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Posts Tagged ‘darkness’

Since the beginning of October, I have had no choice but to spend all my time in bed. I have been unable to walk for more than five minutes at a time, let alone work and earn my keep. Pain has been my daily enemy as I have tried to reconcile and make Him my friend. Slowly, this chapter in my life is coming to an end. Thankful is an understatement. I am taking it slow, working again bit by bit, and grateful the FMLA laws are following me for the time being.

A poem I read in childhood, loved dearly, and memorized, has come back to my mind. I want to share it here with you.

THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE
by Robert Louis Stevenson

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
and all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The  pleasant land of counterpane.

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This Tanka is written for my friend, Marita. Thinking of you!

Sometimes…

Under the covers
My body warms with the weight
My mind takes a break
When harsh realities speak
My soul refreshes…with time

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Thank you to Indigo Spider of Sunday Picture Press for three amazing pictures, visual prompts for the week. I have chosen the second picture. Head over to her blog and join in the fun!

Visual Prompt 2 — Title and Artist Unknown

BRIDGE OF SMILES

Standing at the top of the curved bridge, Jeanne stopped short. Where was she? What was she doing here?  In the water below she saw the reflection of an old woman, someone she didn’t know. Panic spread to her soul. How could it be? She stared at the still water, hardly a movement, except for the blinking eyes on that barely moving old woman. The dark tree branches from the water’s edge gave the air a misty feel. The gray bricks of the bridge and the high round shape of the walkway made a perfect circle for her to peer down under and look through. Maybe, just maybe, if she peered hard enough…

Jeanne squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them and continued to let the water soothe her until she remembered. Him. His laughter. His touch. His warmth. Ahhh, yes, yes. Her tense wrinkled forehead softened. Her mouth curved up into a smile. Yes, there had been good times. Even when there had been hardly enough to eat, and no work during the depression, they still had each other to hold. And children, a house full of busy, noisy children. A passing memory, a whiff of baby lotion, of clean, air-dried laundry and bread baking caused her to look even deeper into the water. What were their names?

Debbie sat on the edge of the bank watching her grandmother, seeing the smile on her face, the smile which had, of late, become so elusive. She looked beyond the bridge, to the other side. All those white granite stones had names on them, family names, and dates. Everyone there, lying deep in earth’s dust had been loved by someone, even if it had only been the woman who birthed them.

She thought of her Grandfather John, his name carved there, too, in the small plot beyond the bridge. He had been a gentle man, a hard worker who never tired of providing for his six children. She had heard stories from her mother about his kindness to others. Debbie had felt his kindness, too. She remembered the times he took her fishing in the river below his house. Each time she insisted on a new hand-made fishing pole from an alder. He always winked at her, saying no, then off they would go, hand-in-hand, to look for the best one to cut. That was such a long time ago.

Coming here, to this bridge had become a family ritual, a place to come to catch a glimpse of a passing smile on a face that had once worn a perpetual smile.  After Grandfather John was gone, no one knew how to ease Grandmother’s grief. It was so hard watching her mind move inward, forgetting things and forgetting people. She often didn’t remember her own children’s names, and none of the grandchildren.

As Debbie looked up her heart swelled with love. This woman she no longer knew well, who had always been so special in her life but was now almost a stranger, this woman deserved the kind of love she had given out all her life. Visits here would continue as long as possible. There was something about the bridge that allowed  her to go back in time, to remember. She saw Grandmother lift her head and look toward the white granite posts.

Looking beyond the water, at the grassy area, Jeanne’s eyes caught the white markers. She stopped smiling. She lifted her head, sadness in her dull blue eyes. Where was she? She looked down at the water again, puzzled, then turned to see a young woman coming forward. She looked so familiar. She didn’t remember where she had seen her, but when she looked at her, she saw her own blue eyes, smiling back.

“Let’s get your sweater, Grandmother, and then we will head home for dinner. We’ll come back again, soon.”

Debbie put her arm through her grandmother’s, touching fondly her paper-thin, see-through skin, and slowly they walked, arm-in-arm toward the car.

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Thank you to Indigo Spider for the picture prompts this week. It is difficult to choose. I am looking forward to reading all the stories. I have chosen to write for Sunday Picture Press visual prompt #3.

