop tolerating disrespect under the guise of being noble and humble. That only creates a perception of some superior self that is false. Yeah, we want to be the nice guy, but if we are real with others, we become something better than ‘nice’. We are kind.
I’ve come to believe that one of the best things we can do in life is heal the vulnerabilities that make us susceptible to all this self-sabotage. Once we find the courage to seek answers, then acknowledge, accept, feel, cry and release anger, we heal, we learn, and then we grow and evolve. It’s an ongoing thing that just keeps getting better. We deserve that.
Of course, life would be so much easier if we could make a habit of staying in the moment and being fully present in that moment. We wouldn’t be worrying about what happened yesterday or an hour ago, or what’s going to happen tomorrow. I have to remind myself constantly, but it works particularly well in moments of crisis and panic. A wise friend taught me to stay in the solution. Think about what you can do at that moment, not what you can’t do. Control what you can. Amazing how that helps.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Accept that you are vulnerable, and make peace with that.
If I had said these things to my younger self, it would not have had much of an impact. I wasn’t ready. But at some point in time, other people said these things to me, and even though I still wasn’t ready, they planted a seed. And every time someone plants a seed, he or she brings us closer to eventual healing and understanding. It certainly worked that way for me because, despite my stubbornness, I am always listening, and I always want to be a better version of me than I was yesterday.
So, last year, I read the first criticism of my work from a reviewer. Admittedly, it wasn’t scathing; she had many nice things to say, but I was able to handle that in a way that I couldn’t have all those years ago.I was curious more than anything, and I wanted to understand her point of view.
It was because, by then, I had stopped seeing myself the way I saw myself at the age of seventeen and for many years to come—as the writer, the destined one, or, ack, some kind of chosen one. I had come to accept that I am one writer in an endless sea of writers— just another voice in the choir.
Some people don’t like this perspective—at all. Back then, I would not have liked it either.
I’ve heard, in response, “You have to take yourself seriously or no one else will, right?”
Oh yes, for sure, but we can be serious, and we can be too serious. For me, the shift in perspective, from taking myself too seriously to taking myself just seriously enough has worked well.
When we see ourselves as a part of everything and not the center of everything, we begin to want for others what we want for ourselves—success! We’re not in competition for that because we know there is enough to go around. When we’re taking ourselves too seriously, those other people do not exist except as competitors. It’s about us and us only, so whatever happens to us is more important than what happens to everyone else. Less than favorable outcomes are magnified and often unbearable.
It helps to take it down a few notches and strive for a little humility. That includes checking ourselves and questioning the motivation behind decisions we make.
It’s not as hard as it sounds, and, eventually, it becomes a part of who we are.
By striving to keep my ego in check, I’m in a better position to handle criticisms and failures because I don’t have to prove I am beyond reproach. I haven’t placed myself up on a pedestal where I see myself as superior to and separate from others. I don’t believe I am so important that my haters are just sitting around watching and waiting to laugh at me when I fail. If they are, then they’re wasting precious time and won’t be able to achieve very much in their lives.
What this mind shift does is; it gives us permission to be vulnerable—permission from ourselves because no one else is stopping us. Then, instead of worrying about what others will think, we just write from the heart. We focus on learning to master our craft—something we absolutely cannot do when we think we already have it all down.
Of course, we all want praise. We want the glowing five-star reviews. There‘s nothing more gratifying than knowing your work has touched someone profoundly or thoroughly entertained as intended.
Friends kindly remind us that we all face rejection and that no one is above criticism. That’s true; someone has criticized every successful writer we know. But hearing that is not quite as comforting as it’s intended to be, so we secretly hope to be the exception.
We might be—if we tiptoe around—if we ask only our friends for reviews. We’ll get fewer reviews, but they’ll all be five-stars, right? On the other hand, if we want to reach millions of readers, we have to throw ourselves fearlessly into the arena, making ourselves more vulnerable to criticism.
Writer friends have said to me, “But, what about the internet trolls?”
Well, the truth is, people who take themselves too seriously are the perfect target for trolls. They are the ones who will argue with the trolls, thinking they will somehow get that person to sympathize or agree. It won’t happen because trolls lack empathy, or, let’s face it, they wouldn’t be trolls. If they know they’ve upset you, they will continue to provoke you. You can’t get caught up in the futility of that.
At the same time, not everyone who doesn’t like your work is a troll. There is legitimate criticism. We can get it from beta readers, good editors, and yes, honest reviews.
