Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Year in Review (a little late!)

Life is often described as a road, a highway. Usually, when I hear this analogy, I get a real Ansel Adams-esque picture in my head; one of a long, straight highway slicing through the desert, disappearing into a beautiful sunset. And I just know the sunset is wonderfully, wildly colorful, even with the whole Ansel Adams, black-and-white thing going on. I also know that, even though I can't see them yet, nice little towns full of friendly people are right over the horizon. And me? I’m cruising along in my convertible, honey at my side, the warm wind blowing my hair. And I know that I'll be met in those nice little towns by warm smiles and big bear hugs and “Gosh, it‘s good to see y‘all.”

Imagine my surprise when, instead of a nice, straight, smoothly paved interstate with a clear view of what‘s ahead, my trip through 2007 and early 2008, turned out to be more like a ride down the part of Highway 64 that stretches between Hendersonville and Murphy, NC. For those of you who don’t know, this little bit of highway, (and I use the term highway very loosely,) also runs right through Highlands, NC, whose official elevation is 4118 ft. above sea level. So when you travel this road, you’re riding way up there in the clouds on a road which, on a map, looks a lot like the loopy handwriting of a teenage girl - all swirls and swoops and curlicues.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a folk school in the beautiful North Carolina mountains and Highway 64 was going to take me there. I was confident I could make the drive there and back with very little difficulty. I was oh, so wrong. In fact, it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. The scenery, when I could look, was spectacularly, awesomely beautiful. I don’t know how I know this because the only time I was actually able to take my eyes off the road was when I pulled over (at every available opportunity) to let the locals whiz by me at dangerously high rates of speed. Ok, the state of NC felt that 20 miles per hour was not dangerously fast, and had posted this as the speed limit. I, however, felt like 7mph was plenty fast enough for a narrow mountain road with more twists and turns than the plot of a bad soap opera. As I drove, I gripped the steering wheel so hard, I lost feeling in my hands and my forearms.

After days of driving (or so it seemed) I finally reached the school. I climbed out of the car and stood on shaky legs. It was all I could do to not drop down on my knees and kiss that blessedly flat, smooth parking lot. I was scared to speak to anyone for fear I would throw myself into their arms and sob with relief that I hadn‘t plunged off the mountain to my death, leaving my sweet baby girl without a mama.

After a bit of deep breathing, I was able to pull myself together, check in, and make my way to the first lesson in making toothbrush rugs. I was still anxious, but determined to make the best of it. And it was a wonderful weekend! I made new friends (who helped me find another way home!) learned a new craft and fell in love with the John C, Campbell Folk School. However, as I stood quivering by my car on that first cold, gray afternoon, I had no hope in hell that it would turn out that way. I was tired, scared and completely overwhelmed by the thought of facing that drive back home.

And that is how the year 2007 left me feeling - tired, scared and overwhelmed. It started out like most of the years before it. After a merry Christmas spent with those near and dear to us, we celebrated our anniversary and quietly rang in the New Year, as we usually do. I knew that, with daughter dear graduating from high school, there would be some happy-sad, emotion-charged times ahead; but I also knew that, with love and support from my family and friends, I would get through them without crying and screaming and gnashing of teeth (or at least, very little of that.) What I didn’t know was that those emotional times would conspire with family crises, as well as health and job issues to make it a very difficult year.

Early in the year, both of JD3’s (my dear husband) parents became ill and had to be hospitalized. His mother was quickly diagnosed, treated and sent home in the care of her family. PaPa, however, was just too weak and frail to fight for his life. His death should have brought the family closer together to comfort each other and mourn his loss. Instead, it completely unraveled it. Years of anger and resentment between two sisters erupted into all out war and the rest of us got caught in the cross-fire. The one who was really hurt was my mother-in-law; she was all but forced to choose between her two daughters. The sad thing is, if you were for one, you were against the other. In their minds, there was no middle ground. Although it‘s quiet on the front now, I suspect the war is far from over.

My daughter - my sweet baby girl, the source of immeasurable joy and recipient of more love than I ever thought I could feel for another human being- has added her part to the chaos that surrounded us this year. Some of it was good; some of it - not so much! She celebrated her 18th birthday and graduated from high school. As she walked to the podium to give her valedictory speech, I was so full of pride that it bubbled up in my chest and ran in streams down my face. More than a few of those tears, though, were from sadness. Gone forever was the little girl who, with a pacifier in her mouth and one in each hand, long wild curls swirling around her head, could stand in front of the TV for hours watching The Little Mermaid. In her place was a poised, articulate young woman. One who would soon be leaving me to make her own way in the world.

