Every day, something reminds me of how vital it is for us to heal and recover from all trauma and harm and the consequences of subsequent obsessions.
I read something yesterday that said we should treat everyone like they are sacred until they begin to believe they are. That would be the ideal way to live, wouldn’t it? It would certainly solve a lot of problems in our world, individually and collectively. I’d love to commit myself to that. I’m certainly going to try, and, of course, I’ll need to remind myself always. It’s so easy to be impatient with people, but we all could use a little patience from others. We’re trying. We’re doing our best. Breaking the cycle of continuous damage to ourselves is a divine process.
I’m sending love to everyone and wishing you the very best, an abundance of all good things! Stay safe and well. ❤️
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?”
It was dark when I turned up Cricket Lane. A thin level of fog had developed with the cooling air. There was nothing to light the wooded path except the sun’s golden gleam reflected by a waxing gibbous moon. I’d been walking fast or running. I kept looking over my shoulder.
Passing the little white church, I could see a group of teenagers inside the cemetery—three standing and one slumped over a tombstone.
I could see it was Robbie. He jerked his head and tried to rise but fell back over the stone. He couldn’t open his eyes.
“What did he take?” I demanded.
No one spoke immediately. They appeared stunned that an eleven-year-old girl would come here alone in search of her brother.
“Tuinals,” the one female answered at last.“Maybe five …”
“Oh, God … Robbie?” I shook him. “Are you guys just going to stand there? Help me get him out of here!”
The two males flanked him and made a bungling attempt to pull him along.
“Danielle?” Robbie called out to me in a faint voice. He stumbled, nearly dropping to the ground.
His hair was in a shaggy style back then that had bangs swept off to the side. Those bangs now hung over his eyes.
I reached for him as his handlers tightened their grip. “I’m taking him home.” There was an authoritative air in my tone, mingled with impatience.
“I don’t think so,” the girl responded. “If your parents see him, he’ll be screwed.”
“My parents are not home yet.”
“We’ll take him somewhere to sleep it off.” It was the guy on Robbie’s left talking.
“You can’t!” I yelled. “If you do that, he’ll die!”
I don’t know where that notion came from, but I believed it and evidently convinced him as well. He offered to help. We anchored Robbie by his arms across our shoulders. All the way home, Robbie kept mumbling, stumbling, and calling my name.
“I’m here,” I answered him.
We dragged him along, passing familiar homes decorated with pumpkins, skeletons, and tombstones. My mom had decorated our house, too, and I could see the lights on when we got there. Joey appeared in the doorway, likely worried about not finding me home, and ready to go looking for me.
“Help him up!” I shouted. “I’m calling 911.”
Joey hastened down the stairs and took my side of Robbie as I ran ahead. They brought Robbie to my grandmother’s room and laid him down to rest on her bed.
I nervously rattled off the details to a dispatcher and hung up the phone.
“Don’t sleep,” I beseeched him upon my return.
“Why can’t I sleep?” Robbie slurred.
I could see the concern in Joey’s eyes. He stood close to the bed now, trusting my instincts.
“Where’d his friend go?” I asked.
“He took off, but he told me about the pills,” Joey said. “Where’d you find him?”
“A bunch of kids … I didn’t recognize them, but they knew him. They knew me. They told me they saw him heading toward the cemetery with two guys holding him up, and he was in bad shape.”
“You went to the cemetery?”
“I was five minutes away, halfway down Angie’s block.”
I normally left Angie’s house before it got dark, but we got busy creating a scrapbook of our teen idols, and I hadn’t noticed the time.
He shook his head disapprovingly. “What’s his problem, man?”
Robbie’s breathing was slow. He seemed oblivious to his surroundings, barely hanging onto consciousness. Rosary beads dangled over one side of the headboard. A nativity scene on a plaque loomed above. I sat on the bed. “Robbie told me a funny story about this one day in church, during Benediction, when he thought he was getting that calling to be a priest. Right, Rob? See, it was the fumes from the incense making your head all fuzzy. They would never call you to be a priest.”
He was fading fast, so I sat him upright, holding onto him.
“Stay awake!” I yelled.
“Stay awake, Rob,” Joey echoed, shaking his shoulders.
“Don’t fall asleep,” I told him. “Talk to me.”
“About what, Dan?”
I heard sirens. It wasn’t long before the emergency technicians descended upon him.
“What did he take?” The paramedic who asked this question was the only black man—a hulking figure with a warm voice and the sweetest, most caring, eyes.
“Tuinals,” I told him, “maybe five.”
“Has he done this before?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Are you all siblings?”
“What’s his name?”
He spoke to my brother. “Robbie? What’s going on? Do you know where you are?”
I watched as they examined him. I saw them shine a light into both of his eyes.
“Yes,” my brother said.
“And where’s that?”
He fell silent, and they hoisted his leaden body onto a stretcher.
“I didn’t think he should sleep,” I told the kind man.
“Well, you did a good job. He took an overdose. If he had gone to sleep, he would not have awakened.”
“You mean …?”
“He could have lapsed into a coma. He could have died. You can’t be messing around like that.”
I looked at Joey, and he shook his head.
“How old is he?” the man asked.
“Thirteen,” I replied.
“Where are your parents?”
Joey answered that. “Some two hundred-year-old lady died, and they all went running off—some friend of my grandmother’s.”
“I think you better get a hold of them.”
Joey wrote a note for my parents and grabbed my mom’s car keys off the dining room table. We left for the hospital. He wasn’t supposed to be driving without supervision, but I knew he’d get us there safely.
“The woman was ninety,” I told him.
“Grandma’s friend who died.”
“What’d you write in the note?”
“That Robbie’s okay but in the hospital.”
“He is going to be okay, right?”
“I hope so.”
He hugged me in the waiting room. I hugged him tight in return, afraid to let go.
My father showed up at the hospital sooner than I had expected.
“Where’s Mommy?” I inquired.
“Where do you think? She’s home, cooking. She was worried sick, your mother. She wanted to come. I told her to stay there. So what happened?” His gaze shifted from Joey to me and then back again.“Is he all right?” My father began walking in circles. “Where is he?” He approached an emergency room physician who’d been walking toward us. “I’m the father,” he said. “What happened?”
The doctor smiled politely. “I’ll fill you in on what happened, but your son is fine. He had his stomach pumped, so he may be feeling some pain. He may be fatigued. Let him rest.”
The ER staff released Robbie in an improved state, but he continued to stumble around with his eyes closed. My father held him by the arm then assisted him into the passenger seat of his car—the Pontiac Bonneville he drove then.
“Geez, I know none of us are saints,” he mused on the way home. “I did a lot of things when I was a kid to make my father mad. He would get so mad at me, he wanted to kill me. My mother would say, ‘Wait until you grow up and have kids of your own. You’ll see.’ She was right.”
“I’m sorry, Dad,” a groggy Robbie replied.
“Well, I hope you learned your lesson.”
My mother was wringing her hands when we helped Robbie through the door. She looked flustered and pale. I couldn’t tell if she wanted to hug Robbie or kill him.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” she screamed.
Robbie said nothing in response. My father and Joey helped him upstairs to bed.
“What’s going on with him?” she asked me.
I told her what had happened.
She clenched her teeth and then went about setting the dining room table.
I helped minimally, distracted by my concerns about Robbie. Did he know he could die? Did he want to die, or did he simply not care if he lived or died?