When it comes to betas and editors, we want that person who will say, about a particular scene, “You can do better than that.” We get lazy sometimes even with so much at stake. It’s wonderful to hear someone say, simply, “Oh, it’s great, I love it!” But if you’re still trying to iron out the kinks in your story, that’s not going to help you. I want to know where they got confused, where they got bored, what annoyed them, what characters they liked and didn’t like. That will help me determine whether I’m getting the effect I want. Not everyone will agree, of course, so it helps to get several people looking at your work—people who are not afraid to be objective and possibly upset you. Personally, I will not beta read for most people because I know I will give the honesty that I’d want myself, and I realize not everyone can handle that. I have gotten upset myself once, but I got over it fast. We don’t always have to agree with someone’s criticism, but we need to be open to it.
My beta readers have me laughing hysterically with some of their comments, especially with things that need fixing or clarifying. A simple, “Really?” or “Seriously?” can have me in a fit of giggles. The times we are laughing together on the phone or in person are the most fun. Even if they say, “This guy sounds like a douche,” I’m only going to be concerned if he’s not supposed to be sounding like a douche, and then we talk that stuff out. A bit of lightheartedness and a good sense of humor is key.
In an early draft that I wrote many years ago, I had decided to start at the beginning of my character’s life. By page 455, she was still twelve! I can’t help laughing now about how ridiculous that was. I had so much to learn about brutal editing (cut, cut, cut), where to begin a story, proper outlining, etc., and I’m still learning!
In my latest book, Shattering Truths, I was anal about how I wanted to tell this story. It is deep and personal, not my story, but a story about things I had witnessed over the years and one that had become very precious to my heart. It’s hard to be flexible when you are that emotionally involved, and, honestly, we become emotionally involved in all of our books, so we are incredibly biased. I needed feedback, and then, simply, to let go of what wasn’t working.
The truth is, we never stop learning, and there is always room to improve! I’m sure even the most successful writers would admit that, so it helps to embrace the learning process. Our confidence will increase as we evolve.
It’s all about honesty and integrity, and just being the best you can be. 🙂
Most of us are not turning over cars, damaging property, or advocating violence, and most of us would not be doing that regardless of the outcome. Yes, some people are doing it, just like some people threatened to overthrow the government in a bloody revolution if we had the opposite outcome.
But revolutions are not usually peaceful. They are ugly, and I have no doubt it would be just as ugly or worse if Hillary Clinton had won.
People pretend not to understand why protesters are so alarmed.
Here’s a short version.
White supremacists are celebrating! They believe this is a victory for their agenda. They feel validated in their narcissistic delusion that they are superior to other races. They can hardly wait to begin intimidating, bullying, and oppressing minorities. Others are happy as pigs in shit because they believe apathy has won, and they don’t even have to pretend to care about or acknowledge the rights of others. They can lay their head down on their pillows every night and take comfort in the belief that they will be safe and protected.
Many of our fellow citizens are not feeling safe and protected right now. Only a week ago, Trump supporters didn’t feel that way either. It’s why they voted for Trump, so though they pretend not to understand, they should.
Instead, they tell us to get over it.
How about this— we will get over bigotry about the same time people get over their need to discriminate, oppress, and devalue others. Does that sound fair?
Were they crybabies for the past eight years every time they spouted off about President Obama? People constantly made disgusting racist remarks about our president, his wife, and his children.
It amazes me that many who felt they’d been denied free speech simply because others responded unfavorably to things they’ve said are now telling us, just shut up. Yes, just shut up, even though they will never shut up about things that don’t meet their approval. No free speech now, unless it is for me. Me, me, me, that’s how it seems to work. Make America great for me and the hell with everyone else.
Those who abhor political correctness now want you to be politically correct in showing nothing but admiration and support for their candidate, even though President Obama could not get that throughout his two terms in office. It is the constant double standard.
You don’t get to tell people to unite and support the president-elect if you are mocking and shaming them for how they feel. Your attitude is not unifying. Nor is the president-elect’s choice of a white supremacist wife beater as his chief strategist. He needs to be a unifying voice, not someone crying on Twitter about the unfairness of the protests. We’re not going to allow him or anyone else to normalize bigotry. It’s not normal, and it’s not acceptable.
One commenter on a forum said the people have spoken, thus proving they don’t care about the rights of women and minorities. The truth is, the people have spoken, and Trump did not win the popular vote. His opponent was over a million votes ahead at the last count. So yes, a lot of people do share our concerns and, sadly, we still have a country divided on whether we should treat everyone with kindness and decency.
Generally speaking, do people even want to get along with those who don’t share their views, their race, their religion? If we look back throughout history, it’s always been a battle of egos or madness propelled by fear, men willing to risk everything for dominance in the world. I suppose this will continue until there is no more world left to conquer.
