“Insanity is hereditary—you get it from your kids.” ~ Sam Levenson

"Bathe in me mother and child" by Warwick Goble

“Bathe in me mother and child,” by Warwick Goble

 

“Well, everybody hurts, sometimes” ~ From “Everybody Hurts” by REM

“Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him.” ~ Dr. Henker

Migraine Brain
Migraine Brain

I’ve been wiped out for over 24 hours now with a killer migraine. I had to stop taking my migraine prevention medicine cold turkey (instead of the usual method of backing down gradually) because I had developed a rash on my upper body that had blisters. I know—too much information, but I just wanted to explain my absence. I actually spent most of today lying on the bed in the fetal position with cold packs on my head. Even walking into the brighter living room and kitchen caused me pain. Just have to say how much this sucks in case you couldn’t tell how not happy I am.

Mother’s Day is in two days, and I’m also feeling sorry for myself about this. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with eldest son. This time it’s my daughter. She’s been getting progressively aloof in the last four months. Corey and I have been trying to figure out what’s going on. But when I ask her about it, she says that nothing is wrong. This is kind of her normal reaction when confronted: denial.

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Stock Photo of Two Little Girls, Sisters Or Friends, Sitting OnI should say that Alexis has always gone through these phases. I remember when she was in school, she and her best friend would suddenly not be speaking, and when I would ask what was wrong, Alexis would say “nothing.” I mean, she and her best friend would be like sisters one day, and then a complete rift would arise the next day. I always found that odd, but I knew that it was none of my business.

I’m not even sure that she realizes that she does this, but she did the same thing at the beginning of last year. She just began to withdraw from our lives, and when I asked about it, she assured me that nothing was wrong. And just as suddenly as she withdrew, she was back, and everything was fine.

This time, her displeasure seems to be aimed at Corey, but we aren’t sure why. Their relationship has been close ever since Corey and I got married, and when her boyfriend got a new job that causes him to be out of town sometimes, it has always been Corey who she calls when she needs something: clogged toilet . . . mouse in a trap . . .  broken coffee table  . . . whatever. Corey would drop everything to help her, even if he was in the middle of something here.

Now, she doesn’t call him at all. He has tried to find out what is wrong, as have I, but the only response we get is that nothing is wrong. She’s busy. I’ve had the same thing happen to me, so I can empathize with what Corey is feeling: frustrated from the lack of information and the ways in which his attempts at reconciliation have been ignored.

“Young girl…violins…center of her own attention” ~ “Daughter,” by Pearl Jam

mary-cassatt-summertime
"Summertime," by Mary Cassatt

As far as friendships are concerned, Alexis is actually a lot like her father and eldest brother in believing in the idea that the whole world revolves around them. Don’t get me wrong. Alexis is a wonderful, generous friend. Always there to help her friends when they need it, and most of the time, always there for her family. Her father was like that; if one of his friends called and asked him to help chop down a tree, he was there. In the meantime, things around the house that needed repairing were never attended to.

Friendships for all three of them are very important. I, too, believe that friends are important, that if a friend needs me, I should be there. However, the big difference is that I put family first. This inability to put family first was a big bone of contention between my ex and myself. It was also what caused Alexis to leave home after she graduated. She was absolutely clueless or perhaps indifferent as to how her actions were adversely affecting her family. We finally had to draw a line, and she chose to leave.

“If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.” ~ Bette Davis

edmond-francois-aman-jean-portrait-of-a-young-woman
"Portrait of a Young Woman," by Francois Edmond

I remember so many sleepless nights during that period, worrying about whether or not she was alive and safe. I wanted to call the police but didn’t. Instead, I would sometimes drive through the neighborhood to see if her car was parked by one of her friends’ houses. In that way, I knew where she was and could take some small comfort in the knowledge that she had found some place to stay.

Oddly enough, our reconciliation occurred on a Mother’s Day when I came home to find a card from her and a long letter apologizing for her behavior. I called her immediately and asked her to come home, and she did. From that point, things were very good, until she began to go into these phases of isolation again.