We sat down to dinner without him. My grandmother asked what had happened, and my father spent the next five minutes talking to her in Italian. She made the sign of the cross, tears streaming.
“And don’t go blabbing to Zuza and everyone else, Mom!” he bellowed. “It’s nobody’s goddamn business.”
Grandma denied she would say anything while nervously grazing her fingers across her forehead. Her hair was up and tightly bound, as always—hair she would say was the color of coffee beans, except for the dusting of silver. I could see her sad little brown eyes behind the lenses of her glasses.
We ate with no further talk about Robbie. Everyone assisted my mother in cleaning up. She prepared demitasse. We all had a piece of Entenmann’s cake.
I checked on Robbie in his blissful sleep and then joined my grandmother in her room.
She was sitting on the bed where Robbie had been earlier, the tufted chenille bedspread in pure ivory pulled up to the headboard, as though nothing had happened. The dimly lit sanctuary was quiet and safe again, a simple place of walnut-crafted furnishings, eggshell walls, and wood floors. All of it had faded away—Robbie, the sirens that had brought heroes to my door, and all the day’s events. For a few moments, we remained silent and in a comforting womb of peace.
I looked around the room at her wooden crosses of Jesus and her pictures of the pope. There were many pictures of the pope. One might have imagined he shared the room with her. He hung amid family wedding photos. She’d tucked another photo of him in one side of the annual calendar she got from our neighborhood dry cleaner. Every year, on Palm Sunday, she brought a palm home from church, shaped it into a crucifix, and tucked it behind the same calendar.
She’d hung two paintings of birds in this room, one a pair of bluebirds perched on a tree branch adorned with large leaves and tiny flowers. The other featured a white heron amid blossoming trees. She loved birds, as I did.
“Oh, Dio…” She was calling to God. She looked at me. “The way you know?” It was how she talked, yet I understood.
I explained how I’d found Robbie and what had happened next.
“The way you know?” she repeated.
“I didn’t know anything. I didn’t think about it.”
“God knows—and the angels.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “God bless. God bless … you good girl.”
I could feel her pain profoundly, just as I could with the other members of my family. Every one of them suffered immensely.
I gave her a hug and then stood, making my way over to her lace-lined dresser adorned with resin statues of prayer plaques, angels, and the Blessed Mother. Our Holy Communion portraits were there in gold frames. I opened the musical jewelry box she’d brought from Italy, and, with my fingers, traced the gold satin lining the hardwood. I knew she shared a piece of my joy, taking notice of what I admired. It was the reason she’d made certain I always had a musical jewelry box with a dancing ballerina. I’d notice new things right away, like the bluebird song box in handcrafted porcelain and the floral trinket boxes.
“Here,” she was saying.
I turned to see her reaching for a small tulle pouch on a low wall shelf. Bomboniere is what she called it. Brides gave it as a wedding souvenir. She was untying the ribbons. She would eat the sugared almonds inside when she felt like it, unlike my mother and Zuza, who kept theirs intact. She put two in my hand and popped one in her mouth.
I smiled and began eating the almonds. “These are the only gifts you ever like.”
She smiled back. “Ah! I’m old, honey. I no need anything.”
The woman rarely smiled, but, when she did, it went to my heart.
She did go over to Zuza’s in the morning. She told them everything. I knew, because Angie rushed over and wrapped me in a hug.
My involvement in all the Robbie madness, however, didn’t end there.
Not a week later, I was in the family room recliner watching television. Robbie showed up with some friends. They cranked up the music, since no one was home, then put paper towels inside brown paper bags and soaked the paper with glue. Robbie handed one of the bags to me.
“Hold it up to your nose and then breathe in and out,” he said.
I can’t remember if I even asked why.
The surge to my head was like a magnetic recharge, and all I could hear was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” An explosion in my brain unleashed an outpouring of dazed, rapturous sensations. Light prickles and tremors trickled through every fiber of my being. I reveled in the light-headed euphoria. A prevailing illusion of calm and peace washed over me. Everyone, everything, faded away. In that moment, nothing was better than this high. My love for these sensations was more powerful and more enslaving than my love for anything or anyone else I knew.
We inhaled ourselves into oblivion. The pillow top of the recliner felt so soft on my back, and I closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep with the bag on my nose. I awakened with a sense of the paneled walls encasing me. My first vague awareness was of the crouched porcelain tiger lamp resting atop the television set. I could see the fireplace my mother had decorated with sculptures—a cherubic angel with wings and a pair of praying hands. Photos in ornate gold frames, depicting all of us in our younger years, adorned the television top and the end tables. When I looked to my left and to my right, my brother and his friend were still there. I stood, dizzy, nearly losing my balance as I tried to position myself. There was laughter, howling, and cackling, all sounding far off. I felt giddy, uninhibited, and excited. I was unable to say or do anything without laughter and smiles.
Yes, fantasy was better than reality for me, and I welcomed any escape from the latter. I kept trying to bond with Robbie, too—going on “shopping” sprees with him and his friends. We rode the bus to neighborhood department stores and returned with stolen merchandise. I stole plastic bangles in different colors, earrings, T-shirts, and pants.
“You’re good,” a friend of his marveled.“A master thief and con artist.”
“Well, she has the face of an angel,” said another. “Who’d suspect her?”
I had ripped the lining out of my puffer jacket, so I could slide things around to the back.
“Where did you get this?” my mother would ask, regarding our new acquisitions.
We’d say a friend gave them to us, and, though she didn’t seem comfortable with the idea, she never pressed the issue. If it had been Robbie alone, and, possibly Joey, she might have, but she evidently couldn’t fathom her sweet little girl lying or stealing.
It was an unsettling time of strange and constant shifting between the uncorrupted purity of youth and the recklessness of a demoralizing coming-of-age. A choice seemed to continually surface, bittersweet reality or sweet imagination, child or grown-up, right or wrong. I kept searching for the in-between, but I couldn’t find it. I felt a rebellious joy as well as a distant sadness.
I began to see a parallel between life and roller coaster rides at amusement parks, even if I could not have explained it. We went barreling along on the formidable journey, propelled by some overpowering entity. There were uncomfortable moments. In other moments, we would be elated. There’d be mirth and amusement, just as there would be treacherous, spine-chilling turns. We twisted this way, that way, down many paths, and we hung on. We whirled backward, then forward then backward again. The times of gentle rolling on the track made the unexpected dark tunnels an intriguing mystery fraught with peril. We had to hold on, and we laughed a lot. It did seem uncertain, on various declines, that one was truly safe in the midst of it all, but everything was linked together toward the final destination—a higher purpose and greater good. At the same time, I weaved an intricate ball of yarn that would take a lifetime to untangle.
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.
Fantasy often bests reality. Sentimentality can provide us with an illusion of innocence in a safe and familiar world. That’s fine, and it’s not hard to understand why people, in their everyday lives, cling to illusions and delusions that comfort and protect.
That said, most of us would say we are honest. We believe that we are. The trouble is, we can’t be honest with others until we are honest with ourselves. And we can’t be honest with ourselves until we know what is true—until we confront it, accept it, and deal with it however we must.
So, why would we not know?
Many of us grow up indoctrinated with a built-in belief system. The beliefs we hold may lead to harsh judgments—to the point of shunning, oppressing, and hating others. There is often an unwillingness to understand people who are different. And these core ideologies can simultaneously result in self-loathing and a feeling of being unworthy or never quite good enough. It’s the inferiority complex turned inside out—a desperate need to feel superior.