Think seriously, too, about whether you want to go back hundreds of years to when people were a thousand times more callous toward anyone with an affliction or anyone they considered beneath them. Ignorance was no excuse even then. No one is above anyone else. With ego and apathy run amok, we could devolve once again into a world of barbaric savagery.
So, yes, this is devastating. It’s heartbreaking. It sucks. Many of us felt we were moving to a higher level of consciousness, and we are stunned.
We have made so much progress in advocating awareness, in fighting to end the silence, stigma, and oppression, yet our leader will be someone who mocks the oppressed and the afflicted. One of his supporters told people concerned about rape culture to “grow up.” The president-elect has called soldiers with PTSD “weak.” Unfortunately, narcissists can’t see this as a problem, because they lack empathy. So, what are young people learning about how to treat women, minorities, and the disabled? I hope their parents will teach them what consent means since many are eager to point out that sexual assault is okay because Beyoncé dances around in skimpy clothes and women use foul language. I lost track of the excuses. These young males could be the future Brock Turners of the world who will one day shockingly discover the world does not revolve around them and their needs. Except they may not escape justice as easily.
My belief has always been; when fellow human beings share their excruciating pain about injustice, assault, or oppression, we need to listen. It’s not the time to talk about yourself or other things going on that you feel deserve attention. It’s not the time to get defensive or feel resentment. It’s not the time to talk about when it doesn’t happen or all the other wonderful things the culprits do. Simply put, there is injustice in the world, plenty of it, and when it’s there, we can’t ignore it.
As far as coping, we’ll put one foot in front of the other, and we’ll take it one day at a time. We won’t waste our time arguing with Internet trolls. Trolls don’t care about the points you concede on. They won’t appreciate your being fair-minded and open to debate. Trolls will not have compassion for your heartfelt statements or your disappointment. Simply put, they don’t care how you feel. They just want to torment anyone who does not fully support what they wish to believe.
Yes, we got thrown back, but we’ll move forward again. Let’s lead by example. Continue to love hard, love fiercely, and be kind. We are warriors, and the fight is never over.
I know what it’s like when your mind doesn’t stop – the thoughts, the ideas, the worries, the obsessions. Many people struggle, and I think it’s important to not only acknowledge that, but to share how we have been conquering one battle after another. It tells others they are not alone in their struggles; that things can and do get better.
The shame many of us live with often begins in childhood where we are not able to sort out what is ours to claim and what is not. Ultimately, the combination of what is ours and what we take on as ours can be difficult to bear.
Some people, in the throes of their hidden shame, are afraid to be seen authentically, and maybe even afraid to see others as they are and allow them to shine. The serpent that bedevils us is ego. It is an ongoing effort to keep that sucker reigned in and right-sized.
Shame traps people in a fear of failure/fear of success mindset, two sides of the same coin. The result is the same, more ridicule and shame. Many feel they don’t deserve success, and there are some who pacify themselves believing that others don’t deserve it either.
But we all are all capable of learning from our mistakes, growing, changing, and finding happiness. It depends on whether we heal or not. External validation is a temporary fix until we resolve things internally. Past turmoil is a boulder we carry everywhere we go. Some hold it up forever while others chip it away, one piece at a time.
We heal when we come to believe we deserve better, and we do. For some, that healing takes a long time and some, sadly, never heal.
But if the process of healing has begun in another, patience is key, as beautifully expressed in this piece by Jeff Brown @ http://soulshaping.com/
“Emotional armor is not easy to shed, nor should it be. It has formed for a reason- as a requirement for certain responsibilities, as a conditioned response to real circumstances, as a defense against unbearable feelings. It has served an essential purpose. It has saved lives. Yet it can be softened over time. It can melt into the tender nest at its core. It can reveal the light at its source. But never rush it, never push up against it, never demand it to drop its guard before its time. Because it knows something you don’t. In a still frightening world, armor is no less valid than vulnerability. Let it shed at its own unique pace.”
We have no idea about anyone else’s pain. We don’t know how hard they’ve tried to bear it. Addiction and obsession will distort perspectives and impair judgment, and addiction and obsession are not simply about narcotics or alcohol. The world we live in and the circumstances of our lives heighten sensitivity, and it all begins when we are too small to comprehend it.
People suffering from lower back pain often ask me how I manage scoliosis and lumbar spine disk disease, because I do manage it, despite having a disk determined to be “shot” rendering me a bad candidate for back surgery. One doctor told me I would end up in a wheelchair, but I haven’t had a back episode in years, and I do not take or need pain medication of any kind.