Visual Prompt 3 — A Window on the Past by Marilyn Elmore Bragg (from chessiesphotos.wordpress.com/)
Window To My Soul
A replica of the long ago window was etched in Elizabeth’s mind. Every aspect of it was alive, a vivid capture, imprinted and engraved with indelible brain cells. This wasn’t a mere snapshot of a window, taken in haste, but a full album, which, when pulled from the mind’s memory shelves allowed for  different perspectives, lighting and composition. Often, when an especially hard decision had to be made, the window was a light to her soul, helping her see all angles, to better analyze and debate. The outcome was always a decision made from the vantage point of a balanced view.

Elizabeth sucked in deeply, eager to see her inanimate guide again, this window that had given her a view into her soul twenty-nine years ago. That decision had set her course in life. Now, she was in need of such help again.

Her mind flashed back to what once was. She had never lacked in the dating department. Men were naturally drawn to her. Her curves talked to them. When she walked, her bounce teased the eye. Her long, thick, soft brown hair followed the tilt of her head. Men, and women, too, couldn’t help notice her face, sensuous yet innocent. She never gave much weight to her outer appearance, though. She was what she was. After all, she had nothing to do with it. Genes, passed down through the generations, decided who this part of her was. She just happened to get some of the best from both sides.

What mattered most was the person she was inside, what her heart was, and her accomplishments. She worked hard at being fair and kind, respecting others, and helping when there was a need. Yet she needed to be her own person, one who could take care of herself, independent enough to always survive.This followed her throughout life, and in her career she was known for her fairness and good decision-making skills.

She thought back to the summer of her inner turmoil. Her closest college friend was spending a couple of months at an exclusive resort in the Catskills and had begged her to come. It would be a gift. Money was no object to her friend’s family. She had finally said yes and packed.

Then she thought of Don. She wouldn’t see him for two months. Don, who had her heart, loved her and gave all of himself to her. He could be described as everyone’s best friend, happy-go-lucky, and average in everything. He definitely was not a mover and shaker. She knew they would never be rich but felt she could live a comfortable middle class life with him.

Elizabeth still remembered the first time she had seen Thomas that long-ago summer. Her heart quickened. He was a looker, aristocratic nose, angular chin, easy-going, confident in every move he made. She knew his type. Whatever he wanted, he got. He could make anything happen. She saw him watching her. It excited her, an excitement she had never felt with Don. Such a pull. This was not part of her plan, not part of her being-fair code. But things happened. And they happened to Thomas, too. There were two full months of living the good life, fun, laughter, sunny days and sultry moon-filled nights with beach sand stuck to everything.

The road curved and Elizabeth turned when she saw the Catskill Resort sign. She was so close. She pulled in and saw ahead the dirt road that led to the old fort and her window. She parked. The knots in her stomach grew.

Half running  through the woods, she stopped short. There it was, in front of her, thick scored cement block walls. She had to stop. The memories were too powerful, overwhelming her. She needed to catch her breath. She bent over, with a hand on each knee and waited. Finally, able to look up, she saw, there, in front of her, her window, still faded gray wood, parched from the sun with peeling paint. Shivers ran the length of her spine. She walked up to it, slowly put her arm out and let her fingers gently caress the wood and glass, those same ones she had once touched and now were in her memory from all those years ago.

She remembered that last night long ago,  sitting alone, near the window letting it reflect back to her. She had cried and reasoned, said everything to justify letting go of Don. But she couldn’t. Don was in her soul. Her heart felt sick at the thought of saying goodby to Thomas, of letting go of how he made her feel, of the endless possibilities and easy life she could lead. But, let go she did.

Sometimes she would read in the newspaper about a new business Thomas was starting up, or the new cottage he and his wife were renovating in Newport. Once, many years later, he had called her. It was probably the Lagavulin scotch talking. He told her she had been the only one to break his heart. But he had moved on as she had.

Elizabeth knew she had made the right decision. Don was good to her, a hard worker and a great father to their three grown children. With her career, they had been able to make it work. Things had been going great until last year.

Her computer broke down and she had logged on to Don’s laptop. There, in front of her were messages from someone named Lisa, explicit reminders of many rendezvous. After sitting there frozen for hours, Elizabeth copied them, emailed them to herself and then printed each of them.