Along the lines of needing to be perceived a certain way, I’ve seen debates on how honest to be with children and whether they have a right to hit us with their perception of the truth if it isn’t favorable to us. The ancient rule that you respect all adults no matter what.
I believe children have the right to call out parents on their behavior, and that parents should address their concerns about any relative, family friend, or person in authority. If we care about people (and sometimes even if we don’t) but especially when we care about people, we need to listen to them when they tell us how we’ve hurt them even in the smallest of ways. We can’t be accountable while in denial, can’t grow and evolve, can’t set the example for the children who look to us for guidance.
Pretending we are perfect doesn’t serve anyone. It’s painful to acknowledge when we caused pain where we wanted only to love and protect, but we must. There are many hard lessons in life, just as there are other ways the truth may elude us.
A fair amount of clarity is essential in sorting out what is biased and what is factual. Specific characteristics and predicaments diminish that clarity. Here are a few:
Addiction/obsession (clouds perception, impairs judgment) – For example, I have found that people in recovery continue to gain clarity as they remain sober and clean.
A self-centered existence (usually correlates with substance abuse including alcohol and certain personality disorders)
Lack of self-care (sleep, healthy lifestyle, etc.)
Our agenda (of which we may or may not be aware)
Misinformation (I think being an avid reader of books, especially those that introduce you to different cultures and perspectives helps tremendously.)
Taking ourselves too seriously (also may correlate with substance abuse and certain personality disorders)
CAN WE HANDLE THE TRUTH?
Some of us fearlessly plunge into that seemingly endless abyss where we face painful truths and endure the grueling process of healing. Others deliberately avoid it or 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. They don’t want to uncover the truth because they have an inner sense that it won’t serve them well. Indeed, at the moment, it won’t, but it definitely will in the long run.
Ten years ago, I’d assume people could handle whatever I could. It never seemed to sink in that they were as vulnerable and fragile as I was once. My idea of being characteristically direct may have been someone else’s idea of being attacked.
At times, we feel an urgent need to resolve things, and, if we’re not patient, we can end up doing more damage than we intended . The goal is not to “hurt” people, and like any conflict, resolution can happen only when both sides are mentally prepared and open to that— willing to go where it leads. There must be a mutual willingness to get to the truth. When you come from a place of caring and love, you see that they are human and vulnerable, and you approach them that way. Besides, even with the vast amounts of knowledge, wisdom, and insight we acquire, we are all still vulnerable to one degree or another.
THE PRICE OF DENIAL
In January of 2002, Psychology Today published an article by Bill Sullivan, Ph.D., about the devastating consequences lying has on our brain. “Dishonesty puts the brain in a state of heightened alert, and this stress increases with the magnitude of the lie,” he wrote. (It doesn’t apply to sociopaths lacking empathy, but most of us care about our trustworthiness and integrity.) “Symptoms of anxiety arise because lying activates the limbic system in the brain,” he explained. “When people are being honest, this area of the brain shows minimal activity. But when telling a lie, it lights up like a fireworks display. An honest brain is relaxed, while a dishonest brain is frantic.”
Denial has a price, as well, and it’s often quite steep. We see its cost while it continues to happen all around us. Don’t for a moment underestimate its power to destroy lives, institutions, countries, and ultimately civilizations.
While in denial:
We don’t know why we want what we want or need what we need.
We don’t know what our vulnerabilities are.
We hurt people or put them in harm’s way.
We obsess over certain people and things, oblivious to why or the fact that it isn’t normal.
We’re unable to see our part in anything.
We don’t see ourselves or others with clarity, so we mischaracterize our behavior and theirs.
We take dangerous risks and put ourselves or keep ourselves in situations that have serious consequences.
We lie to ourselves and others.
With highly unrealistic expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment and devastation.
We can’t take the right action because we make decisions without the correct information.
We lack empathy.
We have a constant need to do damage control.
We don’t learn from our mistakes, and so we miss life lessons that can empower us.
Being honest is not about unnecessary disclosure. It’s about separating fact from fiction, opinion, and popular belief—notions that cause egos out of bounds, discrimination, exclusion, judgment, and condemnation. We pull the curtain on delusion and denial to let the light in. We choose clarity over confusion. It leads to more empathy, less vulnerability, and decisions based on expanded horizons and a more substantial knowledge base as we surpass our self-imposed limitations and embrace a wider world.
YEAH, THE TRUTH DOES SET YOU FREE
We can wear masks for a lifetime, not knowing who we are or what is real. Or we can begin to peel off one layer of untruth at a time, just as if we were peeling an onion or discarding a myriad of veils.
In the process of uncovering and accepting the truth, the shame that drove us to compete and control begins to dissipate. We learn to love with our whole hearts—not just others but ourselves. We know we are vulnerable. We understand how vulnerable we are, so we walk away from people whose goal is to exploit our vulnerabilities. And we keep getting better at it. That’s good because before we understood, it was easy to lead us, fool us, and enslave us.
Blessed with clearer vision, we can routinely examine our motives and expectations. We won’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 keep doing what they’re doing, often not understanding what they’re doing or why.
Those of us searching for the truth are tired of being terrified of it. Denial has ceased to be our sole comfort and our only way to survive. The payoff in protecting our hearts, our image, and our secrets is no longer worth it. We came to fully accept that we are all struggling humans, equal in importance.
We continue striving to become more and more authentic. We continue to replace false with real. It’s not as easy as living in denial, but we know we have to get better. We know we have to do better, and it’s important to share what we learn. We are all teachers on this earth, just as we are all students. Sometimes people don’t mean to teach us anything, but they do. Learning doesn’t make you inferior any more than teaching makes you superior.
I love that we continually evolve, and we know better than we did in the past. We are worthy of the truth. We deserve that much.
Smear campaigns. Some of you are familiar with them. It’s when someone is desperately trying to destroy another person’s reputation, beginning with his or her credibility. It’s not a situation where one caring person is confiding in another out of concern. It’s a hateful mission where the motives are insecurity and a need to do damage control.
I often speak out on this subject because I’ve seen it happen between friends (really frenemies), coworkers, lovers, and family members. The saddest thing is when it goes on in a recovery group where everyone is there to work on themselves and help each other. Why would you isolate and destroy vulnerable people who have likely suffered from narcissistic abuse and are working to correct learned behaviors?
It happens a lot. A friend of mine is a target of this right now. I’ve been a target myself in the past.
For some, including me, the obvious solution is to get out of this person’s circle —abruptly, if necessary. If it’s impossible to avoid them entirely, I’d have as little contact as I can manage and refuse to participate. It’s easy to let them charm you when you’re hoping to resolve things, but confiding in them or pouring your heart out is usually a mistake. Just protect yourself. Let them say you abandoned them, rejected them, whatever they need to tell themselves. You don’t owe them a damn thing.
You may say, it isn’t right to have to sacrifice other relationships in a group by removing yourself. I think of it this way. Anyone successfully recruited in some war against you has never been in your corner. Your real friends will come to you. They will have your back and likely sever ties with the character-assassinating troublemaker. Sometimes people will go along with the narcissist to remain part of the crowd (like high school), but that’s not your problem. People believe what they want to believe.