As an advocate of healing mind, body, and soul from all trauma, I hate to see people suffer, so I’m happy to pass along what has worked for me.
I am not a doctor or any authority on health. I’m just someone who has learned a lot through experience and from chiropractors who are willing to teach you what you need to know. These solutions won’t be enough for everyone dealing with pain, but most of it will help tremendously, and it will certainly help people who are in a situation similar to mine.
Let’s start with the mental stuff. I read somewhere that I needed to change my relationship with pain. If this sounds hokey, it’s not. I learned that while I could endure almost unbearable emotional pain, the biggest fears I had were things that could lead to physical pain. I was terrified of physical pain. I wanted to be comfortable all the time and couldn’t accept being uncomfortable ever. I feared it so much; it caused anxiety, and that only made things worse.
Changing my relationship with pain required getting to a place where I could accept when I was uncomfortable and hurting. I needed to remind myself that I wasn’t the only person on earth this was happening to, that aches and pains were normal, in fact, and people deal with it all the time. I also came to recognize that the physical pain I had was not solely a result of this inevitable thing inflicted upon me by some disorder I had no control over; it was my body telling me that something needed attention. Something I was doing or not doing needed to change. I hadn’t realized how reckless I’d been with my body throughout my life, never giving it the tender loving care it deserved. I needed to take care of it and take care of myself, and I needed to know I was worth that. This realization helped, as did the relaxed attitude of seeing myself as just another person on the planet dealing with something unpleasant and seeing myself as a more confident, take-charge person who could address and remedy situations. It means not only learning to love yourself but to trust and believe in yourself as well.
So let’s talk about treating the pain.
I don’t know about you, but I used to panic whenever I felt pain. It made me want to stop everything and get to a place where I could lie down and stay there. That’s a good time to stay away from coffee and sugar. These days, I don’t have to avoid coffee or sugar if I’m feeling a little off, because I understand how everything works, and I don’t panic. Until you get to that place, avoid those things when you’re feeling vulnerable.
Now, for me, ice treatments are everything. A chiropractor taught me to lay on my stomach with a small pillow rolled under my navel to elevate the lower half of my body and then put the ice pack right in the middle of my lower back (no matter where the pain is). Another way is to lie on your back with a pillow under your legs and the ice in the middle of your lower back, never less than twelve minutes, never more than twenty, and the ice pack should have a sheath. If you don’t have a wrap for it, you can put it over your thin T-shirt rather than under it, but it should never be directly on your skin. While in the worst pain where I could barely move, I did twenty minutes of ice every two hours. People who can’t stand ice can use heat, but it’s best to do ice at least for the first couple of days to reduce the inflammation. I rarely have to do an ice treatment now, but I try to do one at least once a week. It just feels good. 🙂
I do have an ice pack I can use at my desk, too, with a wraparound belt that has a pocket for the ice. I bought an extra one to take to the office with me when I worked for a law firm. I kept the ice in their refrigerator and the belt in my desk.
Years ago, I used back braces. They help but can also be a crutch, so it’s good if you use them as needed and wean yourself away as you can.
There are those who can’t function without pain medication, and I understand that. Back when I was struggling, I took Tylenol every four to five hours for days until I was better. That worked to reduce the inflammation, and there were occasions doctors had prescribed stronger medications. However, even Tylenol and Advil are getting a bad rap these days, so for people like me who don’t want to use these medications, I’m including a link below about natural alternatives.
A lot of time, too, our neck is out of whack, and it throws everything off. Take a small pillow or towel and roll it up tight, lie on your back and put that pillow behind your neck. Relax like that for twenty minutes or so whenever needed.
As for prevention, you may already know some or all of these things, but since I run into so many people who don’t know, I’ll cover it all.
First, having a solid abdominal core is essential. For some people, this means changing eating habits, making healthier choices, but others who may not necessarily be out of shape can still have weak cores. In my experience, I would always exercise but then stop for weeks when I felt any pain and slowly rebuild my strength. I was also causing injury by not doing the exercises correctly. While it’s true that you shouldn’t exercise while you are in pain or to the point of pain, sometimes the pain issue is resolved within a day. The trick is to get back on track when you can, even if you can only manage pelvic tilts. When your core is strong, your back is not so vulnerable. For people who can’t get to a gym, there are great exercise tapes on the market. You can do your workouts at home, and the instructors tell you how to do it right, so you aren’t injured. Ideally, you want to work all the muscles in your body, and you want to include strength training, yoga, Pilates, and aerobics in your routine. However, if you don’t have a lot of time to work out, you can at least do abdominal exercises five times a week for ten to fifteen minutes.
