The Paper Doll

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I am flat like a paper doll,

No way to stumble,

No way to fall.

Here I sit in black and white,

Mostly in darkness,

Searching for light.

Sometimes I feel my edges curl,

A second dimension,

Enters my world.

***

Something happens and flattens me out,

Crushing my hopes,

Leaving me… without.

The Best Christmas

(Sorry, I know this one is long… but, it is what it is…)

christmasOne year when I was separated from my now ex-husband, I was staying with my older sister for a few months.  I had previously been staying with my parents after suffering a nervous breakdown and leaving my job at the local community college.  The year had been a difficult one, nervous breakdown, walking away from my four-year job, bitter feud with my parents, eventually becoming a virtual squatter on my sister’s couch.

However, the month before Christmas, things started to improve; I landed a job as a manager at a local family owned business.  Still, I was having a difficult time as my out of control spending habits from my untreated illnesses started to creep into my real life.  Whenever I felt unhappy or alone, as I did on most days, I simply went shopping for things I did not want, did not need, and could ill afford; a classic symptom of borderline personality disorder.

I had cut up my credit cards months before the holiday approached, but I knew I could not afford to spend $10 on either one of the girls I loved so dearly.  Each day I watched as the stack of presents grew underneath my sister’s Christmas tree.  The presents were neatly wrapped in glittery paper, tied with ribbons and adorned with bows, all carefully marked with the name of her son, daughter or husband.

I was happy to have a place to live, but my heart ached at feeling so out-of-place at Christmas time.  My sister and I were not very close, and she made it clear I was in her way daily when she would sigh loudly every time she had to move something of mine that was in her way.  I felt terrible, even though she would profess, “Oh, knock it off, if it was a big deal, I wouldn’t have invited you to stay with us.”  Still, I couldn’t help but feel like I had been a pawn in the big feud between her and our parents.

At night, when everybody would sleep, I would sometimes cry, as silently as I could so I would not disturb them; I would wonder what part I had played in the feud.  My dad was not speaking to my sister over some letter he had written and had given each of us kids a copy of; I am not even certain if I read it.  In turn, we all had to take sides.  I needed a place to live, so I guess I chose hers.  The family became divided in a dispute that lasted until the day he was shot; me and my older sister on one half of a canyon, my mom, dad, brother, and younger sister on the other.

So this is Christmas, I thought, wondering what I could do for my girls as I looked at the presents under the tree.  Well, absolutely nothing.

My girls were coming out and spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with me, their father did not really care about celebrations and we had maintained a civil separation.  I drove the 45 miles into town and picked them up, happy to see them, but sad that I did not even have the money to give them their traditional Christmas Eve pajamas.

They were excited to come, “Oh, Mommy,” they exclaimed, “We don’t care about presents.  We’re just happy we get to spend the holiday with you.”  I was so warmed to hear those words; but, still, I wanted to give them so much.  I knew their cousins were getting lots of toys; the tree was already buried, and Santa would be bringing even more.

When we arrived at the house, the girls didn’t seem very interested in sticking around and visiting with me; instead, they wanted to go outside with their cousins.  I agreed, wanting desperately for them to enjoy themselves and have a good time.  They disappeared outside in the cold for hours.  I looked outside and didn’t see them.  “Where are they?” I asked my sister as she started cooking their Christmas Eve dinner.

“Oh, I think they are in the trailer,” she said as she looked outside noticing a swinging door open on the tractor-trailer door.  Their yard is reminiscent of a car graveyard, old vehicles lined up, rusting away in the sun; my brother-in-law used to own his own trucking company, so they have two of the box type trailers as well.  The kids would often play in there to get out of the wind and cold.

When they came in late in the afternoon, their cousins settling in for Christmas Eve dinner, I assumed we would be eating as well, “No, Mommy,” they urged, “Put your coat on and come with us.”  I followed them as they led me outside to the trailer.

