Mandolin (In The) Wind

Mandolin (In The) Wind

It was about five years ago. I had just walked into the church where the meetings were held. And there she sat. Raging red hair up under one of her beautiful knitted creations. Yellow was the yarn color I think. The people had begun to come in, most going to the back to get their coffee from the giant pots with spouts that were up on the counter in front of the kitchen. It was early thirty in the morning when these men and women of all walks gathered for a spiritual start to their day. On many days to follow, she would be in that kitchen. With those pots, filling giant paper filters with coffee grinds to make coffee for people who needed it. Giving back for what she had received.

But on this day, my first time here, I saw her first. Almost as if she were the only one in the room that had easily a couple dozen sleepy people, exchanging hugs and greetings. Without a word, her look at me spoke volumes. I was guessing it to say, “Who is THIS new person? I don’t know her, and I am not sure I want to.”  Deluded by my thought that I could read her mind, I approached her table and sat down, introducing myself, almost defiant. Reluctantly, she received my gesture. She was kind and smart and funny right off the bat, as she sat knitting, which she was always doing when we were at meetings together. We bonded immediately.

I was new to this group, but not new to the rooms. And this became my family and my home. And she was one of my closest siblings there. A former student at Harvard University, she was as brilliant as her red hair. Articulate too. And if you looked up the phrase rigorous honesty, you might find her picture there. I loved her for that, among other things. 

 I remember one time with her that stands out from the rest. (The rest includes a wild weekend we shared in a room together for a conference with 2,000 other people and her indulging my boy watching when my eyes should have been focused on a podium at the front of the room.) We were all seated in a children’s Sunday School room, a bunch of full-grown children, also known as adults, in tiny chairs, humbling and beautiful in my experience. When it came to her turn, she opened her book to read. This was not one of the books that were stacked up on the table for the use of the members who might grace the meeting on any given day. This brown paper-covered pocket-sized book belonged to her. And you could tell she had used it, loved it, devoured it. Had it been one of those cardboard children’s books, the ones that teething children can chew on and still understand the story, hers was the adult version. Warn from the turning of the pages and the copious notes in her hand there in the margins. That book spoke louder to me than anyone’s share that day. Except for one. Hers. After she read from her loved on Velveteen copy, her opening remark was “This shit’s hard.” I don’t know if she said anything else. And it didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that I loved her from that moment on. And wanted to know her better. 

She was slightly younger than me, but our inner kids got along great. Two quick wits, both single, commiserating about that and who we each thought was cute that we knew. Her home was humble and spotless. Bed made, dog well-loved. She always had the Cadillac vacuum cleaner, which she used in her cleaning jobs and every day in her home. I have to tell you, I felt vacuum shame. Mine only comes out about once or twice a month. And after learning that she vacuumed every day, I always think of her on those two days a month I get my jalopy out of the closet.

I learned in time that our connection was for good reason. We shared more than just trouble with substance. We had a common bond of being in bondage to brain chemistry that can be quite challenging to live with and painful to be sober for at times. I have been fortunate to maintain my sobriety during the dark times in my life. She was not so fortunate. I suspect demographics and available care and money played a part. Trauma had a starring role. I do know that her journey had been a struggle from the start. But for most of the years I knew her, she always pushed off the bottom. Until she didn’t.

About a year after we met, we were both in the same safe place dealing with those brain chemistry issues that could be plaguing. We had shared stories of our experiences here over the time we were friends. That is a bond only people like us who know each other can comprehend. I can only imagine it resembles the bond of soldiers who have seen action. I only wish she had gone there one more time. For her sake, and for the sake of her two children.

A mutual friend called me today to say that she had died. I learned from another that she had been found, alone.  My first thought was that I did not act on it the last time I had the urge to reach out. I am not saying that I think I could have saved her. All I am saying is I wished I had heard her voice one more time.  

After hearing this news, I tried to do what was in front of me. I walked into the grocery store to get a few things. And before I could get to the fifth and final item on the list, I broke down in the aisle. I was on the phone with a friend and while I stood there sobbing, A woman walked up to me, seemingly out of nowhere. She was several inches shorter than my 5’10” frame, had gray hair, neatly done, pretty blue eyes behind perfect fake lashes and she was wearing black. She reached up to me, gave me a hug, as if she had been assigned to me and spoke deliberate words into the ear that did not have the phone to it. “I understand. My father died yesterday.” And with that, she turned on her heel and was gone.

I had debated stuffing my feelings until I got in my car. I was shaming myself for even feeling sad. But I permitted myself, with the inner pep talk to say there was no shame in grieving out loud in public. And look what happened. My grief was seen by her grief. And we were able to comfort each other, even if for just a moment. Then, as I turned towards the next aisle, my friend still holding me up on my phone against my head, I looked through tearsinto the eyes of a man in a golf shirt mouthing the words, “Are you okay?” And the woman with the cart coming up behind him came to see if I needed anything. These words cheapen the experience. But it was spiritual. God was all over that grocery store. 