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything.  You just need a lot of love and luck—and, of course, courage.” ~ Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986

mary-cassatt-young-woman-reading
"Young Woman Reading," by Mary Cassatt (detail)

When you are a parent, it’s so hard to know if you are making the right choices, if you have made the right choices, if you could have done something differently that might have resulted in a better outcome. I have learned that parenting is one of those on-the-job training situations. You can never be fully prepared, no matter how many books and articles you read. 

There is no other job in the world that can make you feel so completely insufficient and that can cause so much self-doubt. It is a job filled with regret over words spoken in anger and frustration and actions taken in an attempt to reign in unruly offspring. Parenting can make you feel completely unqualified, whether you are raising sons or daughters or both.

“To understand your parents’ love you must raise children yourself.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Mother With Children Klimt
"Mother with Children," by Gustave Klimt

And then there is the “mother curse” that comes back to haunt you: “I hope you grow up and have children exactly like you.” And you do. Your children may not be exactly like you, but they test you in the same ways that you tested your own parents. They push the boundaries and break your heart just as you did the same to your own mother and father. In this way, history does repeat itself.

A friend of mine, in responding to my recent post on Eamonn, had this wonderful analogy: “Raising a teenager is like nailing Jello to the wall.” Oh how true. Except that I would change the word teenager to children, because no mater how young or old they are, your children still retain that ability to make you feel as if you are somehow wanting, unfit, and unreasonable, even when you are certain that you are not.

“Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.” ~ David Bly

pablo-picasso-mother-and-child
"Mother and Chld," by Pablo Picasso

In my heart, I have no doubts that Alexis loves me and loves her family. I also know that the very aspects of her personality that grate on me so much are those aspects that are similar to my own disposition: her moodiness, her mercurial swings, her absolute fierceness in her devotion to her friends. So I do keep these things in mind.

Another thing that I know is that I still have the ability to hurt my own mother and she me, even when we don’t intend to do so, which only shows that regardless of age, the relationships between mothers and daughters are fraught with landmines.

The risk diminishes with age and maturity as both parties reach a point at which they understand each other more than they don’t understand each other. But the need to step carefully never completely goes away.

So in the end, I will wait out this current estrangement, try to be patient, knowing that this pulling away is a necessary part of her growing up. And I will try to remind myself not to be hurt, even when I am . . . in spite of the fact that my daughter, who lives in the same city as I, mailed my mother’s day card.

More later. Peace.

“Friendship is a sheltering tree” ~ Samuel Coleridge

dawn-by-janson-jones1

“Dawn” by Janson Jones (Floridana Alaskiana)*

“A friend is one to whom one can pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keeping what is worth keeping . . .”

“. . . and, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” ~ Arabian Proverb

gulf-fritilary-by-janson-jones
Gulf Fritilary by Janson Jones

My second semester of teaching at ODU was one of the hardest. Caitlin had died the previous November, and I had managed to finish the Fall semester with my two classes. But going into Spring semester was an endurance test.

I was just trying to survive the fact that my entire life had been turned upside down. I frequently burst into tears, and was more depressed than I ever had been or have been since. The one good thing about that semester was the entrance of a new person into my life: Mari LoNano.

Mari’s (pronounced like Mary) office was right next to mine. We had talked briefly during the Fall term, and then more after Caitlin died, but our friendship really bloomed during the Spring (no pun intended). We began to eat lunch together and to have long conversations about life, death, and survival. By that summer, we had become inseparable, and by the fall semester, when Marty, Mari’s former office mate, moved up in the hierarchy and was given an office to herself, Mari and I became office mates.

It had been a long time since I had had friendship with another woman on a daily basis, and it was something that I really cherished. In fact, I’m not sure that I would have survived that first year after Caitlin if not for Mari.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

key-west-sunset
Key West Sunset by Janson Jones

I realized in those first painful months that I was but a shell of my former self. I wasn’t sure about anything, least of all life and my own existence. Mari offered me comfort in so many ways, but probably the most meaningful way in which she became an important part in my life was through our long conversations. Mari told me about the death of her mother years before. It was obviously still very painful for her.

Like me, Mari carried around an immense amount of survivor’s guilt. After caring for her mother during her illness, Mari had not been with her when she died. I could tell that this fact bothered her tremendously. It colored all of her relationships.