As soon as I stepped foot inside, my eyes filled with tears; they had transformed the inside of the trailer into a festive Christmas hall, complete with a paper Christmas tree.  There were paper chains, ornaments made of Popsicle sticks, tinsel from the Dollar Store, candles, candy, and presents sitting on floor underneath the construction paper tree.  They had even constructed a fireplace and had hung three stockings over the make-believe fire.

“How did you do this,” I asked them, not believing my eyes, “where did you get the money?”

They explained that their dad had taken them shopping at The Dollar Store and had chipped in some of his own money, wanting us to have a nice day; and their cousins had spent the afternoon helping them set it all up.  I hugged them tighter than I ever had in my life.

They had stacks of sleeping bags, apparently we were to spend the night outside as well; just as well, I thought, I did not want to wake up in the house full of gifts my children couldn’t have.

We spread the sleeping bags out and sat down to a feast of Dollar Store snacks and junk.  Later on that evening as we were singing Christmas songs and telling funny stories, my niece and nephew came out and begged to stay the night with us, claiming it was more fun out there than in their boring house.  They were allowed to stay about an hour until my sister came out and demanded their return.

Christmas morning we awoke to stockings filled with lotion, soap, body spray and candy, Santa had been good to us.  We opened presents they had bought for us and each other; I have never been more delighted with things purchased for under a dollar.

I am teary eyed as I think of that year and the love I know my girls had for me then, and I for them.  I couldn’t give them anything, but I wanted to give them the world.  I can only imagine when they saw how much their cousins had, and how they received nothing, they must have known how much I screwed up.  Yet, I wondered who taught them to love that way…

 

Happy Birthday to Me

I had not intended to write any more about my second ex-husband, but apparently I have some things I still need to work through.  So, absent a therapist, writing seems to be the most liberating way to rid my mind of these leftover pieces of him.  He is not so much on my mind because I miss or love him, but his replacement has so many qualities he lacked; I find myself living my life in reversing asking “why” on a daily basis.

Currently, I am staying with my sister for a few weeks, 6 if the truth be told, and well, I am telling the truth (small attempt at humor).  I actually do not know her well, so when I begin waxing philosophical about my past, expecting sympathy, I had no idea I was in the wrong house.  For each story I revealed about my life with my ex-spouse, my younger sister becomes less inspired by me, “It’s your own fault, you deserved it. You could have left.” She spouts her wisdom as I sit and stare at her blankly.  Interesting.

For the years I was married to him I had few people to talk to; my family was not speaking to me, or was it me not speaking to them?  Either way, there was no communication, so I had nobody to comfort me when I was down.  I did not really have any close friends; I had co-workers, but nobody who really cared to listen when things were really rough at home.

So, here I sit, fingers poised at the keyboard, my sounding board, my new best friend.

One year, after reuniting (we had previously been separated for three years) the prior year, I woke up the morning of my birthday and wondered if he might, at the very least, say happy birthday.  I thought back to his birthday just two months earlier; the girls and I bought balloons, streamers, and other decorations to transform the house so he would wake up to a festive mood.  We made a cake, complete with birthday candles, gave him a few gifts, and tried our best to show him he was loved.

His response was his usual low-key, monotone voiced, “Thank you,” but I knew he appreciated the effort.  He was not big on celebrating anything, but he always valued the kids doing anything for him.  The gifts were never right and we typically made a joke about him returning everything, but the thought and love was there.

The day of my birthday, I got up at 4:30 a.m. for my morning run, came back to the house for Pilates, got ready for work, and headed to the office for my normal routine.  After work was much the same; I went for a run, cooked dinner, cleaned up afterwards, and went out to the front porch to sit by myself.  He went up to his computers to play some video games.

I started crying to myself, softly, not sobbing, just little tears, at having been forgotten.  I knew there would be no celebration, no party, and no cake.  My children were not old enough to shop on their own or to bake by themselves; and it takes a mom to prompt them to do such things.  However, it does not take much to remind somebody to say the words “Happy birthday”.

Finally, he came outside and sat beside me for a minute, he noticed the tears, surprisingly, “What’s the matter with you?” he asked.