I know it seems unfair, having to surrender without a fight. This person gets to win, and you don’t get to set the record straight. Let me repeat, TOXIC, as in detrimental to your health and well-being. Not worth it. If you’re dealing with the kind of person I’m talking about, you can’t fix it. The more you try, the worse it will get. Think “troll.” Yes, it’s like dealing with some internet troll. You’ll never get them to see things your way or empathize because they don’t really care about you. They’re not able to put themselves in your place. They’ll even take pleasure in your pain.
Humility is your friend here. Let your ego take the hit and move on. You trusted the wrong person. Cut your losses. You’re going to get good at this, and you’ll soon know to avoid these people like the plague, so you’re never in that predicament again.
Experiences like this are traumatic, but they help you learn and grow. They force you to look at whatever part you played in the whole mess, even if it was merely taking the bait from time to time. When we do that, we can easily say and do things that are ordinarily beneath us and, in doing so, strengthen the narcissist’s case. That’s why I say, drop the ball and run. It’s a trap, where you’ll always be damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
You’re dealing with dangerously fragile egos here. Because of what they experienced in life, they consciously or subconsciously, came to believe there is not enough love to go around. They see attention and admiration as a limited commodity. They need to feel they are more worthy and deserving of those things than you are, and second to none. They have to tell themselves they are the favorite, numero uno, the chosen one in every scenario. There are many reasons you may pose a threat. It can be anything. The damage control they do is to convince themselves and others that you are not better or more worthy because if you were, they couldn’t handle that. Underneath it all is an inner child seething with rage.
I’ll share a little story that explains, on a much lighter note, about taking the bait. My mother-in-law used to criticize me on unimportant things. She’d say something like, “She has everything in that diaper bag except the kitchen sink.” That would upset me because, like all new mothers, I wanted to believe I was handling things well. Instead of getting upset, I could have said something like, “Oh, no, the sink’s there. Check the zipper pocket.”
Here’s the key. It’s no fun for them if they can’t bring out the worst in you.
I’ve found it helpful, too, to figure out how I might have handled things better and how I can come out a better person. That’s not to say you weren’t a nice person before, or that I wasn’t, just that we are always striving to get better. What I’m saying is, when people tell you, “don’t lose the lesson,” that’s the critical part. That’s how you win. Continue to do the next right thing, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Live your best life and strive for greater understanding. What’s going to happen is, people will eventually know not to mess with you.
We’ve seen it with the COVID situation. Mocking, taunting, and terrorizing people who adhere to the restrictions is a thing now. The perpetrators don’t value your life. To them, it’s all a big joke. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of selected compassion reserved for people who are like them and agree with them, or an issue of not having empathy at all.
Of course, it stands to reason then, they would rather not hear that black lives matter or that we need racial justice and equality. It makes them angry or uncomfortable, and maybe they will despise me for talking about it. But this problem is so much bigger than them or me or even George Floyd specifically. It’s not something that just happened or something unusual. It’s not a situation where there are two sides.
Believe me, the people who were not outraged by what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and countless other black victims of police brutality were indeed outraged about the riots. When they mention George Floyd, they refer to his death as a tragedy and not a cold-blooded murder or lynching, which is what it was.
Some are quick to say, well, he had a violent past. Yes, that’s true. It’s also true that he served his time and was trying to turn his life around. But that’s beside the point. There was nothing—absolutely nothing— that justified excessive use of force in his arrest, let alone murder.
The truth hurts. But we have to deal with it. We have to talk about it because we must change the system.
Let’s talk about the riots.
Most of us don’t want to see others get robbed or shot or suffer a devastating loss. Speaking for myself alone, I’m a humanist. I can’t stand to see anyone suffer or live in fear. We hurt people enough unintentionally because we are human. Still, when you harm others willfully and maliciously or wish it or condone it or ignore it, I don’t see your humanity at all.
And if you are willing to break the law during a COVID pandemic— defiantly putting others at risk so that you can buy a donut in person or get your stupid ass nails done, you don’t get to complain to me about any of this. You are willing to harm others because of your rage, yet you cannot grasp why some protesters may cross the line and seek to harm because of what anger they feel over something that actually matters.
In other words, it’s okay to be an angry white person, but it’s not okay to be an angry black person. We can deal with those angry white people armed to the teeth. But we can’t deal with a scared and unarmed black person who doesn’t want to get arrested. Violence isn’t the answer. Neither is breaking the law. It shouldn’t matter who you are.
Similarly, freedom of speech should extend to all. However, when we start speaking up about racial injustice, people want to shut it down.
And, as we know, many of those incensed over the riots were not okay with any form of protest, peaceful or otherwise. They are the same people always clamoring about a civil war and threatening to start one. What the hell do they think happens during a civil war? It would be far worse than anything we’ve seen play out during these protests.
They fear tyranny so much that they won’t protect themselves and others in a pandemic. Still, they don’t mind police using excessive force on protesters, and they don’t see a problem with deploying the military against its citizens. Isn’t that the reason they are always harping about the second amendment? Isn’t that why they fear the government is coming for their guns? Or do they think they will never be brutalized or killed standing up for what’s right because they are white? Think again. Power and greed continue to corrupt our government. Oh, wait, you already know that. It’s why you won’t give up your guns.
By the way, do the people who keep blaming Antifa for everything even know what Antifa is? I admit I didn’t know myself until recently. What I now understand is, Antifa stands for antifascism and is not an entity. It’s a movement, a stance you take. Anyone can claim to be Antifa. Didn’t Twitter recently close down an account of white nationalists pretending to represent Antifa and calling for violence? Why, yes, they did! There are also links to information about white supremacist groups showing up at protests and wreaking havoc attributed to Antifa and the protestors. The FBI supposedly investigated “Antifa” and came up with nothing. My guess is, most of the protesters are legitimate. Others have another agenda. I don’t know anything for sure. Neither do you. But I will say, it does make sense to me that white supremacists would sabotage a protest for racial justice. They know how to get their base outraged, and it’s not by murdering a black man in cold blood.
Let’s talk about the police.
Police have a difficult job to do. I know that. We need them, and, to enforce the law, they have to be tough. I get it. You’re talking to a huge fan of detective shows here. In the book I’m currently writing, my main character is a detective, and though he’s flawed like every other human, he’s been one of my favorite characters to write.
I always say it takes all kinds. I’ve met very kind police officers, and I’ve met some nasty ones. Believe it or not, I want to understand them, too.
According to the National Center for Women and Policing, “Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24 percent, indicating that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police families than American families in general.”
Women in these situations are often terrified of taking action because their partners have the backing of their fellow officers.
Hazelden Betty Ford.org notes, “In 2010, a study of police officers working in urban areas found that 11% of male officers and 16% of female officers reported alcohol use levels deemed “at-risk” by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Also noted is a “high prevalence of psychological and pathological stress disorders such as PTSD when already stressed officers are exposed to traumatic events.”
Police Psychology.com has information on its website about the problems and difficulties that unexpressed anger can create. They cite “pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile.”
My question is, are we doing enough to help police officers, or is the system failing them, too?
We have outreach programs and resources, but, as explained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Law enforcement officers are often reluctant to seek professional support for a variety of reasons. Officers, who have been trained to act independently and maintain constant emotional control, may view the need for support services as a sign of personal weakness. Even if they recognize that they would benefit from it.”
Police officers must get the help they need.