I mentioned that pain sometimes resolves itself within a day. I’m talking about food digestion. Very often, the pain people feel in their lower back comes from being bloated and unable to digest food. If this is going on for days, maybe you’re not drinking enough water. I try to drink eight to ten glasses daily. When people get older, they need to add more fiber to their diets.
When my back problems began, one of the first things my doctor told me was to stop lifting my toddler and bending at the waist to pick up his toys and all that. You should always bend at the knees anyway.
If you have back issues, it won’t help you to stay in any one position for too long. That sucks, I know—especially if you have to sit all day at work. Get up and stretch when you can. It’s the same with standing and walking. If you have to stand a long time, walk around a little or sit when you can. A mile-long walk is usually fine but can backfire if you’re hurting. Lying in bed for days isn’t good either. When you are injured, you can’t help that, but as soon as you can, get up every so often and walk a little farther and for a little longer each time.
Everyone knows it’s important to stretch after exercising, but when you have lower back issues, you can take time to stretch even when you’re not beginning or ending a workout.I have a big purple Pilates ball that I can use for stretching at home. You don’t need one to do stretches, but they’re awesome, and they usually come with instruction on how to use them.
Your doctor may have already told you that you need a good mattress and to get a restful sleep every night.
Your back should always be flat against the chair you’re sitting in, no space between your back and the chair. You’ll probably find chairs with arms and high backs to be more comfortable and supportive. I also use a lower back pillow when I’m working at my desk.
All this may sound like a lot of upkeep, but it’s a lifestyle change and becomes second nature to you once you get used to it, so please don’t be discouraged, or give up. Believe me; I know how debilitating this can be, so I don’t want you to suffer for years as I did.
It began as a typical Friday afternoon, working at home on my books, breaking every so often for a workout, a stretch, some cleaning, or a meal. I finished lunch but the TV was still on, and when I happened to glance at it, notice of a tornado warning trailed at the bottom of the screen—in effect until ten p.m.
I always get nervous about these things. We’ve had them, but they are so rare here in New York that I still associate tornadoes with Kansas and Oz and okay maybe Texas.
My son, Jesse, would be on his way over soon, so I went on a detail-seeking mission, like what time exactly might this event occur and the exact percentage of its likelihood. The internet said it was a watch, not a warning. Still, I wanted to know how fast it could change from watch to warning. I was obsessed.
Once Jesse arrived, things just about returned to normal. I was making a honey mustard/barbecue chicken stir fry (always so delicious over couscous.) The place was lamp-lit with the a/c on, nice and cozy, and I was listening to the rain. Then, in my still “kind of nervous” rushing around, I managed to drop half a box of the couscous all over the kitchen floor.
I had another box—good thing. (I’m so prepared.)
But we have this thing about bugs. Jesse always had a slight phobia when it came to insects or rodents. As for me, well I just don’t want to see them crawling or watch them die. My place has been a pest-free zone. Seriously, I have not seen a bug since I moved in here two years ago. Jesse had always been appalled at the notion that they could casually stroll in like a guest, and I’d be all like oh, damn, the thing has to suffer a horrible death now. I can’t have that.
So I had to get every single morsel of that couscous off the floor because bugs. I thought it would be a quick vacuum, and that would do the trick, but it managed to get under the oven, so we had to move that. Still not a huge deal, but my son has this way of catastrophizing that is right on par with my anxiety. Every time I thought I had finished, he’d be like, no there’s a truckload more under there or a ton more under that thing. I was arguing there wasn’t even a truckload or a ton in the box to begin with! A lot of it did manage to get wedged under the cabinet on both sides, though, so I had to lay down and reach under with utensils and paper towels until every trace of it was gone. Meanwhile, Jesse managed to get a paper towel sucked up into the vacuum and had to take the whole thing apart to get it out. We laughed, and I cautioned him about getting the fork sucked up and confiscated it so that couldn’t happen.
This unanticipated ordeal took about an hour, but it got done, and soon after, dinner was on the table, which looked a lot like this:
Despite everything, it came out great, and after that, we sat down to binge watch “How I Met Your Mother.” I bought that whole series along with “Big Bang Theory,” because I love funny stuff, and laughter is everything.
So with the disk loading up now, my son turns to me with this really serious look on his face and says, “So now a tornado is coming to finish us off?”
I laughed for ten minutes.
Yes, now that we survived the zombie apocalypse, Armageddon and all—
And there was no tornado, but clearly, panicking and catastrophizing never really does any good.
I know there is an established difference between empaths and highly empathetic people, but I prefer to discuss this topic without suggesting where I or anyone else might be on that spectrum.