“Well,” I sighed deeply, almost afraid to answer, “Today was my birthday.”

“So, what’s the big deal?” he was incredulous, “It’s not like you’re nine.”

“It would have been nice if you had at least said happy birthday,” I replied.

He said the f-word and a few other things to me, making me feel worse, and walked away.

Happy birthday to me.

 

The Dichotomy of Being Me

I have loved sad songs for as long as I can remember; I was only 7 years-old when Austin Roberts’ song Rocky came out.  The haunting lyrics reverberated through my mind for years, “Rocky, I’ve never had to die before, don’t know if I can do it”.  The song played often in 1975 as I rode the school bus back and forth from school in the cold Wyoming winter.  Certainly, I would not have sung out loud, but in my heart I was singing as loud as I could, probably wishing I was the girl dying at the end, the one Rocky was in love with.

Later, I obsessed over Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey; many times I’ve had discussion about the line, “One day while I was not at home, while she was there and all alone, the angels came.”  I have often debated the side I believe she committed suicide while the opposing side, if you can call it that, would rather not discuss it.  My point, inquiring minds want to know.  Somehow, I know it was suicide; sadly, I always wanted it to be.

My most recent obsession has been the song about Vincent Van Gogh and his painting Starry Night, well, mostly just Van Gogh and his mental illness, but it refers to Starry Night.  The poignant lyrics of Don McLean’s hit song remind me so much of my own battle against the demons in my mind, that I have obsessively played the song time and again, sometimes looking for answers that I know do not exist.

There are songs that make me sad for other reasons, because they remind me of my dad, like Seven Spanish Angels, just a “dad thing”; or a song that is reminiscent of something fun with my girls, Meatloaf’s Two out of Three Ain’t Bad, when they were little, we used to sing it into hairbrushes and fall onto the bed giggling and laughing; and a song that reminds me of my cousin that died when she was 26, Seasons in the Sun, a real tear-jerker.

Strangely enough, when I want to be sad, as sometimes happens, I play one of my favorite, suicidal thought inducing songs and wait for the sadness to set in.  It does not take long at all, one or two notes and the memories, the pain, whatever trigger I need it floods my mind and the tears flow.  Usually.  Occasionally, I sit faced with no emotion and simply listen to the notes, each staccato sound punctuating a feeling I am suppressing.  So it goes.  So it goes.

The dichotomy of this side of my personality is I abhor anything depressing in any other form of entertainment.  A few years ago I was incapacitated while having 15 surgeries over a 3 year period; as a result, I watched far too much television.  It was even challenging for me to read a book, as one of my surgeries was an incredibly painful shoulder surgery followed up by six months of intensive physical therapy.

With so few choices in television, I watched a few (read – a few too many) of the reality based, contest television shows.  However, I would watch the first 45 minutes of the show and then change the channel, and I would not watch the last episode when they determined the winner of whatever challenge they had.  I seriously did not want to watch anybody being hurt or disappointed.

Additionally, I do not watch horror films of any sort or movies where there is gratuitous violence.  Romance, comedies, documentaries, or dramas are all fine, but blood and guts, or anything where somebody is going to get hurt, and I am out.

Still, a song where somebody dies, commits suicide, or loses their loved one; I guess I’m all in.  Not in the gangster rap kind of way, as you can tell by my music choices; but in the way where you can listen to the song and still understand the words.

I wonder daily, what’s wrong with me?

On Being Judged

I recently discovered I do not like being judged by others; I get enough from myself.  Every day, I scrutinize every inch of my body in front of a mirror and scold myself for every stretch mark, every bulge, every blemish, every scar, and every mole.  Then, since I have not mocked myself enough, I take out my handheld mirror with three times the magnification and I continue the process so of picking on me. Of course, the day would not be complete without hours of ruminating over my personality and character flaws, not to mention my parenting and partnering skills.  With two failed marriages and two children who do not speak to me, those are difficult to overlook.