We all want to believe most cops are good, many of them as brokenhearted as we are when they see what is happening. If that’s true that most are good, then they outnumber the bad guys whose actions harm them as well. I get why they may be afraid to stand up to the others, but enabling them can’t be the answer. It makes them part of a toxic environment that could not exist without their cooperation or their silence.
One thing I’ve learned is, with all the fake videos and misinformation floating around, we need to fact check. A lot of people don’t bother. They pretty much parrot what everyone else is drilling into their brain. If you don’t have a mind of your own, you can easily get lost in all the bullshit. That’s why we are where we are today.
Lucky for me, I stubbornly decided, many, many years ago, to follow my heart. To determine what I believed based on my experience — not what others told me. I’ve wanted no part of the hateful, self-righteous, self-entitled anger that crushed my spirit almost every damn day, growing up. It was like a poison doled out to everyone in the neighborhood, and I wouldn’t drink it.
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.
From the time I was a child, I’d heard that people born under the sign of Scorpio couldn’t forgive others. They held grudges forever, and these diabolical creatures, when wronged, were never satisfied with sticking the knife to their enemy (figuratively speaking, of course). They had to twist it from side to side.
Yikes! I happen to be a Scorpio (as if it matters), and this isn’t a blog about astrology. It’s about what I’ve learned about forgiveness, Pluto be damned. (Yes, Scorpio is ruled by a rock that is no longer considered a planet, so that tells you how much stock you should put into these things.)
Further, believing such a thing about yourself and committing to it is demoralizing, self-sabotaging, and self-destructive— not just for people born in the latter part of October and earlier part of November but for anyone.
The good news is, I was never doomed to be an unforgiving Scorpio or anything else I didn’t want to be, and neither are you! Nobody can tell you who you are, and you alone define your limitations. Our wills are more powerful than our experiences if we want them to be, and it’s a safe bet they’re more powerful than any effect the sun may have had on us at the time of our birth. The whole idea that we can’t help being who or what we are and have no control over it is utter nonsense. We can do whatever the hell we want, and we alone are responsible for what it is we decide to do.
Besides that, if we want to recover from our afflictions and tragedies, we need to heal and learn and grow and continue to evolve until our dying day. For this reason, we must come to understand forgiveness and the vital part it plays in our lives.
Those of us who’ve been in twelve-step programs for one affliction or another have likely come upon literature that explains the whole forgiveness thing better than I can. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states that, “Resentment destroys more alcoholics than anything else because deep resentment leads to futility and unhappiness and shuts us off from the Sunlight of the Spirit.” Addiction Treatment magazine notes that “Harboring anger can encourage you to be in a constant state of anxiety, which then can cause numerous physical health problems. Too much stress and anxiety can lead to cardiovascular issues, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and other potential ailments.”
Now, if you ask me … (You are asking me, right?) Forgiveness involves coming to terms with the truth.
For trauma survivors, like me, that’s not as simple as it sounds. All our lives, survival instincts had kicked in when necessary, leading us to strategize, justify, deny, etc.—whatever we had to do to cope. We may have even learned to deceive others with or without realizing, because we were deluding ourselves. That’s quite the dilemma when coming to terms with the truth is the only way to determine our level of responsibility for what happens in life.
Bear with me now because the first time someone told me I needed to own my part in everything that happened to me, I was royally pissed. If that included some horrific thing I surely didn’t deserve, it seemed downright cruel.
Well, when it comes to trauma survival, the idea of ‘owning our part’ is indeed cringeworthy, but it’s about addressing the issue of what we might do differently going forward. It’s the same question we’d ask in any other life-altering experience that leaves us shaken. The wording is appropriate when applied to the more typical betrayals or arguments—people hurting and rejecting one another in the way imperfect humans do. Either way, if we are the victim of someone else’s bad behavior, self-evaluation doesn’t mean the culprit is absolved of wrongdoing or that he or she is any less vile. It’s not to say that you or anyone else is okay with what happened, or that you are required to understand the reprehensible motivation behind what this person did.
The things that happen to us in life, good or bad, are learning opportunities that can increase our awareness about the world we live in, about others, and ourselves. No one says it’s fair or easy. Children can learn it from loving adults, what to do, what not to do, going forward, understanding that what happened wasn’t their fault. The acquired knowledge does not guarantee anything, I know, but it certainly helps. That’s what we’re owning.
You may have heard it a million times, and it’s still true: forgiveness is, first and foremost, for the one who suffers. It takes place so that whatever or whoever has hurt you no longer owns you or has control over your life. It’s a letting go that allows you to live and breathe and move on, survive and thrive by not allowing the perpetrator to cause you more suffering than you’ve already endured.
Excluding any justice sought in a criminal act, it didn’t take me long to see (even as an evil, menacing Scorpio) that retribution happens to abusive people without any help from me. They are their own worst enemies, and, sooner or later, the piper catches up to collect what he is owed. Some people balk at me when I say this, but I’ve learned to send love whenever these damaged souls come to mind. They surely need it. When I was at my absolute worst, I needed it, too. I still do. In fact, we all do.
However, despite all I’ve said here, nobody can tell you how to handle your feelings. We can talk about what works for us, with the hope that it might help someone else find the peace and joy that we’ve found, but that’s as far as it goes.
There were many times I’d witnessed a person expressing anger and grief over a traumatic experience, and others got upset about it. The others, in response, would say things like, “Well, I have a friend who went through that, and she had counseling, bla bla bla. She’s fine now, and maybe if so and so did that, he or she wouldn’t have to dwell on it and could move on.”
Well, no, people don’t necessarily react to trauma in the same fashion, so expectations of how people should behave are absurd. As for therapists, there are some who make it worse by revictimizing, or re-traumatizing because they don’t deal effectively with the repercussions of trauma. If you’re lucky enough to find the right counselor, therapy is excruciating work that leaves you raw and vulnerable to your very core. You have to be ready for it and strong enough to see it through.
So, yeah, no one has the right to decide for another person when it’s time to stop being angry, and to forgive and let go. Anger, like every other stage in the grieving process, must run its course.
If a person is never ready to stop being angry or forgive, it’s not for me or anyone else to judge. Healing is an ongoing process that, for all we know, may continue beyond this lifetime.
As I see it, we don’t forgive for the sole purpose of appeasing others. We do it when we’re prepared to rescue ourselves from the onslaught of continual suffering. And that’s where, in situations that are not so cut and dried as to who did what to whom, coming to terms with the truth helps determine our level of responsibility.
In any case, we cannot allow people to deny our reality of what we experienced or accept their spin on it if it has no basis in truth. We don’t want justification for what cannot be justified or for others to minimize the damage. We may be guilted and shamed into keeping quiet or making concessions, but to do so would impede our progress. Deciphering what is true and what is not is more important than appeasing others who need to deal with their own wounds. Their place in the healing process is different from ours, and we can’t wait there with them. We have work to do.
For us, the secrets and lies must end. It’s a fight for our well-being and our sanity. We’ve already endured the pain of silence. We’ve suffered too much already from the consequences of denial. We went through years of being protectively dishonest. We told ourselves we were okay when we weren’t yet. We said we’d survived while our brokenness continued and thought we were thriving when we were hanging on by the seat of our pants. We can’t afford more delusions about any of it. We have a right to be well and whole again.
