An open letter on being open

My dear fellow human beings,

In my 40-plus years living in coexistence with you here on Planet Earth, we’ve been through a lot of shit together. We’ve seen the rise and fall of nations and of dictators. We’ve seen acts of terror, and acts of kindness. We’ve experienced times of great joy and times of great sadness. We’ve seen the seasons change and the years rush by, and we’ve experienced love, loss, and everything in between.

We’ve experienced LIFE together.

Why is it, then, that we continue to believe we’re alone in everything we do? As individuals, we continue to feel, and think, and convince ourselves that we are the only ones who have gone through whatever we’re going through. We think no one can possibly feel what we feel. No one can relate.

I believe one reason we feel this way is because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to put ourselves out there. We’re afraid of being hurt. We’re afraid of not being appreciated by others, and not being valued. We’re afraid to open ourselves up to pain and rejection. We’re afraid people will think we’re weird or odd or different or boring.

That’s no way to exist, people. We’re ALL different. To get past all those fears, you have to embrace them. Face them. Step right up and hug ’em tight. Buy them a drink. lol And then move beyond them. Put them behind you. Wave goodbye in the rear view.

I know, it sounds easy. But it isn’t.

When I was 15 or 16 years old, my best friend was about to introduce me to some people she knew who were our age, that I’d never met. She turned to me and said, “Remember, don’t be yourself.” Beg pardon? Don’t be myself? Who the hell else am I supposed to be?? I was so angry at her to say such a thing, to imply that being myself, her best friend of many years, would not be acceptable to her other friends, friends she wanted to impress. At the time, I was livid.

But ever since then, I’ve been thankful. If she hadn’t said those words to me, who knows what kind of person I’d be now? Maybe someone who trips over themselves to please others. Maybe someone who’s painfully shy and introverted. Maybe someone who might be worried about what other people think of the real me. And I’m not any of those people today. Not by a long shot.

I used to have this game I played with a friend called, “Tell me something I don’t know.” The title speaks pretty much for itself. It’s a great ice breaker while trying to learn about another person. If the conversation was ever lagging, I would just say, “Tell me something I don’t know.” It was easier than asking how they liked the weather or the Red Sox or the state of the economy. It got us to talk about ourselves, reveal just a little something that the other person wouldn’t know. It didn’t have to be anything intimate or private. Just something small. And little by little, getting to know another person isn’t so hard after all.

I know a lot of people. I am friends with quite a few. I’m very close to only a few. But a lot of people know a lot of things about me because I’m open. I don’t hide. I don’t cower in my home, worried about what people think of me. I couldn’t care less what people outside my home think of me, because I LIKE ME. That’s right, I like me. There are things about me that are sometimes unlikable, but as a whole, I like who I am.

I’m a woman who loves to laugh. I have an excellent sense of humor and I appreciate that in others. I overthink things way too much. I often expect the worst while hoping for the best. I turn inward a lot. I think a lot. I read a lot. I like cheezy comedies and cheezier science fiction. I like to smile. I love to kiss. I’m a writer, and a fighter. If I don’t understand something that’s important to me, I will question, and question, and question and even argue until I completely grasp a situation. I can be very intense in relationships, and I am equally as passionate. I have an Irish temper and when pushed to my limit, I have the vocabulary of a sailor. I like nature very much. But I don’t like to be too cold, or too hot. I’m ridiculously allergic to animals, which sucks, because I love them. I am becoming more comfortable with my body as I get older, and I appreciate my curves. I’ve smoked since I was 15. I’m ashamed of that. And I’m not ready to quit yet. I would love to ride in a helicopter, but never a small plane. Go figure. I hate public speaking, and I have five tattoos.

I like to be with people who will stick with me, even during times when they don’t particularly like me. Friendships are important to me. I like people who share my sense of sarcasm. But I have no tolerance for passive-aggressive behavior. I understand that some people are needier than others, but I’ve learned that another person’s needs can swallow you whole if you allow it. I’m naïve. I often believe people too easily when they tell me something. And I become confused when people’s words and their actions oppose each other.

These are all things that both a close friend and a casual friend might or might not know about me. But I believe that, in opening myself up like this, by allowing people to see and to know who I am – the good, the bad, and the ugly – it might just help someone else open themselves up to someone else. It might help them think, why not? What have I got to lose?