Yet, daily, I invite others into my life to pass along their judgment on me as well; it seems my daily rituals are not enough and I need to allow somebody else to beat up on me as well.  The black and blue marks around my eyes are not from sleep deprivation, they are from being boxed around until I am blue in the face; figuratively speaking of course.

As I walk into the gym each day for three hours of working out, I see the judgmental eyes staring my way; are my arms jiggling?  Am I wearing last year’s colors?  Is my hair mussed?  I look over at the man on the treadmill next to me, he is around my age, not bad looking, but he has a gold loop earring. YIKES!  I pass my judgments on him.

Later on in the day, my mother makes her weekly phone call to me; “I told your kids you don’t want them to have your new number.  They really hate you now,” she announces.  Thanks, Mom, I think to myself.  “You know, they say you never respected them.  You were not a very good mother, anyway,” she continues.

“Yes, I know,” I answer, thinking, and neither were you; passing my judgments along to her now.

I come home, settle down in front of the computer and read a review of a story I had posted online.  A reader blasts me, not for the story or the writing, but me personally; I feel hurt, attacked.  I read the review, pick apart the grammar, the spelling, and judge the reviewer.

Honestly* I try very hard not to judge others; I have even said many times that I have changed my outlook on judging others, holding back my opinions and reserving comment because “I wasn’t there” or “I don’t have all the facts”.  However, that was as a result of my mother’s trial for the murder of my father; I typically mean regarding scenarios such as guilt or innocence.  Though, I do not intend to be so judgmental.

Perhaps, I should simply sit home, stare in the mirror and judge myself more; although, I am fairly critical and nobody could hurt me more.

*Caveat… I abhor using the word honestly; it looks as though I have to announce when I am being honest, as if I usually lie.  I don’t.

I Have OCD

Every day while I am at the gym, I work out on the treadmill and step very carefully, guaranteeing each time the logo on the belt wraps around my foot will land in the same spot.  If it starts to come up a little faster than I expected because I have increased the speed, I change my gait so my foot will land squarely in the middle of the logo.

When I shower, I pump the shampoo dispenser eight times, not seven, not nine, but eight.  Occasionally, if I am feeling a little spunky I may change it up and pump it only four and do half my hair and then pump it four more and do the other half of my hair.  When my shower is over, I put five pumps of lotion on each leg, five on my stomach, and five total for my arms.  If the count is off in any way, I feel like the rest of my day is completely off.

It is not like I am superstitious, or as if I believe I will have bad luck; however, if my “counts” are out of sorts for any reason, I feel completely out of sorts and in a fog, the way you do when you are walking around in the naked dream.  You know the one I mean, when you are naked, but you cannot figure out why and you keep going about your regular tasks but feeling out-of-place.

I do other things, like count stairs when I walk, count words when boring people talk, and I spell words frontwards and backwards, especially words that have eight letters in them, just for fun.  The counting and spelling are mostly a sub-conscious soothing mechanism I do mindlessly when I am stressed, nervous, bored, tired, or trying to keep my mind from thinking of things that will send me over the edge.

When I look as these few silly little nuances of my personality, I don’t even let them bother me anymore, they are so much less of an interference in my life than some of the other things I used to do.  When my children were little, I saw myself on video throwing a class one conniption fit because every single teaspoon to a tea set of theirs was not in place.  They were 3 and 4 years old at the time; on the video they were staring at this crazy woman throwing things out of a closet looking for a plastic Little Tikes teaspoon.

Even if the video was not enough to make an impact on me to notice my annoying idiosyncrasies, I watched my older sister later; she was screaming at my five-year old nephew.  He had been playing with his collection of over 500 Matchbox Cars and one was missing.  She was irate because a very specific car was missing and she wanted to know where it was; I watched as she berated this waif of a boy over a missing $0.96 car.  I was stunned as I saw myself in her; she knew exactly which car was missing, but he could care less.

Another sister, same disorder; same uncomfortable feeling whenever I am around her.  She cleans her house incessantly.  As a guest in her home for longer than an hour, you will become witness to vacuuming, counter wiping, and a constant barrage of orders to everyone who lives there.