To be honest, I remain skeptical about the paranormal. I question the metaphysical aspect of having the high level of empathy that makes you difficult to be around at times. Please bear in mind, when you have been that way since childhood, it feels like the most natural response one could have, even when it’s uncomfortable. It’s instinctive and, in my estimation, shouldn’t be at all peculiar, except that we live in such an apathetic world.
Some people have even linked a high level of empathy with codependence.
As far as I’m concerned, codependency is not about empathy. It’s about obsession. In the relationship between a drug addict or alcoholic and a generally sober enabler, both people are suffering from addictions. Both have their agenda, and what contributes to the endless cycle of repeat behavior is due partly to the codependent’s lack of empathy, however justifiable in many instances. The pressing needs of a codependent will consistently override any desire or need he or she may have to be authentic. They may believe what they do is simply out of love or out of concern, but it’s always about their dysfunction. Dysfunction gets in the way of any healthy response.
Very empathetic people can become codependent, but anyone can. Does being very empathetic put you at greater risk? I’d say so. And I think people who have suffered trauma and abuse are more likely to be very empathetic or codependent. But codependence is at odds with empathy, in my opinion, and can ultimately destroy it. I say this as a recovering codependent, and I will say, too, that as people learn to manage and overcome codependency, empathy returns like a long-lost son and in glorious triumph.
As for the whole empath/empathy deal, I can’t speak for all, but I can relay my experience and that of two other people I know.
We get angry at people who display a horrific lack of empathy, because we’ve experienced this on some level, whether it was a lack of empathy for us or others, and we continue to experience it happening to us and others. Every incident, regardless of who suffers has an unshakable impact that stays with us for a lifetime. So, yeah, don’t look for a sweet little halo-sporting cherub. Think dragon.
We never feel we can do enough, and yes sometimes the overwhelming realization may shut us down for a moment or a lifetime. I have seen people completely shut down, and it’s very hard to reach them, to break through the wall.
Waves of energy we feel in crowds and group settings make us want to bolt. We notice everything with people—every nuance, every change of tone, the body language. Certain situations can be excruciatingly painful. We can’t shake the feeling of distress after the person is gone or after we’ve gone, and can become physically or emotionally ill for hours, days, sometimes weeks.
We learn that we may need to avoid some people and we often feel sorry for those people, and we feel guilty, even if it’s a situation they created and continued to perpetuate. Setting the boundaries we need to set hurts them—the last thing we want to do. So, quite often, we feel like horrible people. We feel selfish.
By the way, codependents would remain in those situations, thinking they are doing the right thing. They’ll be the martyrs but for all the wrong reasons, and they’ll fully expect their rewards.
Anyway, back to the empaths or the empathetic, our acquaintances (and sometimes our loved ones) get sick of us feeling genuinely sorry for everyone. They get frustrated with our childlike wish that everyone can be happy and healed. They might find it laughable that we could never take pleasure in ‘karma’ even if we know someone deserves punishment. They can’t believe that we shudder to think of what might happen to these people, that we couldn’t witness it if someone offered us a front row seat.
Is it more human to be this way or less human? I don’t know, but I realize some people have had their humanity stripped from them, thanks to the abuse of others. While they may make me angry and in certain circumstances, hate them, there’s no real desire for revenge. I just hope the problem gets resolved so that they can’t hurt anyone again.
As for me, I feel fortunate to have been able to hang on to this empathy thing throughout all the madness of life, I wouldn’t trade it. And I don’t know if it’s admirable or absurd, but we are the lucky ones. Our empathy won in the end—the empathy that makes us believe we need to keep getting better as people. We continuously seek to heal and to evolve. We forever try to learn about others, and ourselves, and we share our discoveries. What’s wrong with that? It has saved many others and me.
Anxiety was a tiny flower that grew in the deep shade of my childhood’s fairy tale garden. As it curled open, its petals were an exploding snap of OCD, situational panic disorder, and slight claustrophobia/agoraphobia. I also exhibited signs of Asperger’s and, by my late teens, had developed BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) which peaked in the decade that followed.
I’ve read that people with BDD see themselves as ugly and obsess over perceived defects. As far as I’m concerned, that’s too broad. Since BDD is an obsession, it is an addiction, which means your perception concerning this issue remains distorted, and your judgment is impaired. It’s an ongoing narcissistic conflict of hating/loving oneself and disguising inferiority with superiority. You do convince yourself you are beautiful sometimes. Other times, you believe you are hideous, and it is all a distorted mess. Almost everywhere you turn, you come face to face with twisted, seemingly demonic mirrors that have no mercy.