In late summer, in possession of everything we thought a hip and happenin’ freshman should have, she went away to college. And, after one very long, excruciatingly painful week, she came home from college. She was homesick, most definitely NOT into having a roommate and disillusioned with the course of study she had chosen. Thinking that our local university would better suit her needs, she came home, got a job and prepared to start classes in the spring semester.

Registration day arrived, cold and wrapped in a thick, fleecy fog. Like most mothers, I was a little anxious about the weather, but I kissed her goodbye, told her to be careful and sent her on her way. About thirty minutes later , she called and told me that she had been in a wreck, but she thought she was ok. I threw on some clothes and rushed out of the door. She had sounded a little shaky on the phone, so I expected to find her quivering and scared and needing a hug from her mama. I was NOT prepared for the sight that smacked me in the face when I drove up - an ambulance parked on the side of the road and her car, crumpled and bent, with the driver’s side door smashed into the seat where she had been sitting. There was a small group of people standing by the car, a group which did not include my child! My blood stopped flowing. “Oh, Dear God!” I thought. Those kind strangers must have seen the terror on my face because, before I could even get out of my car, they were at my side telling me she was in the ambulance and that she seemed ok.

And she was ok. She had a few little cuts and some mighty strange bruises, as well as a broken clavicle and a tiny little fracture in her pelvis. But she was alive. I know that God’s hand was on her that day. I know it, she knows it, and a lot of other people know it, too. Everyone, from the paramedics to the owner of the tow truck, said that it was a miracle she had even lived through an impact like that. They told us that, on first seeing her car, they had been sure the driver had died. One of the paramedics, as he was leaving the ER, started to say “Have a nice day.” Instead, he stopped mid-sentence, looked her straight in the eye and said, “You don’t know it, but you just had a good day.”

I try not to think about it, but sometimes the thought of how she must have felt right before that truck slammed into her sneaks into my head and takes my breath away. Then I hear her voice on the phone saying, “Mama, I think I’ve been in a wreck,” and fear of what could have been makes me want to run to her, grab her and hold her tight, just to feel her being alive. Part of me would like to keep her home forever so she would always be safe. The rest of me, though, wants her to live life to it‘s fullest. So I let her go, and I worry.

While everything else was happening, my dear mother was happily pursuing her hobby of having surgery and visiting doctors‘ offices. I say “happily" because she revels in it. She even has a dresser drawer in which she keeps her “good, in-case-I-have-to-go-to-the-hospital" nightgowns! The idle rich plan their lives around social engagements. Mama plans hers around doctors’ appointments. In the past year, she has had both knees replaced and her left foot “worked on.” Again. This makes the 4th time. Even now, with the bandages still on that foot, she is looking at a toe on her right foot thinking it needs to be surgically straightened! She’s had her “esophagus stretched,” a colonoscopy, an echocardiogram, and quarts of blood drawn. What the doctors have found out, much to her surprise, is that she’s a very healthy woman.

Now, you may wonder why does this bother me so much? I mean, if she’s healthy and it’s not hurting her, what’s it to me? Why does it make me want to spank her and ground her for life? Because she wants it to consume MY life, too. Her husband, who on a good day ain’t knittin’ with both needles, has mistakenly placed her on the wrong pedestal, complete with a plaque below that reads “Fragile Southern Belle.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. But that‘s how he sees her and, cheered on by dear old step-dad, she has come to expect her three daughters to keep her there. She expects us, who knew her way before she assumed the role of she-who-must-be-pampered, to play the roles of those-who-will-cater-to-my-every-need. Because she is Mama and we do love her, we try to keep the ruse going. But sometimes, I just don’t have it in me. Sometimes I’m sick, or tired, or worried. Sometimes, it needs to be all about me. Or my sister. Or my daughter. Or somebody else.