Here’s a newsflash: Sometimes you WILL get hurt. Sometimes people you care about will stomp all over your heart, knowingly or unknowingly. Sometimes people WILL think you’re weird or strange or different. And that’s ok. If that’s who you are, OWN IT! Embrace your weirdness. lol I’m just saying don’t be so afraid to let people know you. You might just be surprised at who thinks you’re amazing in your weirdness. 🙂

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History repeats

MotherDaughterI’ve often wondered how it felt for my mother when I finally left home. The only daughter in our family, and the child of immigrants, I had grown up feeling a bit like a prisoner of my circumstances. My brothers, one older and one younger, were given freedoms that my parents felt were improper for a girl to have. As a result, I was rebellious and disrespectful, and I couldn’t wait to leave behind the shackles of that sexist existence. I felt suffocated and restrained by my gender. I finally left home when I got married, and I put 3,000 miles between myself and my former life. I couldn’t have gone any farther, unless I went to another country.

My husband and I used to joke that our eldest daughter was “meant to live.” As strange and unfunny as that sounds, my pregnancy with her had been an eventful one.

When I was four months along, the city in which we lived was devastated by a major earthquake. Several months later, as my husband and I strolled hand-in-hand on a quiet Southern California evening, we witnessed, close-up, an episode of extreme road rage as it was unfolding. A driver pulled out a gun and began shooting at another driver in the middle of the road. And finally, at about seven months, as we were driving home from having lunch at a restaurant, a pickup truck blew through a red light at an intersection and hit us so hard that our car did a 180, and came to a rest in another lane. If my husband hadn’t hit the gas hard at the last second, the impact would’ve come full force through my door, instead of hitting the right rear door. Paramedics used the jaws of life to remove me from the vehicle, as my door was jammed closed. Thankfully, I walked away from the emergency room with no more than a collar for whiplash. The car was totaled. The baby’s vitals were still strong and normal.

In just a few weeks from now, my once 9-pound, 3-ounce baby girl is leaving home. She feels the same constraints of living in the same place for so long that I felt at 19. The circumstances are different for her, much different, but she’s excited to go, and to begin to live her adult life. She feels more than ready to be free of the constraints of childhood.

In just the last year and a half, she earned her driver’s license, joined the military, left home for seven months, and received training in the medical field. She earned her EMT certification, held a human heart in her hands, and prevented a patient from killing himself at her work. She began to treat her younger sister like a friend and a peer, and not just a pain in the ass. She got married without telling anyone. And now she’s packing to move away to another life, in another state.

And I’ll miss her so much that, if I think for too long about her leaving, I have moments where I can barely breathe, where my heart feels like it’s crumpling up like paper, where I wish with all my strength that my little blond-haired toddler would hug me around the legs just one more time.

E. E. Cummings once said, “It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” For a parent, seeing one’s child becoming who they are meant to be is both wonderful and frightening. But in the end, we are all our own people, with our own choices to make. Whether those choices turn out to be good or bad is always yet to be seen. We can only pray, and hope for the best.

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Twenty years (part one)

kaiser

It’s still hard to believe so many years have passed since what began as a quiet, ordinary morning in Northridge, California. I’ve attempted to write about what happened in those hours several times over the years, without much luck, because when I try to move over the keyboard as the memories of it come back, my hands begin to tremble. That’s no exaggeration. They’re trembling already.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday fell on the 17th in 1994. We were grateful to be able to sleep in that morning. I’d been restless during the night, four months along with our first child, and constantly in need of using the bathroom. I’d gotten up that night as usual, in search of relief and food. We lived in an apartment building in Northridge, an older one, that looked sort of like a motel. It had dozens of apartments on three levels, all opening toward an open-air common area in the middle that couldn’t be seen from the street. In the middle of the common area was a pool. An elderly couple managed the building – Phil and Maya. They were lovely people, but I always tried to avoid their invitations to come in and sit awhile, because their apartment reeked of heavy, choking tobacco from the long, brown cigarellos they both constantly smoked.

I was hungry when I got up in the early hours of that morning. It was still dark outside. I went from our bedroom to the bathroom to the galley-style kitchenette in our tiny, two-and-a-half-room apartment. Looking forward to crawling back into bed next to my new husband (we’d only been married a year and a half at the time), I opened the refrigerator, perused for a moment, and then decided to return to bed. Morning would be here soon, I thought. I could wait to eat a few more hours. It was 4 a.m.

It’s so difficult to describe fully what an earthquake sounds like, and what it feels like. If you’ve lived through one, you know. Words can’t really describe it fully. But I’ll try.