Well-meaning compliments from others are great, but they don’t stick. I mean, people would tell me I should be a model. The funny thing about people is, they will admire something about you and say you should be this or do that. Then when you become that thing, it’s like, who do you think you are, and why do you think you’re good enough to do that? It becomes another source of rejection and shame.
Anyway, the preoccupation I had with body image led to excessive grooming. I wouldn’t even answer the door if I wasn’t wearing make-up. Without realizing, I had set an impossible standard for myself that didn’t apply to others— as though I were somehow superior. It was an inferiority complex turned inside out—two sides of the same coin. Then, after all the effort exerted in trying to look perfect, I didn’t necessarily have fun. I worried about how I looked. I made several trips to the restroom to check myself in the mirror.
Of course, I gave a lot of thought to how all this developed. Sure, in my life, there was trauma and emotional conflict, plenty of that. There seemed to be an unusual amount of criticism directed at me, including the plain silliness of other kids taunting, laughing. It would make sense that I’d want, at least, the delusion of control over everything. But it went deeper than that. I had a few narcissistic abusers that were a constant presence in my life. Narcissism develops over time in response to narcissistic abuse. You learn to hate yourself until you can create the ‘false’ self that you believe is more acceptable. Sometimes you create strategies that help you cope and enable you to survive until you no longer need them.
Awareness and acceptance helps. For me, it’s always been, oh, I didn’t realize that was an issue, but since it is, I’ll fix it. It takes time and requires ongoing maintenance, but I do feel, in the general sense, we are bigger than the obstacles that derail us, and we have much more power than we realize. I’m not talking about chemical imbalances or illnesses beyond anyone’s control. I’m talking about things that were only beyond my control when I didn’t understand them.
Hey, I grew up with people saying, oh you’re a Scorpio, you hold grudges. You can’t forgive. At first, I thought this was a free pass to punish everyone with mad vindictiveness. Then it occurred to me, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t have to be anything I didn’t want to be. And today, I am ridiculously forgiving. People close to me find it mind-boggling. It’s nothing heroic. As long as we have empathy for others, we can rise above what weighs us down. Once you get to that point where you can no longer feel empathy, there is little hope for change.
Today, the constant need I had for reassurance and validation has dissipated along with uncontrollable urges to solicit compliments from others. I can go to lunch or dinner with someone and never leave the table. If I do, it’s strictly business. I may glance in the mirror while washing my hands, but I’m back at the table within five minutes. I’m able to stay in the moment, present for every precious exchange. I love, too, that I can run all over town without makeup. People seem just as attracted and accepting, but the important thing is, it doesn’t matter if they like it or not. I’ve managed to become authentic, and that’s everything to me! People who have always been authentic may sneer at that. Honestly, some people don’t want to understand, and that’s their problem. As an aside, I do still hate posting photos of myself. Praise triggers an uncomfortable reminder of needing validation in the past, being in bondage. It feels awkward. There is still the part of me, too, that hates any representation of me, so I haven’t been able to disconnect entirely from that obsession, but I’m working on it.
You know, most people dealing with this won’t talk about it, at least not publicly. Why would they? It’s another shameful thing. People all over the world are in far worse circumstances, and we seem preoccupied with the most ridiculous of the ridiculous. In part, that may be true, but the underlying fear is that you will never be loved for who are, which equates to you will never be loved, period. That seems to be one of the things people fear most in life, almost a fate worse than death, and many young people out there are killing themselves for that. So while I may be alright, there are many out there who have no idea how they’ll make it through another day. Whatever we can do to help them toward the light in the darkness can mean the difference between giving up and holding on.
Nothing sounds more appealing to me than the idea of being gentle and loving with everyone and everything. I have always believed compassion might be the only thing that could save us. But even taking out of the equation all the obvious monsters who consciously seek to harm others, there are the covert narcissists and emotional manipulators who make life a treacherous, thorn-filled path.
They might be friends, lovers, relatives, people on social media. They often manage to collect a legion of devoted followers in life, and those devotees feel sorry for them whenever they are slighted in any way. In the meantime, it may take you a long time to recover from your experience with them. It’s called narcissistic abuse, and he or she is not worth it.
Have you ever dealt with an online troll? It’s the same thing on a larger scale because these people mean something to you. And they are trolls. They bait others to get a rise out of them. They personalize everything, and when pushed to the extreme, resort to shameless displays of self-pity and ultimately lash out in their uncontrolled narcissistic rage. Much of what they do is to offend or hurt you, and it’s always about them getting to feel better about themselves.