We were two lost souls, and we found each other. I have no doubts that fate brought us together.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” ~ Goethe

great-blue-heron
Great Blue Heron by Janson Jones

Another important aspect of our friendship was that we were both aspiring poets. Mari had more experience in the craft than I did. At the time, I was still writing mostly from my gut, paying little attention to the actual craft of poetry. We shared our poems, and from her I learned more about line breaks and rhythm than I had ever learned in my undergraduate workshops.

She was also responsible for broadening my horizons into contemporary poets. From her I learned about Bruce Weigl, Christopher Buckley, Molly Peacock, Kate Daniels, and countless other wonderful poets. It was the opening of an important door for me: Writers become better by reading the works of those they admire.

Most of my poetry dealt with grief, while Mari wrote about a wide range of topics: her sister’s horse, her mother, her grandfather, her dogs, nature. I was amazed by her ability to bring to life images and to capture feelings.

We tried to inspire each other into writing more, and we talked about going to poetry retreats some day—something that unfortunately, we never managed to do.

“No love, no friendship, can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever.” ~ Francois Mocuriac

bahia-honda-state-park
Bahia Honda State Park by Janson Jones

We found that another thing that we had in common was that both of our husbands had attended Virginia Tech in the forestry and wildlife program. Ironically, neither of our husbands were working in their fields.

Mari’s husband was working for UPS, and mine was working for the medical school as a radiation safety officer. Luckily for us, Buddy and Paul hit it off, and we started to do things together as couples; going to dinner along with Marty and Jack was always a nice evening out. And the four of us would try new restaurants in the area. Those dinners were great fun.

But mostly, it was Mari and me together. One of our favorite things to do was to eat at the cafeteria near the mall where they had those great rolls and then go shopping. Boy did we shop. For about four straight years, we went shopping at least once a week. Unfortunately, my shopping addiction was my way of dealing with my grief, not a very healthy coping mechanism, especially because of the debt that I incurred.

Mari shopped for a lot of reasons: she loved fashion; she had the money to buy pretty much what she wanted, and I believe that shopping also filled a void for her as well. Regardless, we had some great times finding bargains at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, two of our favorite stores.

“The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon

snowy-egret
Snowy Egret by Janson Jones

I ended up at The Chrysler Museum after doing some freelance work, and Mari got a job at a very prominent private school. I have to admit that even though I loved my job at the museum, I was envious of her new teaching position. Our new jobs caused us to see each other less frequently, and then, suddenly, abruptly, our friendship ended.

Mari was going through a very turbulent time in her life, and I was trying to be supportive, but it seems that something came between us. I spent months trying to get Mari to explain to me what had gone wrong, but I never really got an explanation. Finally, hurt and frustrated, I stopped trying.

One of the last times that I saw her before she moved out of the area was purely by accident. We ran into each other at the post office. By that time, she had divorced Buddy, and I was separated from Paul. Our lives were still moving on parallel paths, but they were not intersecting as they once had.

I truly grieved the loss of my friendship with Mari. At first I didn’t realize that I was grieving. It took my therapist pointing it out to me before I acknowledged the obvious. Mari’s exit from my life was a significant loss, so important and integral had she been for years.

“Hold a true friend with both your hands.” ~ Nigerian Proverb

Great Eggfly by Janson Jones
Great Eggfly by Janson Jones

I thought about Mari a great deal over the years. Finally, in 2005 when I was working for the realty company, I did a Google search to try to locate Mari. I found out where she was working, and I e-mailed her and included a poem that I had written about her. It was called “Your Mother’s Pink Sweater.” I had written it in response to a poem that she had written about her mother that I never forgot, “Flying Into the Sun.” The poem was about her mother, and it mentioned a pink sweater that her mother asked for when she was dying.

I was surprised but incredibly happy when Mari wrote back to me. It was as if the years and distance between us had never happened. We started writing and calling each other, and we are still in touch today. We’ve never had the long talk about what went wrong. We’ve been saving it for the day when we live near each other again and can float around in the pool, sipping iced tea together. I’m content with that.