In order to keep my nursing license active and to bring in a little extra money (gotta make those ends meet,) I’ve had to keep working, at least a few days a month. This past year, however, dissatisfaction with my career, has reached an all-time high. Simply put, I hate it. (No use in beating that dead horse by delving too deeply into the reasons.) I've spent many sleepless nights wracking my brain to come up with an alternate career; one that I would actually like and would still bring in that little extra cash. It must have been sleep deprivation that made me think I would like to clean houses. Convinced that this was the job for me, I started cleaning for a living. Soon thereafter, I stopped cleaning for a living. Again, simply put, I hated it.

What I found out though, was that I like cleaning my house. I like dusting and mopping and vacuuming and even scrubbing the toilet. I like getting up before dawn and making coffee and packing a lunch for my husband. I like washing his clothes and folding them. (I still hate ironing!) I like making sure daughter dear is up and out of the house on time. I like being here in the afternoons when they come home. I like fixing him a cool drink after a long hot day at work. I even like cooking supper. (Those of you who know me can stop laughing at any time. I really do!) As archaic and hopelessly un-liberated as it sounds, I like being a housewife. At last, I’ve found my perfect career.

Most of the time, I think JD3 is whistling the same tune as I am; that he likes me being home and doing all those June Cleaver-type things. But there are some days, days when I’m feeling a little blue, that I feel like maybe he just took the path of least resistance; that having less money is easier than listening to me bitch and moan all the time. So, on those days when I’m feeling insecure, I ask him. Just to make sure. And he says all the right words and does all the right things to convince me that, of course, this is how he wants our lives to be; has always wanted it to be. Still, there are times when I feel like he’s not saying everything; like he’s holding back on me and not telling me what he’s really thinking. This, in part, is why I ping-pong back and forth between feeling like a wonderful, loving wife and mother, to feeling like a lazy, good-for-nothing slacker.

Also responsible for the ping-pong effect, is the fact that my body has turned on me. Those little gremlins that live in a woman’s body and make her, well, a woman, have launched full-scale menopause. My periods are so irregular that when I’m finally convinced that I won't have any more (the only true blessing of menopause,) I spring a leak and bleed for a month. I have night sweats and hot flashes - hot flashes that make you feel like your blood has turned to lava and your face is on fire. I’ve spent a lot of time this winter sitting in front of an open back door - I grew to love 20* weather!

But the worst part of it is having your body possessed by the spirit of a mad woman. One minute you’re irritable and mean, blaming every thing bad on the person closest to you; everything from global warming to the fact that your pants don’t fit anymore. Then, without warning, you feel like crying because the family of little juice glasses that you love so much had to be separated and put on opposite sides of the dishwasher. The tiny little part of your brain that is still rational knows that glasses don’t have feelings, but it just can’t convince the rest of your brain. So you unload and re-load the dishwasher until you can get them all on the same side. You walk into a room and forget what you're doing there. You can't complete sentences. At least this is how it's been for me.

In September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo made landfall near Charleston. When he was through destroying lives and property there, he marched relentlessly inland, reaching my little corner of the world in the wee hours of the morning. While our little baby lay sleeping, JD3 and I spent the night listening to the wind howl and the trees snap. Our little house shook with the force of it. We lost power quickly and were plunged into blackness. In spite of the darkness, we paced back and forth between the safety of the hallway and the window in the back door, hoping to see what was happening outside. I had never been more scared in my entire thirty-one years of life. After what seemed like days instead of hours, the winds died down and the sun came up. We had lived through it! Our yard, however, was a mess! There were limbs and small trees everywhere; one big pine tree lay across our driveway. Roof shingles littered the grass. But we were alive and unhurt and still had a roof over our head.

Just as we did after the hurricane, we’ve had to clear away the debris left by the events of 2007. Anna’s broken bones have healed and she’s in school, making plans for the future. JD3’s mother, completely blind now from Macular Degeneration, has shown a strength we never knew she had and is doing well. I, with the love and support of family and friends (and a trip to the doctor!) am making my way back to me; the me that writes and knits and decorates and loves her family and friends. The me that I like. The mad woman has been banished, hopefully for life.

Like South Carolina after Hurricane Hugo, the landscape of our lives will forever bear evidence of the storm that passed through in 2007. There will be new growth and new experiences, but we’ll view them from a heart that remembers how things used to be. And we’ll know that we weathered the storm, and have become stronger for having done so.

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BeeMusing by Beverly Lane is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.