As adult children of alcoholic parents, I realize our chances of obsessive compulsive disorder is higher than the American average; and there are four children in my family, other than my brother, the three of us girls have had major issues with the disorder.  However, after witnessing the effect my sister’s behavior has had on their families, I have made a conscious decision, to try to control my outward conduct as much as possible.

I described it this way the other day to my brother-in-law: if it is so unbearable it affects other members of the family, it is no different from being an alcoholic.  Both of my sisters have let their condition poison their relationships.  I am certain I have been guilty of that as well.

Today, though, my counting hurts and annoys nobody… except maybe those of you reading this.

The Necklace

By the time my mother had been in jail for about five weeks for the murder of my father, it was my birthday.  As an adult in the midst of a family crisis, a rocky marriage, and a full schedule of work and a baccalaureate degree, my birthday was just another day on the calendar.

However, when my mother called as scheduled that day and asked my brother, sisters, and me how we were celebrating it, we lied and told her we were with our families at a restaurant.  We did not want her to know that we were at her house doing cleaning, repairing, packing, and remodeling, as we had been since that fateful July day more than a month earlier.  She had already been through enough, and we did not want her to know we

The necklace

all spent every spare minute at their home so we could sell it for bail and her defense fund.

We were there seven days a week working on the home, even though we all had full-time jobs and families.  We brought our spouses and children there, we ate dinner there during the week and all three meals there on the weekends.  So, I was not going to let something like a birthday keep me from doing my fair share.  Never mind the fact that the last time I had been in this home my father threw me out and told me never to come back; I wiped those memories from my mind, or tried to.

My little sister came to me that day, my birthday, away from everybody else, “Mom wants you to have this,” she said as she handed me a necklace.  My eyes welled up with tears as I saw the familiar piece of jewelry; it was a silver charm necklace.  The base piece was a wishbone with a silver strand across the bottom between the base where you would pull the “bone” of the wishbone apart.  There were at least ten charms on it, all made of pure silver.  I used to secretly steal into my mother’s room and sneak it off of her dresser, borrowing it from her when I thought she would not notice.

“Are you sure?” I asked my sister.

“Yes, she feels bad that we have all been working so much,” she answered, “and that she is in there on your birthday.”

I happily took the necklace, a little shocked that my mother actually wanted me to have something so special; we had never been very close.

A few years later, my mother started to distribute her belongings to my brother and sisters; everything I asked for was already spoken for, so she gave me nothing.  So it goes, so it goes.  Then, one year I was in the area for Christmas and she came over to my daughter’s house for dinner.  She had a gift bag filled with jewelry she wanted to give me; she opened the bag and laid out each piece as if it was something special.  It wasn’t.  “I wanted to give you all of the good jewelry,” she said, “I know you are the only one who will wear it and appreciate it.”  As she laid each piece across the bedspread, I tried to be polite and smile, but I was confused.  She had some nice pieces, and these were not those pieces.

The costume jewelry she gave me was old, worn, and most of it was not even fit to be worn.  I took it home and added it to my collection of junk.

A few months later she was visiting my home; she was in the guest room where the jewelry was laid out on a dresser, including the necklace my sister had given me for my birthday years earlier.  For some unknown reason, my mother started to go through the pieces of jewelry on the dresser; the junk jewelry she gave me, pieces of my own from long ago, and the necklace.

Suddenly, she calls me from the kitchen, “Come in here,” she screams, “what are you doing with this?” she holds up the necklace, fury in her eyes.  “I gave this to your sister; you aren’t supposed to have any of the ‘good’ jewelry.”  Her voice punctuates the word good, a direct conflict to when she made a point that she wanted to give me the good jewelry.

I explained the story about her being in jail on my birthday and how the necklace was given to me.  She was angry.  She claimed I was never supposed to get the necklace.  The rest of her visit was peppered with tension.

When she left the next day, I went in the room to clean and change the sheets, and the necklace was gone.

My daughter claims she wore it all that summer.