“For believe me, in this world which is ever slipping from under our feet, it is the prerogative of friendship to grow old with one’s friends.” ~ Arthur S. Hardy  

adirondack-chairs-by-lita-liwag
Adirondack Chairs (detail) by L. Liwag

I’m glad that I finally decided to find her. I had been talking about it for years, and Corey kept urging me to do something about it. I suppose I waited because I was terribly afraid of being rejected again, and I just wasn’t sure that I could handle that. Luckily, that is not how things turned out, and I got my best friend back.

When Mari and I were writing together, we used to talk about growing old together, how we would get a house by the sea and two Adirondack chairs. And then we would spend our days growing flowers, watching birds, and reading. It was a wonderful fantasy. I don’t know that our plans will ever come to fruition, but if I had to choose one friend to grow old with together, it would be Mari.

More later. Peace.

*Most of the images in this post are from Janson Jones’s blog, Floridana Alaskiana. I know that Mari loves beautiful photography and nature and would appreciate the beauty of these pictures. To see more of this incredible photography, please visit http://floridana.typepad.com/weblog/.

                                                                                                                         
 

 

Your Mother’s Pink Sweater

 

I have it, you know,

your mother’s pink sweater,

the one she wore

when she ran headlong

into the ocean. I claim it.

 

I stole it from you

when you were distracted

by the boy’s brown skin.

I placed it in a box, beneath unsent words

and misdirected sorrow.

No longer the color of spring peonies.

you would be much pressed

to avouch its heritage.

Stained by too many tears,

(yours, mine),

It little resembles the soft, pink yarn

of youthful memory. Nor do we.

 

Who holds your hands now

when you step into the night?

Do your thoughts fly south

even momentarily?

 

I have your mother’s pink sweater.

Do not ask me to return it.

I have woven its threads into my tapestry.

It cannot be separated without unmaking.

Did you think that I would leave it

untouched for eight years?

 

January 28, 2005

 

 

“It’s the ones you can call up at 4:00 a.m. that really matter.” ~ Marlene Dietrich

 rice-paper-butterflies-by-janson-jones

Rice Paper Butterflies by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana

“Stand By Me” ~ Ben E. King

“I’ll Stand By You” ~ The Pretenders

chinese-friendship-symbol
Chinese Friendship Symbol

A lot of the posts that I have written recently have dealt with matters in the past, which has led to my pondering the people who have played significant roles in my life, my friends. So I thought that I would write a post or two on some friends that I have mentioned only by name but have never really elaborated upon in any posts.

My first real best friend entered my life when I was 14. Her name was Sarah, and she lived a few streets over from my parent’s house. Sarah and I both went to the same junior high school. As much as I’ve tried, I cannot remember exactly how we met. I believe that it was through another friend of mine at the time, Erica, who lived directly behind me.

I was actually very close to Erica’s entire family; her mother and mine were and are very close friends, and we still keep in touch with them to this day. But at the time, Erica and I used to walk to school together. The junior high was almost an exact mile from our house, and we would spend our time laughing and having a great time on our walks to and from school. After Sarah entered our lives, she began to walk with us as well, unless her father drove her to school.

Like me, Sarah is an only child, which probably is what drew us together in the first place. Sarah and I became fast friends, and spent most of our time together after school. Both of her parents worked, so her house was preferable to mine. We could get into more trouble that way.

We shared everything: makeup, clothes (even though she was larger in the chest and shorter by several inches), food, jewelry, records (you know, those things before CDs). I remember going to her house in the morning to pick her up for school and walking in to the sounds of Black Oak Arkansas playing very loudly on her stereo. That was a wake-up call!

Unlike my mother, Sarah’s mom gave her some privacy when she was on the phone, and we used to spend hours on the phone together. It’s amazing how much you have to talk about when you are that age: boys (of course), girls (who we liked and who we didn’t like), television, boys, our hair, boys . . .

“It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us.” ~  Epicurus

friendship1I got my first serious boyfriend when I was in the 9th grade, and of course, Sarah was my biggest adviser. When I had a fight with my boyfriend, she would be there to cheer me up. When I wanted to talk about things, Sarah always knew the answers. In fact, it was Sarah who told me how to use tampons (too much information?) because my mother didn’t believe in them.