It is critical that we stand up for ourselves and find out who we are as opposed to what other people want or believe us to be. It is crucial that we slowly and continually peel off every layer of the false self we present to the world, that we become more and more honest with ourselves and others.
After that, forgiveness exists at different levels, all of which amount to some form of healing and resolution. Perhaps it is forgiveness for resolving differences, where two people have worked through it, allowing the truth to sort things, and their relationship to resume with a clean slate. Maybe it’s forgiveness for peace, where you don’t have to trust this person again or have what you once had, but you’ve relinquished the hard feelings. And maybe it is purely for self-love and healing, and it doesn’t involve having to deal with that person again.
No matter how it plays out, we’ve taken our power back. It doesn’t mean we won’t be triggered when we see the same thing happening to us or to someone else in the future, especially when those people are silenced or dismissed. But we will be whole again.
All I can say is, if I’d bought into that nonsense of being unable to forgive, I’d be permanently screwed. It would have kept me from rising in my power and from the ability to summon my courage and my strength whenever I need 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.
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You made me laugh,
And I forgot all the tears.
You helped me up,
And I forgot the times
You let me down.
You were hatred,
Just as surely as
You were love.
You were everything right
And everything wrong—
You were everything
I had to let you go,
And it freed me.
Still, I’m sad,
For I know
Who you might have been.
I know you so well…
But you do not know me. – Kyrian Lyndon
from Remnants of Severed Chains
When you try to look at something from all angles, you make no friends, but I’m compelled to do it anyway. That said, I hesitated to write this because as others have wisely pointed out, horrible things are happening all around us every minute of every day, and here we are battling over a comedienne and the “right” to see a TV show.
Many seem to think this controversy is about one person insulting another. They’ve brought up Joy Behar, Jimmy Kimmel and other liberals who have “gotten away with it.” I don’t watch The View or Jimmy Kimmel, but I do agree that anyone who has made bigoted statements or who does so in the future, should be called out the same way and, if necessary, face appropriate consequences.
I didn’t defend Michelle Wolf for roasting Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kathy Griffin and her decapitated Trump photo. I did notice, however, that the same people who were appalled by those two incidents are okay with Roseanne’s crap and Ted Nugent’s crap. So, it’s kind of like pot/kettle. There’s a lot of, “but he said, but she said, and hey, he started it.” It all seems rather childish, except the anger we feel toward each other knows no depths, and the venom feels poisonous.
As far as comediennes go, I have always liked the ones who target institutions, government, and politicians. All of that to me is fair game. I’ll admit, too, there are people I don’t mind them poking fun of, but those people are usually guilty of offending us and putting themselves out there in such a way that you kind of feel they deserve what they get. They are comedy gold, and I understand that.
But this issue is not about insulting someone. It’s about destructive and divisive hate speech, i.e., racism. There’s a big difference.
Some people claim that what Roseanne said is not racism. Let’s see, there was the “Roseanne didn’t know Valerie Jarret was black because she’s light-skinned” argument. Except she knows damn well who Valerie Jarret is, enough to still be talking about the woman when Obama is not even in office anymore. Roseanne follows politics obsessively and knows all the players. She has made a run for President. At the very least, she didn’t know Ms. Jarret wasn’t black, but the ‘ape’ reference was not a coincidence. And it wasn’t the first time Roseanne tweeted something racist.
Then there was, “Why are they offended if they believe humans evolved from apes?” “They” includes all liberals, I presume, because, of course, they must all believe the same thing when it comes to creation, right? Wrong.
People who make this argument don’t seem to understand what it means to evolve. Per Merriam-Webster, it means to undergo an evolutionary change. It is “a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state.” So, you don’t evolve from something and still appear to be that something.
But the people who make that reference know this. They know full well that the ape reference is used to dehumanize and to subjugate. They did it to Michelle Obama. In fact, they were downright merciless in describing Mrs. Obama.
Those who make this reference believe they can pass it off as an innocent joke, or harmless insult, and that the rest of the world will be stupid enough to believe it. Sorry, but no.
Alas, there is the freedom of speech cry! That is a good one when all else fails. People don’t seem to understand the First Amendment either. They think it means there should be zero consequences regardless of what we say, that no one should react unfavorably or reject it or use his or her power to handle the situation. These same people feel differently, however, when someone is saying something that they don’t like. Yes, double standards, indeed, but we’ll get to that.
Let’s get to that right now, in fact, because double standards exist everywhere between genders, parties, religions, races, and more.
And, of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but when some celebrity gets caught with his or her pants down, as many have, I don’t care about their politics. It is not about left or right, and it shouldn’t be. It’s about right or wrong.
Yes, sometimes Democrats get away with things. Sometimes Republicans do. Just look at the “C” word argument. Both Roseanne and Ted Nugent have used the word against Hillary Clinton. That was way before Roseanne got a TV show and before Ted Nugent got invited to the White House.
The president gets away with saying despicable things all the time.
Similarly, people call out the predators and pedophiles in Hollywood, as they should, but then turn a blind eye to predators and pedophiles in the Catholic Church. They think because there are predators and pedophiles in Hollywood, all Hollywood celebrities are predators and pedophiles. No, wait—all liberals, according to some. Imagine if anyone said that because of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, all Catholics, or all Republicans must be pedophiles? Yes, it is absurd.
FFS, must everything be a competition?
Now, I am not here to defend ABC. Roseanne was the same person when they hired her. They knew who she was. Apparently, she also knows who she is, as she had serious reservations about doing the reboot in the first place.
It would have been one thing if she’d come on playing the character she played in the 90s, and the show didn’t have plans to explore and possibly heal the divisiveness with a real-life Trump supporter as the star pretty much playing herself, and liberal producers and writers. On the one hand, they were trying too hard to appease both sides. On the other hand, they were encouraging the series star in her belligerence and paving the way for her downfall.
Yeah, it was a bad idea.
And many won’t like this, but I do feel empathy for Roseanne. I can’t help that. I do believe that this fallout has been hell for her and that she is not doing well. Besides that, something is clearly wrong with her.
Conservatives who watched her screech the national Anthem hated her then, and they hated her for many years after that, as she wasn’t their physical ideal or very ladylike, and they probably figured, on top of all that, she was a liberal. They pretend to support her now, but if they genuinely cared about her, they would not encourage her bad behavior.
The smartest tweet I’d read about this whole thing came from White House correspondent April Ryan when she tweeted Roseanne, saying, “Just stop.” Ms. Ryan told Roseanne to go on a retreat or something, stay off Twitter, off the phone, and stop listening to the enablers who are defending her mess. It’s easy to see that people are exploiting her in a way that will only make things worse.
She needs to fix this not dig a deeper grave.
And, okay, I couldn’t help laughing at the Twitter backlash she got from the Ambien excuse. She walked right into that, but I still feel bad.
Her “supporters” say she should not even have apologized. I say she should have stopped with the apology, no drama like, “I’m leaving Twitter,” only to come back and begin defending herself, justifying what she did with excuses.
It’s not a good feeling, watching someone self-destruct. It gives me no pleasure to see another human being crushed, humiliated, and used this way. There is that part of many of us, where we can’t look away from a train wreck, but it is no less awful.
And personally, I couldn’t keep quiet about any of it. I’ve hated racism and all forms of bigotry from the moment I was old enough to see it for what it was. I was a child then, but I’d seen no evidence that any one group of people were superior to another and I’ve firmly believed that we are all entitled to dignity, justice, and respect.
