I Remember You

Sunshine hits my face and for a moment I feel like everything is right in the world.

“Girl, you better figure out your shit today. If you don’t, I’m bringing back the grey and rain.”

Excuse me? Who’s talking? There’s no one on the street except three people down the block waiting for the bus.

Like an idiot I answer the voice:

“I’m going for a walk and doing some self-reflection. Then I’ll be writing in my journal. Does that count?”

“No that doesn’t count! You gotta do more than self-reflect. And toss that damn unicorn journal. You’re lost. Your body is here, but your beautiful, vibrant essence is MIA. Find it. Life is short and frankly you’ve wasted a lot of it,”

“Alright, I get it. I’m on it. By the way, are you The Sun?” I ask the voice.

“Of course I’m The Sun, who else would I be?!”

For the love of God. I get one moment of lovely sunshine warming my face and now the actual sun is harassing me. Nice.

Staring at a tree whose pink buds are just starting to bloom, I suddenly feel like crying, but nothing happens.

Fucking anti-depressants.

Walking through the park I imagine myself twirling and dancing but I’m too self-conscious, even though there’s no one around. Wait, it’s a sunny day – why is there no one around?

“For the next half hour the park’s all yours, so use it!” The Sun bellows at me.

“Okayyyy!” I shout back.

Jesus.

I look around tentatively and then spread my arms wide and start twirling. Slowly, then faster, not whirling-dervish fast, but a joyful, awkward twirl like you might see in a Greta Gerwig film.

A 1980’s modern jazz move that I used to do in dance class pops into my head and soon I’m sailing through the air.

Oh I remember now. I remember this girl.

This girl had the kind of energy that drew people to her, she was an introverted extrovert. She needed days of solitude to recharge, but her energy force was electric and her light was dazzling. Not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that made others want to explore their own light.

This girl loved to laugh and she loved celebrating all of life’s beauty:

“I’ve never seen a coral Peony – my God it’s stunning!”

“Look at that handsome man wearing the 1940’s-style suit, how cool is he?!”

“Come here quick – check out the sunset. Can you believe those colors?!”

Oh yes – this girl – I know you!

I want you back. I’m so sorry I let you go. I’m so sorry I let people stomp on you. I’m so sorry I stopped believing in you.

But I’m here now and I want you to know that I’m grateful. For without you I’m just a shell of myself, like an oyster without a pearl.

I promise I won’t let anyone take you from me again.

I’ll twirl every day and leave a trail of sparkle behind me wherever I go. I will fall madly in love with myself and only those who encourage me to be radiant will be allowed in my sacred inner circle. And if anyone dares try to snuff you out again they will be sorry they ever met me.

I’m dancing for you right now – can you see me? It’s not a beautiful dance because I’m out of practice – but it’s all for you. I love you and I need you.

Please come back to me.

My entire body tingles and The Sun whispers in my ear:

“Good job girl, good job.”

I’m crying now, gorgeous gentle tears, that despite my anti-depressants have broken through. I feel like a 1960’s hippie who’s just experienced her first transcendental experience.

“Thank you,” I whisper to The Sun, “thank you.”

“The Sun Goddess,” an original painting by Wincy Xavier, At Saatchi Art.

The Thief

Back in the mid-1980’s if you were a victim of sexual violence you hid it behind your stacked rubber Madonna bracelets and teased bangs. No one talked about it.

As a teenager in that era sex was a fraught issue for me. AIDS was front and centre in the 80’s making it scary. Also, my mother was a recovering Catholic, her internalized shame about sexuality passed down to me like a piece of heirloom jewelry.

When I was raped in high school I was still a virgin. I told no one about the assault and when my attacker gossiped that “he’d slept with me,” I brushed it off like it was no big deal.

The trauma quickly morphed into a skilled thief, stealing years of my life.

I didn’t have sex with anyone for the rest of high school. In my early twenties came a brief stage of boyfriends whom I slept with. The men were not worthy of me, but at the time they were all I felt I deserved. My broken psyche did not like what she was seeing though:

“You’re dating total losers, you’re on a precarious path!” she screamed.

Like the Goddess Artemis, my psyche was my protector. But since she was broken she didn’t know how to best take care of me. Fearing for my safety, she went a bit nuts and shut me down completely.

“No men, no dating, no sex!” she yelled.

So I spent 3/4 of my twenties and the first few years of my thirties single. I was like a flower that had been planted, started growing and then just before it could blossom a crazy gardener came along and put a giant terracotta pot on top of it – killing it.

Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with being single, but being single because of unresolved trauma is very different.

The trauma thief stole my entire early adulthood. Years meant for learning about myself and relationships. For making mistakes and exploring my sexuality. For learning how to trust my instincts and stand up for myself. For dating wannabe poets and having affairs with much older lovers. But I was completely Shut Down, so I lost an entire decade. Pouf!