I got my fifth item, a drink called Peace Tea, which I am sipping as I write, went into my day with the reminder that life is fleeting, precious, and can end at any moment. I had already been mindful of this because I had been reflecting on the fact that this weekend, I will be 19 years free of breast cancer. And a couple of days after that marks the one-year anniversary of a longtime close friend’s death, who also went to that church for morning coffee, from Covid. So all of this has me wanting to honor their memories, while giving proper respect for their loss, by living my best life. Something I take for granted at times.

The picture I chose here is one I have hanging in my house. I bought it in the months after Kate Spade’s death in 2018 to go with my black and white polka-dot Kate Spade bedding. I named it Kate in her memory. Her death made me sad too. But for my purposes here,I thought it was a beautiful way to picture my friend who has passed on, perhaps in a blue knitted hat around that beautiful, long red mane.

This poem by Emily Dickinson, was sent to me by a friend who was also a fixture in that same kitchen I referred to earlier. I think it is a good goal to aspire to. 

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.”

I Got High.

I Got High.

I got high yesterday. It had been a tough day emotionally, one in a series of many. I did not plan it. I started my day feeling emotionally spent from having made some tough decisions. The kind that sap so much mental energy, I think I can’t move my body. 

I used to misinterpret those kinds of days, when I was emotionally fried to mean I could not do anything physical. I would intend to do 3 exercise classes in a week, but then at the end of a workday from a dissatisfying job, I would tell myself I can’t exercise, not realizing that that was a lie. In fact, exercise was not only possible then, but I did have the physical energy, I just didn’t know it. That was 30 years ago. Now, I know that mental fatigue does not mean that my body cannot move. I am fully committed to walking 2 to 4 miles most days, in spite of the heavy emotional ones that leave my brain feeling like mashed potatoes. And I am always better for getting out there and moving my body.

After a morning phone call with a friend where I could hear exhausted chatter coming out of me, all the while my gut was saying “You are too tired to talk. You need to rest,” I caught myself. I told my friend I felt like I sounded like what tired animals look like when they pace aimlessly around in circles and she said she could hear that in my words. I hung up, revised my ambitious plan for the day to look more like gentle self care and self compassion. After all, I had just come out of several weeks of trolling online dating for hours on end. No wonder I felt so wiped out. I was. 

I needed to go to the grocery store, and the beach was out because of rain, so I saw an opportunity to go get some paint for a custom order rocker I have to paint. And I wanted to attend a new support group online at six thirty in the evening. Perfect! A couple of errands, cook myself dinner, support group, a little TV, then bed.

But that is not what happened. I got through the first errand picking out some yummy colors for a rocker I was painting for a client in Memphis when an idea came out of nowhere. “Let’s go look at shoes!” That sounds innocent enough. My rationale was that I do need shoes for walking in the summer, as well as some inserts in my current walking shoes. But the energy was not there. And you don’t have the full context.

You see, I have a history of shopping and overspending to avoid dealing with reality. It goes hand in hand with an eating disorder and alcoholism, if you want to categorize it by addiction or disorder. Along with that, my most recent addiction of online dating to excess, you now have a better picture of my challenges. Or, the main moles whose heads pop up in my game of Whac-A-Mole.

Alcohol has been out of the picture for 36 years. But you can’t not eat and you can’t not spend and you can’t not have relationships with people, so those have all been to excess for me in the past thirty some years, talking turns rearing their furry little heads. The food has had a tremendous amount of work put in by me and that disordered eating, which has twice required treatment is most of the time in remission. The relationship/aka online dating obsession has only been a thing since my divorce five years ago, after a 26 year loveless marriage so that is a new mole, relatively speaking and as my previous story indicates, I have disconnected the power to that little furry guy just this week.

My mother was in the fashion industry. She worked for the chic women’s magazine Women’s Wear Daily in New York City, right out of college with her journalism degree in the 1940’s. Her last business which closed in the 90’s was a high end dress shop, serving the wives of wealthy monied oil barons and the old money of Tulsa, Oklahoma. She did fashion shows on private jets. Served wine in the sitting area outside of the dressing rooms. All of the nurturing that she had to offer went to her business. None of it came home to me. And many nights, neither did she.

My brother and sister were adults out on their own. I was in high school and I was home alone. Alot. My mother had her own problems, namely acting out promiscuously with married men and bar hopping to get attention. It was very important to her that she be seen. She had gotten used to that when she met and married my father in New York City, where he was a dashing handsome celebrity in show business. They were a beautiful couple, hob nobbing with the show business elite of radio and television and music in Manhattan in the 1950’s, so after my father’s untimely death in 1967 at the age of 42, her party, the one with the silver spoon and the Stork Club and Big Apple came to a screeching halt.