Obviously, there were a lot of things about Sarah that I envied, but that never stopped us from being close. She was there for my first big love, and I was there for hers. If you wanted to date either one of us, you had to accept me or accept Sarah. It was that simple.

When I got my first car, a VW Bug, Sarah and I drove everywhere. I loved that car, and I loved spending time with my friend. There really wasn’t anything that we couldn’t talk about or do together. This was my first time with this kind of friendship, and it taught me a lot about being a friend: that you were there for your friend no matter what, that you never put a boy before your friend, that you trusted your friend with your deepest secrets and reciprocated in that trust. Not having siblings, especially sisters, I had to learn a lot of this.

Sarah really was the first friend that I had that I could call at 4 in the morning if I needed her, and she would be there. Of course, I never did call her parents’ house at 4 in the morning, but I probably could have. Her parents loved me. If there was one bone of contention between Sarah and me, it was that her father was always saying “Why can’t you be more like Lita?” If only he knew . . .

” . . . the sweetest support is found in the most intimate friendship.”  ~ Cicero

girls-holding-hands-bwOne of the great ironies of our friendship was that Sarah dated several of my guy friends, including my first husband. Oh she was really smitten with him. Sarah was actually Paul’s date to the senior prom. At the time, I had just started dating my very Catholic boyfriend, who was one of the best guys I ever had a relationship with (but that’s another story). Eventually, Paul broke Sarah’s heart, and I was her crying shoulder.

I could no more explain why he broke up with her than the man in the moon, but she thought that I might have some words of wisdom since he and I were such good friends. Paul and I were good friends, and he had broken up with another of my friends to date Sarah. It was always amusing years later to recall how my husband had dated my friends, and I had dated his.

But I digress . . .

Sarah fell in love with the man that would become her husband at a very young age—18. At first, I really didn’t like the whole situation. I thought that Sarah had not chosen wisely. But when I realized that she really did love him and he her, I changed my mind.

I was the only bridesmaid at her wedding. It was a small church wedding, and I remember it well. My former high school boyfriend (the love of my life, I thought then) showed up, and we briefly and mistakenly rekindled our doomed relationship. Other than that, it was a great wedding, except for the fact that her father really did not want her to get married.

“A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.” ~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

mother-and-child-detail-from-the-three-ages-of-woman-c-1905-gustave-klimt1
Gustave Klimt's "Mother and Child from The Three Ages of Women," detail, 1905

When Paul and I got married, Sarah was very pregnant with her first and only child, Leyna. Paul and I moved to Blacksburg right after the wedding so that I could start graduate school and he could finish his bachelor’s degree, so I was not in town when Sarah gave birth to her daughter. We tried to stay in touch by phone as much as possible while I was away, but as with all things, our lives started to move in different directions.

Sarah and I never lost touch completely, though, mostly because of efforts on her part I’ll have to admit. She would drop by my Mom’s, and later drop by our house. It never really mattered if she hadn’t called. I was just glad to see her.

“True friendship consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and value.” ~  Ben Jonson

When Catlin died, Sarah was right there, offering her love and support. By then, she and Joe had been married almost 11 years. The marriage that I never thought would last was still going strong, and Sarah was still there for me, regardless of time passed between us.

We run into each other from time to time at the store, and she e-mails me. She also is a loyal reader of my blog. Out of all of the people who have been in and out of my life over the years, Sarah is one constant that I know that I can still count on. I may not need to call her at 4 in the morning, but I know that I still could if I had to. I also know that if she dropped by my house one day, she wouldn’t judge me by the disarray that my house is in. Now that’s true friendship.

You don’t get too many people like that in your life, so when you do, you should cherish them. I hope that Sarah realizes just how much she still means to me, no matter how much time and distance have come between us. She was my first true best friend, and that’s not a slot that can be replaced by anyone, no matter how long you live. Other people will come along, move in and out of your life, supplant the best friend moniker, but no one can replace your first true friend.

End of Part 1

There will be more later. Peace.