I spent part of that decade in Austin, a city I loved. I made beautiful friendships and had a great job. But I spent most nights alone. No cute Austin musicians or Texas cowboys for me.

I still grieve for those lost years. Looking at photos of myself from that time I see such a lovely, lonely girl. Though I’m not a big believer in destiny, I do believe that had I seen a therapist during those years I would have stayed in Austin – that it actually was my destiny to stay there. I can totally see myself married, with a grown child, still living in Texas and fighting the Handmaid’s Tale tyranny of Governor Greg Abbott.

Since then I have had the luxury of being able to work with a couple of excellent therapists, but there will forever be a little nest of grief inside of me. I envision it like a small bird’s nest, but with some glittery grass, for even in my grief there is sparkle. There are no birds or eggs in the nest. It is empty, but pretty and it lives in my throat.

(In the ancient Indian text the Vedas, the throat chakra is associated with the ability to speak your personal truth.)

“Sanctuary” by artist Sarah Treanor

A Million Pieces

“So, Janet, how have you been feeling since our last session?”

“Broken.”

“In what way?”

“In what way do I feel broken? You know, like in the typical broken way. Like if you imagine a vase dropping to the floor and shattering into a million pieces. And then maybe imagine trying to bend down and pick up the pieces, but in doing so you cut both your hands and feet on the ceramic shards. So now you’re sitting on the floor surrounded by pieces of your favorite flea market vintage vase and you’re bleeding. The blood is staining the ceramic shards so that instead of their pale oatmeal color they are turning a light rose shade. And as you’re sitting there in pain, both because you lost your favorite vase and because you now have cuts – and because you feel broken – you realize that you actually like the light rose color. So you think about just continuing to sit on the floor and allowing your blood to stain all the pieces of the vase. Because this rose color, it’s so much prettier.”

“I see. Well, that doesn’t sound too good.

“Nope.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard about the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi? The art of putting broken pieces of pottery back together with gold? It’s built on the idea that in embracing imperfections you can create an even stronger and more beautiful piece of art. Does that idea resonate with you at all?”

“No.”

“Why do you think it doesn’t resonate with you?”

“Well, first of all I don’t have any gold to repair the vase with. Second of all, I’m kind of like bleeding out on the floor, so I don’t really have the energy to repair anything.”

“I understand. I’m very concerned about you feeling broken. Are you having any suicidal thoughts?”

“You mean like taking the broken ceramic pieces and plunging them into my neck or heart?”

“Yes. Or, any other type of suicidal thoughts.”

“Not really. I’m too drained from feeling broken to take any action, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“Okay. Remember in our last session I asked you to keep a Joy Journal? Have you written down any moments of joy from the last two weeks?”

“Let me check…My favorite bakery gave me an extra cupcake, so like I paid for one but got two. I don’t know if that qualifies, but I did write it down.”

“Good. What else?”

“I discovered an affordable eye cream that works just as well as the expensive one I was using.”

“Very good. What else?”

“I saw a very pretty red bird on the bush outside my house.”

“A cardinal?”

“What?”

“Was the bird a cardinal?”

“I don’t know. It was just a pretty red bird.”

“Excellent. What else?”

“That’s it.”

“Nothing else?”

“No. I mean as I told you at the beginning of the session I’ve been feeling broken. So my life hasn’t exactly been joy-packed.”

“Yes, totally makes sense. Listen Janet I have an idea, if you’re open to it.”

“What is it?”

“Let’s pick up all the broken pieces, one at a time. And you name each piece – for instance grief or loneliness – then we’ll explore the emotions that come up for you.”

“I’m open to that. I mean we’re going to be picking up like a bazillion pieces, but okay. I just have one request.”

“What is it?”

“The Joy Journal has got to go.”

Dr. Finkelstein smiled.

LAURA

“Lizzie said I’m too old to wear ‘Mom jeans.'”

Michelle burst out laughing.

“You are! We wore those back in the eighties.”

“I told her that shaming was not allowed in our home and that I could wear whatever I wanted.”

Michelle snorted.

“Do you even look good in those jeans? Because I’m guessing not.”

“I mean they are not my best look ever. I was in Urban Outfitters buying Lizzie a few things and I needed a pair of jeans; the salesperson said I looked amazing in them.”

Michelle was laughing hysterically now.

“Oh my God, stop it Michelle,” said Laura starting to laugh. “Changing the subject now. How’s Joshua?”

“Joshua is driving me nuts. He just asked me for a hundred dollars to buy some new limited edition sweatshirt. A sweatshirt. I can’t believe we have kids.”

“Me either. Remember in high school when we promised each other that we would never marry, never have kids and just travel the world together?”

“I know, such cuties we were. Ok, gotta go. Love you girl.”

“Bye love.”