Still, I don’t claim to be righteous and tolerant. I can’t because I am genuinely happy to coexist with people. I don’t claim to be tolerant because I am not a nice person who is just being politically correct. What I do or say along those lines is not for the sake of pleasing anyone. When I speak out against racism, I am not defending the people targeted because they are more than capable of defending themselves. I’ve seen it. I am defending myself and what I believe. I’m fighting for the world I want to live in. Lastly, I don’t claim to be tolerant because there are things I can’t and won’t tolerate. And, yes, racism happens to be one of them. It is crucial that we call it out when we see it, and it’s about time.
I had a dream about you last night and woke up crying. I couldn’t sleep after that.
In the dream, you were angry with me—full of anger, full of hate. You had shut the door on me and left me out in the cold. I kept calling to you with a child’s unbearable anguish. You didn’t hear.
At some point, I cried, “Help me, daddy,” and finally, you came. I thought you were going to hit me or hurt me with your scarred and violent soul, but you didn’t. You hugged me. Well, you didn’t just hug me. You gave me the kind of hug I’d wanted from you since childhood, the comfort I always needed, and I didn’t want to let go.
I miss your smile and your jokes, Dad, your handsome face, and all of your wisdom, but I have to ask. Does a father realize he is the first man a girl gives her heart to completely? The first man she trusts blindly and devotedly? Did you realize?
I used to think I was hard to love.
Whatever people said—men especially—I wanted to believe them. Deep down, I didn’t. Not a word. And every time a man took something from me that I didn’t want him to have, every time a man tried to silence me, belittle me, or make me doubt myself, I punished him, pummeling him with words and crushing him with goodbye. I could be angry with them but not you.
What if things had been different between us, though? Would I had been less vulnerable or had the confidence to be my authentic self, knowing I was worthy and lovable? Would I have chosen more wisely? Would I have stopped running and hiding, oblivious to my weaknesses and my desperate needs? Would I have respected myself more? Might I have found someone I could love, for real? Someone who could have loved me back? Because I didn’t let them … I made sure they couldn’t.
Well, no matter, that’s all changed now. I picked up the shattered pieces of my heart and began to love myself.
It’s hard not to feel that twinge of emotion when I hear father tributes of the heroes who boosted confidence and taught children to believe in themselves. I honestly wish everyone could beam with that pride, feeling safe, content, and protected in that eternal bond.
It’s easy to defeat someone when you have all the power, when you are on a pedestal from the start, and you make all the rules. You can create vulnerability and punish the very same, though you don’t mean it. You can erase one’s humanity because of your denial, your self-loathing, and your shame, though you’re not aware. You can damage a person almost beyond repair. And, after the wrecking ball, cleanup of that wreckage rests solely on those tiny shoulders. Yeah, those shoulders get bigger, but somehow it all gets harder and more complicated.
I cleaned up that mess, though. The void lasts forever, and many people can attest to that, but I got those things I needed. It just takes ongoing effort to hold on to them.
And by the time I had a child of my own, I knew all too well what a child needs. I was able to give him that, but I couldn’t give him YOU. Oh, he’s brilliant and kind and funny, and so very loyal. Like you, he’s hard and strong but with such a tender heart. He needed you, and he still needs you, though he’d never admit it now. He’d been shattered right along with me, but we rose to the challenge, and he loves with his whole heart like I do. I’m proud of him, and I’d like to think you’d be proud of him, too, but it doesn’t matter now.
Look, maybe you didn’t give me what I needed, but you gave what you had. I saw a brave and modest man, generous with assistance and advice—a hero to many, and I know why they love you. I know why I loved you. Sure, it’s easy to love someone when you think they are perfect; when you hold them up on a pedestal and pretend they are everything you need and always wanted. You fell off that pedestal when I was twelve, Dad, but I loved you so much, flaws and all, and I still do. That’s unconditional love, and though you couldn’t give that to me, you still get it. Because guess what? You deserved that, too, from the people who didn’t give it to you.
Yeah, I knew why you were the way you were, though you accepted no excuses from me when I fell short. You could never understand me, but I understood you. Though you couldn’t hear me, yours was the loudest voice I’d heard in my entire life—a voice that continued to bellow in my ear for a lifetime. It kept me from standing up. It kept me from fighting, and it kept me from winning until I did all those things because I couldn’t lose any more. I climbed in spite of you, because of you and for you, because you couldn’t do it yourself, and I understand that.
When you were angry, devastated, and tortured, I tried to tell you it would be okay, that I was sorry for you, and that I loved you, but it seemed too much for you to bear at the time. Then, in the end, I forgave you, and you forgave me. It took a lifetime, but we got there.
Sigh. There are many things we never got to do, Dad, and it’s too late now. You’re gone. But I do have some fond memories of you that I will cherish always.
And here’s what I wish.
I wish I could go back in time with you—to those boyhood days when you were punished severely for no good reason—when you were invalidated, shamed, ridiculed, and ignored, just to tell you how awesome you were, and all you could be and do with your life. I’d say I believe in you, and that you have everything you need to succeed. I would say over and over that I love you to the moon and back, so you would know how worthy you are of that love. And maybe you would have grown up to be what you wanted, and have felt no shame. Then when it was your turn, you could have done the same. You would have known I was not an extension of you and didn’t have to represent you or your ideals. Perhaps you would not have expected such a conformist “go with the flow” type of kid who didn’t make waves but sang to a song you couldn’t possibly hear. You would not have lost empathy. You wouldn’t have cared how others saw me or what they would think. You’d have simply treasured me for the person I am. Imagine that!
The aching in my heart is that I want that for everyone. I wish all men and women who didn’t get what they needed as children would give that and get it back in abundance however they can. And I’m infinitely grateful to every hardworking mom and dad who gets up every day ready and willing to get it all right, including you.
Rest easy, Dad, and know you will always be in my heart.
“Children are the most fearless souls on earth.”― Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!
“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.
The robin in your tender heart
Hungers for the red berry
That titillates your tongue.
She carols as the snow falls—
And not with the chorus of the dawn
In radiant spring.
What might have been?
Your voice silenced,
The spirit of you
I see glimpses of your fire
From the light that has vanished
From your eyes.
Your wings soar,
Only not to follow
And your heart is that of
You inspire me
To change my perspective
With your unique vision
Of the world.
You shine with your brilliance,
And you don’t know.
Your bursts of laughter
Make me smile.
As always, you are the light
In my darkness;
Your spirit is the fire I feel
In the sun’s warmth.
You were the dawn of my awakening,
And the splendor of my dreams.
And I have cried
For your heart
More than I have ever cried
For my own.
I am torn apart by
The intensity of your pain.
It is profound sadness
When I think I’ve reached you
And then hit another wall…
I fear losing you forever
To your grief,
As I grieve, too,
For the subtleties
You don’t understand.
Avoiding the eyes of others …
Your intense frustration
In trying to get it right,
And thinking you have it all wrong.
You have it right,
I only wish you could know
Of being free.
The tentative smiles,
The looks of uncertainty,
Prompt me to tell you,
You got this.
You’ll be fine.
Whatever the passion,
Let it burn.
It will save you.
Retrieve every shattered fragment
Of your soul.
Bless it with your peace.
Give it mighty and glorious wings,
And let it fly where it leads
Into the twilight of an infinite sky.
And don’t stop singing
Your life’s song.