That night when Dan came home from work, he walked into packed bags sitting in the hallway. The emails were hung up with clothespins on a piece of wire that was strung from the kitchen window by the sink all the way into the dining room.

The last year was rough, then four months ago Elizabeth met Rick. She still had it, that same curvy body and the same tilt of the head. At age fifty-four her face was beautifully seasoned, not so innocent anymore but still sensuous. Rick was kind and funny. He had time to enjoy her company since he was coming to the end of his career, a good career that had allowed him the finer things in life. They laughed often, enjoyed each others families and looking forward to traveling. With Rick she would have the luxury of retiring early and enjoying a soft relaxed pace.

Don’s letters of apology, cards and phone calls never stopped. Sometimes, it was a single rose with a ribbon left on her doorstep while she was at work. Other times it was a quick email to make sure she was alright. When the kids told him she had the flu, he had her favorite restaurant deliver chicken soup. He never saw Lisa again, told her it meant nothing to him, that he had lost his head and would make it up to her for the rest of their lives if she would give him another chance. Even after he knew about Rick, he didn’t stop.

Elizabeth sat on the ground looking up at this window, the window to her soul. She thought of Don, and their long life together, and the lives of their children and grandchildren. She touched her hurt heart thinking of what she had learned last year. She remembered back to her long ago summer with Thomas. Don had never known about Thomas. She had always felt guilty for not telling him. Was she really any better than he was?

Now, with Rick in her life, there was excitement again. He was like a fire that never stopped burning, had a love for anything old and all that is new. He kept things positive for his family, kept them close together, even after the tragedy of losing his wife.  She knew she could enjoy every day with him, for the rest of their life, knew he would spoil her with whatever she wanted and then give her more.

Sitting alone, staring into the panes of glass, Elizabeth thought about her many life decisions. Just after dusk, she saw the reflection of a young girl, just twenty-five years old, walk slowly away from the window, wiping her tears. She, too, stood up, following in the footsteps of that young girl, knowing what she must do, the answer etched clearly in her mind.

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Thank you to Indigo Spider for Sunday Picture Press and the inspiring photos posted weekly as visual prompts.  I have chosen the picture below but wish I had time to write for all of them. Please visit her blog and join in the fun!

Visual Prompt 1 — Old School by Trevor Litchfield (from Trev’s Teleautograph)

SCHOOLHOUSE

I did try. Honest. I did. I told her once. Actually, twice. She didn’t listen. Or, maybe it was that she couldn’t at that time. Her mind couldn’t handle the possibilities or consequences back then. I understand now it would have complicated our lives.

But, what about ME, my mind, my life?

I know she grew up in a rigid environment, in a poor family, with twelve brothers and sisters, and a strict Catholic background. The priest was akin to God and could do no wrong. When he told families they should go to church every morning, 7:00 A.M. mass, they went.  When he said no meat on Friday, fish it was. When he handed out small white donation envelopes, they took them and didn’t question the number stamped on the left side to track the amount given.

Her Mom worked herself to the bone at home. Her Dad worked when he could but liked his drink more. She never talked much about her younger years but I remember once, in passing, she said there was never enough food in the cupboards.  She was often pushed aside at the dinner table by those with longer arms.

Things were different later, after she left home, when she married and had children of her own. She lived in a comfortable middle class home in a tight-knit community with neighbors who shared her values as they watched each others children. LIfe was good and the memories made there were sweet. I cherish many of those memories, too.

But why didn’t she believe my other ‘memories’?

The old parochial school has forever unnerved me, and now that it’s closed and empty, it’s even worse. Each time I head across town, I swear I’m not going to drive by, but I know I will. I always do. All these years later it still has me in its grasp, even though weeds have replaced children on the pavement and bushes are growing where the basketball hoop once stood.

My eyes glance at the small window and door of the protruding attached office. I remember when it was built, new, in front of the right  L wing by the playground. Now, rotting plywood is boarding the framework, keeping wandering animals at bay.  A shiver ripples through me as my mind recalls. I pull my sweater tighter and button it to my neck. The tightness and warmth feel good.

I startle…the time. I’m late. Time always escapes me here. 2:30. Mom will worry.  I told her I would stop by around 2:15. She sounded so strange on the phone earlier, insisting I visit today even though, like clockwork, it is shopping on Tuesday, BINGO on Thursday and Mass in the small stone cathedral on Sunday.