Laura put the lasagna in the oven then went into Lizzie’s room to gather the detritus of teenage life:
5 dirty glasses
3 towels stained Manic Panic Electric Pink Pussycat
4 empty chip bags
2 cereal bowls but no spoons
clothing everywhere – like an H & M store on a Saturday.
Her bedroom was a tableau of teenage life that you might stumble upon at a cool downtown gallery.

The one thing that Lizzie kept clean and organized was the makeup area in her bathroom: lipglosses, brushes and eyeliners all standing tall and proud in their clear plastic containers.

“I can’t believe my fourteen year old daughter has her own bathroom,” Laura thought to herself.

Growing up she had shared a cramped, second floor bathroom with two younger brothers. Every morning her mother would yell:

“For the Love of God Laura, let your brothers in the bathroom! You can put your makeup on downstairs.”

Laura’s mother would drive them to school wearing curlers in her hair. Though it was mortifying at the time, Laura now appreciated it as a practical mom thing to do.

After tidying up and doing laundry, Laura poured herself a glass of Cab Sauvignon which she sipped while making a salad.

Lizzie slothed into the house with a deflated look on her face. She had dyed her hair pink to impress Violet, her latest crush. Violet was a very tall, very skinny girl who had long straight aquamarine hair. She wore all-black and spoke with a British accent from her years living in London. In typical high school fashion, where getting one’s heart broken was as common as bad cafeteria food, it turned out that Violet was not interested in Lizzie. Violet only had eyes for Brian.

“How could she like Brian?! He’s like – what’s that word you love using mom?”

“Smarmy?”

“Ya! He’s smarmy! And he wears these eighties style polo shirts with the collar up – like ‘ironic-preppy.’ He’s repulsive.”

“He sounds vile. Listen, I am so, so sorry about Violet, but honey on the positive side – your hair looks amazing!” Laura said while kissing her sweet, freckled, fourteen year old forehead.

“Thanks mom.”

“Dinner is fifteen minutes out so don’t eat too much crap.”

Lizzie backward-waved at her from the hallway on her way to her bedroom.

“Smells delicious babe,” her husband kissed her neck as he passed through the kitchen.

“I just need to call Tom Finklestein, be right back,” he said tossing his blazer on the couch.

“Fifteen minutes or I’m never making dinner again.”

The lasagna was a big hit and Lizzie told her dad all about Violet and Smarmy Brian.

“Oh Lizzie, I’m sorry, what an upsetting day. But let me tell you something: anyone who chooses ironic preppy over you has a major problem. As your grandma used to say – For The Love Of God.”

They all laughed. David was very good at making Lizzie laugh when she was upset, it was one of the things Laura loved most about him.

Lizzie’s fuchsia hair had inspired Laura, so in the middle of the night she went into her studio and started working on a new canvas. It would be the final painting in her series entitled “Shirley’s Cakes,” due to showcase at The Topanga Canyon Gallery, where rich Bohemians bought Laura’s artwork.

Her mother, Shirley, had been the love of her life and though she had died over two years ago, Laura still felt raw with grief. Shirley had been an amazing baker and had been especially fond of baking – and eating – cakes. Laura started painting her mother with fuchsia hair and curlers, stirring an oversized bowl of cake batter. The bowl was cauldron-like, as if she was stirring up a magic potion.

As she worked on creating the desired shade of pink, Laura remembered a pink cake Shirley had once baked for her: when Laura first got her period, Shirley had surprised her with a two-layer red velvet cake with pink colored cream cheese icing. It read “Congratulations!” in red cursive and her brothers had been jealous:

“Why does she get a special cake? It’s not fair!’

Shirley had yelled:

“Because she’s a woman today – she got her period! Women deserve period cakes every month.”

Her dad had simply said:

“Stop being knuckleheads so we can eat the cake.”

While painting, Laura often spoke to her mother – out loud. One time David had walked in on her and asked:

“Are you on speakerphone?”

“No, I’m chatting with my mother.”

“Oh…okay…”

Laura told her mother about Violet and Smarmy Brian and about how she and Michelle were planning a girl’s trip to NYC in October.

Shirley always had opinions:

That Violet is faking her accent, she only lived in London for two years. And For The Love Of God Laura, please buy a proper fall coat. Every time you travel to the east coast you’re freezing – you’re such an LA girl! By the way, I love Lizzie’s her new hair color, what a spectacular young woman she is.”

I know. Sometimes I just look at her and I want to cry because she’s so precious to me.”

“That’s how I was with you. When you were young I would just stand at your bedroom door with tears streaming down my face; I was overwhelmed by my love for you.

“I miss you mom. I’m going to make coffee now because I need to be awake when I drive Lizzie to school.”

“Before you go: make sure the gallery prices these painting high. Soon half of Hollywood is going to have Laura Keating paintings in their fancy homes. I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks Mom.”