Her store was the only place I really saw her much. It was clothing for women, which did not fit my adolescent form in high school, but she would not buy me much from stores more appropriate for me, so I was stuck with pants that pooched where I didn’t have hips because that was what I got. 

Over the years, I developed her love for clothing and fashion and pattern and texture and color, and I learned a lot from that exposure. In some weird way, the clothes I got from my mom, were a form of love in my experience, so it makes sense now as I write this that I would become a compulsive shopper, as I was groomed for it really when that actually WAS love from a mother who did a poor job of giving it otherwise.

I walked into the shoe store with the best intentions of just trying on some shoes for beach walking and getting some inserts for my sneakers. It was dark and rainy outside and I had just enough time for this quick stop before heading to the grocery store and then home. This is where the high comes in. Most of the time, when I go into ANY retail store, I pray this prayer, “God, please make this a sober shopping experience.” And for good reason. Because for me to walk into a store full of pretty things with a 1,000 open line of credit on a card and not say a prayer for protection, I can get and have gotten into some serious debt over that. Especially when I have been upset or emotional. And I practice what I call sober spending as a rule as a means to do just that. Be sober with money. Some people would call it being financially responsible. That works for them. For me, it’s sober spending. 

Before I share what went down yesterday, I’ll share another episode of, let’s just say, me getting shitfaced on shopping at Chico’s. Chico’s is a women’s fashion store, similar to my mom’s and was at one time my favorite place to go for clothes. On this occasion, I was freshly wounded from the surprise ending of my 26 year marriage one night in my living room some weeks prior. I had dropped my daughter off to go to a concert in Oklahoma City and decided I would take myself out to dinner and shopping while I waited. And when I say my life blew up, I mean it. I thought my then husband and I were working things out when all in one 24 hour period, I learned that no only had he relapsed in his alcoholism, but he had been paying for sex and acting out in a full blown sex addiction, spending tens of thousands of dollars in the process for at least 6 years right under my nose, which had been up in the cloud of denial for that entire time. So, needless to say, I was hurt, and perhaps fit the description of a woman scorned.

So as I am putting my pile of merchandise on the counter that had to be 14 items stacked, I am vomiting this all to the woman ringing me up. Just like she were a bartender pouring me shots that just happened to come on plastic hangers. 

“And then he…” me having inappropriate oversharing “this happened to me” tourettes all over her because that was the best I could do at the moment. Thing is, Chicos hires women my age for part-time work, so she was commiserating with me that she had had the same experience and the woman in line by me, who may have well been swivelling on top of a red leather trimmed in chrome bar stool said this to me. “You know what some women in your situation do, they go out and buy a ‘Fuck You’ Lexus.” Believe me, had that been an option, I would have. But that money was gone, so clothes it was.

Yesterday was not much different in that I was emotionally spent, for different reasons, but still raw and hurting. I walked into this brand new store, full of fabulous shoes, handbags, beach apparel, well lit and displayed, literally out of the dark of the storm into the light, and there they were. My bartender and the servers! The manager and two clerks who had no other customers, plus the owner, who happened to be there with his wife. I turned on and connected to get off before I even got near the register. Just looking at the funky artistic designs of the bold, colorful shoes in snakeskin, leopard, sapphire blue, metallic and combinations of all of these. When I tried on the first pair, the owner, or, should I say the dealer, spoke to how great the shoes looked and said maybe I should be a shoe model for him.

My ego grabbed ahold of that like a shot of tequila and went to town. What should have been a twenty minute stop turned into over an hour after I virtually created a position for myself in his store as someone who would essentially lurk around customers, getting a read on the one who might be receptive to buying if I saw them hovering at a display, slipped into the back to grab a pair of what they were looking at to wear out and show them, “this is how they look on,” it was brilliant. And the owner was all over it. I gave him my number, after extolling my retail history resume and upbringing, bragging how I knew when to leave customers alone and when to cater, sharing my lesson learned from my mom, who used to nag me to try things on, saying, “go on, try it on, you can’t tell until you try it on,” which was accurate, and he was literally going to create a spot for me. So I left, elated, but only as long as the light from the store’s door closing behind me still reflected upon me. By the time I got in my car, and after calling my neighbor still flying to tell her what happened, I hung up, my mood began to rapidly deflate and by the time I got home, the high was gone, replaced by exhaustion, no groceries, an overpriced to go order and me too spent to be on that support group meeting online. Instead, I checked out on the couch with Netflix and girl scout cookies. 

I don’t want to abandon myself anymore, so today I succeeded in not doing so. I got my groceries, spent the afternoon sunning at the beach and fed myself a nice dinner. So tonight, I committed to myself that I would write this instead. And I love me more for doing so. Now, I can watch a little Netflix and go to bed feeling good about getting to the grocery store and being there for me and with me.