“Please, Linda, come in, come in.”

“Do you have a cold Mom? Your voice is so hoarse.”

No, Linda, not a cold. Please, sit here beside me.”

From the pocket of her worn sweater she pulls out a fresh newspaper clipping. Her trembling hands pass it to me. I look down at the blaring headline “ARCHDIOCESE ADMITS AND APOLOGIZES FOR ABUSE AND SEX CRIMES AGAINST STUDENTS FORTY YEARS AGO.

I can feel Mom’s eyes watching me as I look up. Our eyes lock and I follow her single tear as it caresses the crevices of her wrinkled cheek and stops by her now-thin lips. I tenderly wipe that lonely salty tear away thinking how salt is used as a preservative, how salty tears can preserve our spirit, our soul, can help us to survive.

“All I ever wanted was for you to say ‘I know’.”

As she gently grabs my hand, she whispers “I do know now, Linda. I do know.”

Floodgates thirty-nine years strong open as I give her my full heart. I am her little girl again feeling the warmth of her bosom as she rocks me back and forth. I hear her soft voice, balm-rich,  murmuring again and again “I know, I know, I know, I know….”

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A surgeon’s sharp knife
Penetrates death-dealing cells
Dare I hope for more?

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This weekend I spent time with my memories. Not all of them. There are far too many for that. Fifty-nine years of  living has taught  me how to reach in and pull them down from the inner shelves of my mind. One at a time, I can dust off whichever I choose and enjoy the gift of reflection.

My memory folds keep and nourish my experiences as well as things near and dear to me, like family, friends, loves, good times, hard times, travel, work, sorrows, joys and even things unknown to me.  Some are easily attainable and others I have tucked away, cradled deep in the recesses of my mind.  These I have to unfold a little at a time, like an accordion, rhythmically, because of their heaviness, and eventually when enough air enters the folds they open themselves to me.

I woke up Sunday morning very early with a restlessness inside, a raw longing that wouldn’t go away. It was more like an ache, a gnawing, and unreachable. It was deep enough to touch my kidneys. I finally gave in to it and dragged myself out of bed. It wasn’t even 6:00 A.M. I sat at my desk staring at the computer without turning it on. How could I take care of myself, take care of whatever this ache was?

I decided I should write, get my feelings out. When the pencil touched the paper nothing happened except the gnawing grew and the rawness became sharper. Words weren’t there.

I knew, then,  what I must do, what I had avoided for quite some time, what I didn’t want to do. As a master at deceiving myself, I no longer had the luxury of time. I was long overdue to face my albatross.

Breathing deeply, audibly, I decided to dig into the very nook and cranny of my memory that I prefer to avoid, the ‘What If’s’ and the ‘If Only’s’. These are very painful to me and when I go there I deal with fear, despair, hopelessness, grief and tears.

Opening the “If Only’s” takes great courage on my part because the crevices often feel like canyons.  My heart becomes heavy and broken knowing many of the ‘If Only’s” were decisions I made that changed my life. Sometimes they were decisions made because I was backed into a corner, sometimes because I didn’t know how to do it any other way, sometimes because circumstances dictated it, and more than once the decision I made was one I continued to regret all my life, despite being the right decision at the time.

I have learned the hard way, that to move on, I must make peace with what burdens me. So, revisit I must. Revisit I did. It was a long hard day, one filled with memories that made me laugh, then cry, comparisons of ‘what if’ to ‘what is’ and vice versa. I held close to me some of the ‘If Only’s’ and refused to let go for hours, finally giving in to what I knew must be. I laughed at the preposterousness of some of my thoughts and cried when my heart ached.

Finally, long after midnight, I was able to put to sleep memories that needed to rest.  Folding them gently, lovingly, I placed them in hibernation, beyond the folds where the accordion can soothe them awake, into the innermost of folds where some day in the future, time will wink and nod. I will know then, I can caress then once more, for a while, without tears and, then,  put them back, not in the innermost of folds, but this time in the memory folds of joy where they can be taken out a little at a time and, then, more often, fondled lovingly and put back for a later visit. Someday, they will be my joy.

Yes, Sunday, I organized my life once more and in the process I didn’t sell my soul.

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