So what is the best advice on dealing with trolls? Don’t deal with them! Don’t deal with them at all. Because if you think they are ever going to feel empathy for you, be accountable, or change, they are not. It’s scary how much they don’t feel for the people they target—like they don’t have any conscience at all.
These narcissists may boast that they are kind, even humble, and they believe everyone should notice and acknowledge their kindness. They are not kind. They are “nice” with an agenda. There’s a difference. I have seen them shame people for not responding the way they wanted which further proves it was never about those people or their concern for those people. It was about others perceiving them the way they wanted others to perceive them. And you ruined that because it’s your job to reinforce the nice image they have created for themselves. They say they were thinking about you, or they wanted to include you out of the goodness of their hearts, but they are desperate and helplessly addicted to approval, attention, admiration, and constant validation that they are superior to everyone else on the planet—flawless and special in every regard.
They make assumptions about others and then base their behavior on these assumptions. They want to believe the worst about you. In the past, when people like this began acting weird with me, I would ask them what was wrong. The answer was always the same. Nothing happened. Nothing is wrong. They deny whatever you experienced.
I ultimately decided, if someone seems to have a problem, and I know I’ve done nothing wrong, it is that person’s responsibility to bring the issue to me. If they don’t care enough about me to do that, then I don’t care why they’re mad. It is a waste of time and energy and often a dangerous game. You can’t trust them to be honest and treat you fairly, and you will never know where you stand with them.
They know how to turn the tables on you, how to take advantage, how to play one person against another, how to get you to feel guilty, feel sorry for them, want to help them, etc. They know how to trash you to others when they don’t get what they want from you and how to get others to believe them. They will smear your name or participate in smear campaigns against you, gladly throw you under the bus, and attempt to destroy you. At the very least, they will stand by while others do it, and say nothing, do nothing. Being popular is more important to the narcissist than you are.
If you have high aspirations and influence, they do not want you to succeed and won’t support you. They don’t even want to see others support you. They can support what they perceive to be mediocre, average, struggling, stressed-out people whose lives are a mess and only because they comfort themselves with the knowledge that those people are not better than they are. It would be wonderful if they truly were kind, empathetic people who genuinely care that people are in pain. However, everything they do is a show to keep up the ‘image.’ And if any of those stressed out, struggling people begin to get too much attention, say because of some horrific tragedy, the narcissist might become resentful. How dare anyone steal his or her thunder!
Narcissists and emotional manipulators don’t necessarily know they are manipulating people or what their problem is. Yes, many of them do, but some are not even consciously aware that they consistently disrespect you. It’s because they are agenda-driven. They are virtual slaves to their emotions. They see themselves as the victims. People are not behaving the way they want. People are not agreeing with them, whether it’s religion, politics, or whatever. And they will forgive the unforgivable before they ever forgive you for not helping them to maintain this image in their heads of themselves as perfect and right and good all the time. With healthy people, you can discuss things and accept most differences in opinion, and you can still love each other. That does not work with narcissists. They need allies and constant validation.
I get that they are unhappy. I do. I know too well how these people got to where they are. When I was at my lowest low, I was oblivious as far as my shortcomings and the many masks I wore. I had to accept my flaws, every one of them and vow to keep working on them. So, I can sympathize. Of course, I wish everyone could be happy, so they could all be kind to each other, but too many broken people out there will never figure out what their problem is, and they will never heal. And the bottom line is, it’s not good for a person’s self-esteem to keep tolerating behavior like that. Some bridges need to be burned for our safety and sanity. I’ve become a great believer in love from afar. Yes, keep sending love—from far, far away. Anonymously. Maybe they’ll get it one day. Until then, you need to protect yourself.
Way before my parenting days, I had only one reason for never giving up. It was the simple fact that one moment or one day could change everything. In the toughest times, I never forgot that. As long as I could take a breath, there was hope.
It often happens too, that after much worry and upset, after coming to the most catastrophic conclusions, everything turns out okay. Either that or we realize we were mistaken or had misunderstood. Still we probably had a horrible day or a horrible week. Maybe the whole weekend was horrible because of how we felt. We had wasted time and energy and for nothing, a time we would never get back. We could have been making precious memories instead.
These had been great reminders throughout my life, always helping me to bounce back, but how do we get to such a place? I recently stumbled upon this wonderful article by writer and motivational speaker, James Nussbaumer:
The James Nussbaumer piece is also another take on staying in the moment, and as important as it is, no matter how many times we’ve heard it, it’s so easy to forget. Egos get in the way. Attitudes get in the way. We let everything get in the way.
Another beautiful gift we have, however, is the ongoing ability to change our perspective any time we want.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.” -Charles Swindoll