The song is your vision,
It belongs to you.
You wither and die.
Don’t you, for one moment,
Let anyone crush your beautiful spirit.
Know, too, those who have crushed you
Have been crushed.
Those who pain you have been pained.
Still, you can rise again,
Become completely alive again
And shine on,
Just as you did before all the hurt began.
You are not defective,
My dear one,
Not a burden,
Nor do you struggle alone.
I’m here with you.
I will always be with you.
In every way
Though you don’t see that,
And you never have.
I just love you.
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.
Some people have the discernment required in connecting with others. Many, despite their intelligence, self-sufficiency, and well-meaning hearts often find themselves in unhealthy relationships.
There was a time that I, too, lacked that discernment. I had to learn the hard way never to ignore the following.
1) Red Flags Waving
We witness behavior that raises an eyebrow, things we don’t ordinarily condone. It could be cruel, inappropriate, abusive, or manipulative behavior toward another, derogatory remarks, infidelity, and lack of boundaries or respect for boundaries. Sometimes a person admits to being a jerk, a bastard, or a bitch, and our first instinct is to contradict and thereby comfort them. Sometimes we think because a person can be sweet and charming to us, we are the exception, the chosen one who will make it all better. We’re not, and we won’t.
2) The Pedestal
Our perception of this person goes from one extreme to another. He or she walks on water or is a monster. We have defined who they are—essentially, a paragon of the ideal. We decided beforehand how they should behave and respond. It’s not reality-based, and it’s not love. It is obsession—a persistent and disturbing preoccupation with an unreasonable idea. What we’re feeling has nothing to do with that person. We can’t love someone we don’t see. They are no more than a channel for what we need. An obsession is an addiction. It distorts our perception and impairs judgment. It comes with denial and control patterns that become manipulation. There is no direct communication about needs and desires. Resentments build, fester, and then erupt into anger. When reality kicks in, it is a long tumble for that person up on the pedestal to the ground. Unrealistic expectations create devastating disappointment.
3) Unnecessary risks
We are willing to compromise ourselves and our well-being when we don’t have to and sometimes the safety and well-being of others. We may rush headlong into a physical relationship with little knowledge and a good measure of denial instead of awareness, education, and caution.
4) Compromised principles
There is unwilling compliance to avoid wrath and rejection. We find ourselves continually compromising our principles and lowering our standards.
5) The Stranger in the Mirror
We don’t recognize ourselves. We don’t like who we are in this situation or relationship, or we don’t like who we are becoming or the way we feel, act or think. We were never this whiny, this controlling, this hurt, this confused. We sometimes feel like a basket case. At the same time, we have an unbalanced self-esteem. We feel the other person could not possibly want to live without us, even while we find it increasingly difficult to live with ourselves.
6) Goals On Hold
The relationship distracts us from our goals or seems to have replaced them. It happens in new relationships, but if we are unable to get back on track or have abandoned our dreams entirely, it’s a problem.
7) Confusion and More Confusion
We don’t know what to believe because our judgment and perception remain clouded.
8) Way Too Much Stress
We are not taking care of business or ourselves. We may feel more paranoid, more OCD, more anxious. People have a lot to work through in relationships. Stress is normal, but constant stress that renders our lives unmanageable is not.
9) Bondage Without Leather & Chains or That Monkey On Your Back
We try to fight it. We want to be free of this person. At the same time, we want nothing and no one to come between that person and us. We may isolate to have more time to focus on our obsession. When what we want dangles before us, we can’t resist. When deprived of it, we are sick—mentally, emotionally, sometimes physically. We may feel we cannot be honest about this relationship or situation with anyone including ourselves. We continue to want the same thing from this individual not realizing that after a while, we don’t enjoy it, and maybe we never did, yet we still need it. The moments of comfort and bliss are fleeting. A feeling of emptiness prevails. It causes agonizing pain for us. We may feel as if we are in bondage because we are. At times, we can’t stand up for ourselves because we are somehow at a disadvantage and at the mercy of our obsession.
Here is the question to ask, what is the payoff? Because there is one. An issue we likely didn’t know we had made us vulnerable in this situation. We were addicted to at least one thing this liaison was getting for us, and it’s doing a lot more harm than good.
Love, on the other hand, is good, but to feel comfortable when loving and receiving love in return, we must know we are worthy. Getting to that place opens another door in the journey of our recovery from past trauma and emotional abuse. Beyond it, more beauty awaits and more joy.
Sometimes we lose someone who may not have been that close to us, yet we think they should have been. Those ties were supposed to bind but didn’t. Instead, they turned out to be so weak, they broke a little more at every difference of opinion, every instance where we stood up for ourselves, every time people looked at us and didn’t see themselves. Maybe it was some argument, someone else’s stupid meddling, someone’s denial. Maybe it was all because of lies and fragile egos, people trying to turn one against the other, smear campaigns, and the rush to judgment.
So there was a death that day, but we didn’t lose the person then. We lost this person long ago, and it broke our hearts a thousand times already. Is this someone we really had or truly knew? We lost that chance. We lost to the dysfunction. Not even the obligatory love and commitment could save it. It got to a point where suiting up and showing up simply hurt too much.
Somewhere along the line, we’ll see some display of genuine family love and laughter, and we want that, all the while wondering why we didn’t get it, and so we grieve that.
Yes, we mourn what we couldn’t have, and death is not only a reminder; it is the finale. We say goodbye with so much weight, with a burden too hard to hold. There are holes that will never be filled, stories that will never be heard, never told, and scars that won’t heal. There is grief in isolation. It’s more than sorrow. It’s devastation.
You miss what you wanted that to be, but you don’t want it back, not any of it.
Quite honestly, it becomes clearer to me every day, how complicated grief is with all of its added dimensions.
People celebrate certain individuals and shun others. Maybe the shunning was because of addiction or disease, or maybe it was the wrong sexual preference. I don’t know. But one mother and child may have the world to grieve with her, and so she should. In the other case, a parent and child can go through hell with no one comprehending the loss or caring. Others simply deemed the person mourned unworthy for something beyond his or her control, while others are worthy regardless of their choices, because their choices were ones people could relate to, things people didn’t fear for lack of understanding.
I think about these things… and all of life’s unfairness. Life is not fair, nor will it ever be. Accepting that helps but doesn’t heal. There are moments we can’t handle anymore, not just then, no, and we shut down. We have to. And we ask, what’s wrong with me that I feel this way? What’s wrong with me that I see these things others don’t see, that I can’t accept what they accept? What’s wrong with me that I couldn’t fix it, couldn’t explain it, couldn’t stop it, didn’t protest, cried alone? You say, what if they had heard my heart? What if we had resolved all of this? But they wouldn’t have heard, and it wouldn’t have gotten resolved, and we know it. We have to deal instead with feelings of unworthiness, our inadequacies and our excuses, our humanity, and our pain… so much pain.
The burdens we share should inspire universal love and compassion. It does for me, and yet all I see is ever-increasing hate in the world. Another reason to grieve. It’s no wonder I would rather write and live in my own little world than continually bear witness to the imbalance, the insanity.
Oh, I know grief has its profound beauty. We can experience joy, happiness, sadness, hurt, and none are permanent states. They are moments that come to us, moments to awaken us, moments to experience with all of our hearts. In that sense, we must embrace every one of them. And I do.
“Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.” ― Mark Twain
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.