Laura made a pot of coffee, then had one of her madcap ideas: she would bake Lizzie a Betty Crocker cake for breakfast. Lizzie loved their yellow cake with the canned chocolate frosting. Laura checked the pantry to make sure she had everything and then, since David was still asleep, she took an army shower and threw on her school drop-off uniform:
skinny jeans, tank top and long, kimono-style robe.

She grabbed some healthy snacks for Lizzie and threw them on top of her black Converse so she wouldn’t forget to take them to school.

At 7:00 am Laura woke her up by standing at her door and blasting The Go-Go’s “Our Lips are Sealed” on her iphone.

“OMG mom seriously?! Stop it with the 80’s music wake-ups!”

“But they’re so fun! Get ready, I have a special breakfast for you.”

“I’m not going to school. I don’t want to see Violet and Smarmy Brian googly-eyeing each other.”

“Wear something fabulous – maybe that new asymmetrical top thing-y, and do one of your dramatic cat eyes. Then just walk down those hallways letting your light shine bright.”

“Mom, you sound kind of lit, have you been up all night painting?”

“Yes I have darlin! Breakfast in 20 minutes.”

Laura gulped down coffee and finished frosting the cake. She poured Lizzie a glass of orange juice and set a place for her at the kitchen table with the cake placed in front of her.

David zoomed through and said:

“I’m late, I’ll grab a Starbucks on the road. Cake for breakfast? You’re nuts. Have a good day babe!” He kissed her on the cheek as he flew out.

“You baked me Betty Crocker for breakfast?!”

Lizzie sat down and Laura cut them both big pieces.

“Lizzie, this cake is to celebrate how fucking spectacular you are. Please don’t ever forget it. Got it?

“Got it,” said Lizzie taking a massive bite. “This is sooo yummy!”

“And another thing: between the cake and the orange juice your blood sugar level is going to crash in an hour or less, so make sure to have one of those protein bars on you, otherwise you’re likely to go off.”

“Will do. Becks just texted me. She wants me to come over for dinner tonight, her mom will pick us up. Can I go?”

“Her mom is that super conservative woman right?”

“Ya.”

“Okay, but just promise me you won’t listen to a word she says.”

“I’m going to tell her you made me cake for breakfast.”

“Oh I love that, please do – she will be horrified.”

They finished eating in happy silence.

Photo:
https://manicpanic.com/collections/hair-color/products/electric-pink-pussycat-classic-high-voltage

Cake

Friday was my birthday, but I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate.  Earlier in the week I’d had to put down my beloved dog Leroy.  I felt like my heart had been ripped out, stomped on and then thrown back in my body.

Being so emotionally exhausted, I had totally forgotten that I had a brain scan scheduled. My Neurologist, a handsome Euro-Chic man who wears the most gorgeous Italian loafers, told me six months ago that if my aneurysm grew at all he would have to perform a procedure called “coiling” to keep it from bursting.

The funny thing is that when you already have a terminal illness and you’ve endured difficult treatments, finding out that you have a brain aneurysm really isn’t so bad. LOL. As long as the Neurologist didn’t have to open up my head during the procedure – and with coiling you don’t have to – then I was fine with it all.

But by Friday afternoon it all started feeling like it was just too much. Cancer + euthanizing my dog + brain aneurysm = bullsh*t!  So to celebrate the fact that my life was completely ridiculous, I bought myself a giant chocolate cake.  My partner does not eat sweets – how is that even possible?! – which meant more cake for me, yay!  One of the wonderful things about my partner is that he allows me and encourages me to just be myself.  He understood that I had to grieve the loss of Leroy and that I was in no mood for a typical birthday celebration.  So he let me binge watch “Nurse Jackie,” while I pounded back white wine and stuffed my face, toddler-style, with cake.

Saturday morning I woke up with cake smeared on my nightgown and mascara on my face.  I took all of Leroy’s stuff and threw it in our office/laundry room – the one room in the house which always looks like it has just been bombed.  Then I started obsessively cleaning the couch, vacuuming up every last Leroy hair that I could find.  I aired out the pillows on the deck, smashing the pillows against each other to rid them of Leroy’s beautiful brindle hair.  Beating up on the pillows felt cathartic and the tears started flowing. I cried for the loss of Leroy, whom I had loved fiercely and who had been by my side every minute of my recovery.  I cried because there was a very real chance that I would die before my parents and I couldn’t handle breaking their hearts.  And I cried thinking about leaving my partner behind and how one day he would probably be with another woman.

Crying felt so damn good, why didn’t I do it more often?  Why did I always try to control my emotional reactions?  I cut myself another piece of cake and sat outside on the deck, in the cold, surrounded by couch pillows and Leroy’s remaining hairs.  Crying + cake = just the kind of birthday celebration that I needed.

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