I’d only been back in bed about 30 minutes when the first ‘wave’ hit. I call it a wave because we went from lying peacefully next to each other one minute to clinging to each other for life as we were thrown violently by some unseen force, as if something huge had slammed into us. But it wasn’t just one slam. The building we were in rocked on its foundations over and over, back and forth; our bed was tossed across the room like it was a child’s toy. Above the roar of a hundred locomotives, we could hear glass breaking and things smashing. It seemed to go on forever. And we just hung onto each other. We knew that the building could collapse at any time. We knew that those moments could very well be our last on this earth.

After what felt like a lifetime (we had heard later that the initial quake had only lasted 20 to 30 seconds), it stopped. In a second, my husband was out of the bed and yelling for me to throw some clothes and shoes on, and that we needed to get the hell out of there. It was then the second wave hit, much shorter than the first, but just as frightening. As it slowed, he grabbed my hand and guided me through the dark rooms. Glass and ceramic crunched under our feet as we made our way to the door. We could see in the dim light that the TV had popped out of the entertainment center and landed face-down on the floor a few feet away from it. The entertainment center itself had collapsed sideways into a corner of the living room. We pulled open the door to a world in chaos.

Residents of the building were coming out of their apartments, filing down the stairs, some crying, some calm, to the open area below. Around the pool, some people wandered around in confusion, in shock. One man was bleeding from his forehead. I wondered why the ground was wet; we were walking through puddles. Then I saw that the pool had half emptied by the force of the shaking ground.

We made our way through the concourse to the garage area. We would get in the car and drive to my husband’s parents’ house, which was only a few miles away in Granada Hills. But the garage had partially collapsed, and the big iron gate that separated it from the street was jammed shut, as its frame had shifted. My husband and some of the men from our building pushed and pushed on it, and finally, it rolled open. As we sat in our car, waiting our turn to exit the garage, I could have no idea what we would see or what we would do going forward. All we could do was go.

.apartment building

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Starting from scratch

My husband gave me a pep talk last night. I was having one of my meltdowns, and I have to give him credit where credit is due. He sat there and held my hand while I blubbered away, sniffling loudly, trying to get it all out. He listened to my worries, and addressed how to handle each one. He gave his suggestions for moving forward, and gave me some direction, which I welcomed. He’s good. I always said he should be a motivational speaker.

2013 was a particularly crappy year, and I’m happy to see it go. I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but here are the highlights: I was, and am, still looking for full-time employment; I was hired at a company for three weeks until they decided they didn’t have enough work for me anymore; we had to put a boatload of cash into the repair of our primary vehicle (a minivan with almost 150,000 miles on it); and a close friendship that was very valued by me came to an abrupt end for still-unclear reasons. Oh, and let’s not forget the highlight of the year! Our 19-year-old daughter, without our knowledge or consent, snuck off and married a man she’s known less than a year. How did we find out about it? It was in the public records of the local newspaper.

Yeah…awesome.

My most recent meltdown came as a result of the convergence of several circumstances at once: a handful of potential employment turndowns in a matter of just a few days, the return of our eldest from a trip to sunny Florida, where she spent a week playing house with her “husband” (she is still living at home until she can get an approval for a military base transfer from Uncle Sam); the loss of the close friendship still weighing heavily on me; and the incessant and more frequent rising and ebbing of hormones, as womanly life changes have begun happening upon my person. Let me tell ya…those hot flashes are a bitch.

So, on top of being an emotional ticking time bomb of late, I’ve been feeling like a person cast adrift with no direction and no idea which way to go. I’ve doubted everything that I have always considered myself capable of doing. I’ve doubted my skills because no one has hired me. I’ve doubted my thoughts because I have literally overanalyzed everything happening in my life (a truly exhausting and all-consuming practice, believe me). I’ve doubted myself as a mother, as a daughter, as a friend. Everything I thought I knew has turned ass-backwards. Pass the wine, please.

So, I’m starting from scratch, as they say. I’m a writer, so I’m going to write. It has always been my North Star, from the age of six.

How about this? If you like what you read, if it makes you smile or think for one second, “I can totally relate to that,” then do me a favor. Share this. Pass it along to someone who could use a smile, or would like to know that someone else has gone through what they’re going through. Or just leave me a comment.

I’m no Jane Austen or J.K. Rowling or anyone important. I’m just me.

And this is my gift.

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