It’s a cliffhanger.
Will anyone read it? Will anyone have information? Will the daughters really take the literary world by storm?
It’s a cliffhanger.
Will anyone read it? Will anyone have information? Will the daughters really take the literary world by storm?
It wasn’t until I talked to my Aunt Mary that I fully understood how I’d become a pleaser, and I wasn’t really pleased about it. Not that having a pleasing behavior is always a bad thing; it’s just that I’d never pieced together this aspect of myself in quite this way until I spoke with Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary is my mom‘s only sister and since my mother’s death, seemed a ripe source of information about my accident. Yet, the conversation was uncomfortable. As we talked, it seemed to me that Aunt Mary was going out of her way to not blame my mother, since the accident did indeed occur on her watch. As my mom ironed in the basement and my sister Susie played nearby, I snuck up to the kitchen to get some crackers, secreted away above the stove. “Aunt Mary, the accident was my fault,” I told her. “I knew what I was doing and remember doing it. I have no one to blame but myself.” Aunt Mary seemed taken aback and heartily disagreed. “Annie,” she said with exasperation, “It was not your fault. You were two years old. How could it ever have been your fault.” Her words hung in the air. I thought about them for a long time.
For the first time in my life, my perspective changed. For the better part of my life, I felt guilty about the accident, believing that I had caused my own fate and was forever doomed to be responsible for it, which I must add, I always have been. I rarely felt sorry for myself, fully rehabilitated myself and developed a persona of never letting other people down. In my young mind, I reasoned that because no one talked about the accident, particularly my family, they knew what I had done and how stupid it had been. I pledged to myself never to let my family down again…..and became a pleaser. Straight A’s. Editor of the school newspaper. Athlete. Generally good person.
Aunt Mary’s words had such power and made so much sense. When I thought of my own children as two-year-olds, I’d marvel how the train was in motion, but the conductor was rarely home, which is to say, they didn’t know enough to be responsible for much. Yet I didn’t give my small self the benefit of that doubt. In fact, I’d never thought of it any other way than that it had been my fault. In my mind’s eye, whether I’d created the memory from strands of conversation or whether I actually remembered it, I saw myself going up those basement stairs and heading for the stove.
The power of not talking about it meant that I had to give myself an answer however far-fetched it might be when I examined it as an adult.
How might my answer have changed if the event would have been processed this way as a child? How might my behavior have changed? These days my pleaser tendencies are not so noticeable and I like to think of myself squarely as a “B+”, hardly a type A anymore. Age mellows me. Exploration like this frees me.
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, adversity finds it way into everyone’s life — with varying degrees of nastiness and of course, opportunity. That’s why I find Roger Ebert‘s story so inspirational. Thyroid and salivary cancer destroyed his ability to speak and still, he found a way awaken his voice. It is courageous to let life transform us. Read this story from CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/02/sunday/main7205367.shtml
I searched for my Texas cousin Sara’s blog, “Sara’s Corner,” but it wasn’t there. Last December, she took early retirement after 25ish years of working for the same company since college, rising through the ranks and reaching a position of power. She was the proverbial corporate gal, a go-getter and we wondered what her next act would be. In January, we learned it was breast cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation dominated her year, which was punctuated by a hysterectomy once the cancer treatment was complete. An ordeal to be sure. Her blog provided updates on the treatments and her state of mind, which was remarkably, consistently positive — not only with the status of treatments but as if this was merely another glitch in the corporate project that was her. It was nothing short of inspirational and reminded me that everyone handles set-backs in different ways and I very much liked her way. For Sara’s supporters, it allowed us to get an update, feel relief but not have to knock down her door to do it. So when I searched for the blog and the latest update, cyberspace gave me nothing. I contacted her to ask about the blog. And that’s when I learned she had taken it down. The ordeal was over and she told me that taking the blog down was a sign of her victory. I love it. She did it again — a simple, intuitive solution. When the fire is over, just put it out.
Saturday night we went to the John Mellencamp concert at the Chicago Theater and when he sang, “Rain on the Scarecrow”*, I remember us playing that song after my dad’s funeral in December 1993. When the funeral ended, we drove aimlessly around the Green Bay farmland. The snow barely covered the ground and you could see the fallow dirt. The crops were long gone and what remained looked sad and straggly, drained of moisture and color. It was fitting for that day. During his entire life, my father never once mentioned my accident. He was doggedly supportive of me; never turned down a good idea if I had a plan to go with it. He became ill when I was only 17 , and when that happened the focus shifted to caring for him as his health and mental acuity diminished. I wish now I had the courage to ask him about the accident, to understand his thoughts and feelings. When I heard that song Saturday night, I remembered the aimless farmland drive as well as all the things I hadn’t had time to ask him before he died. I wondered then if he ever wanted to talk to me about it. Many years later, I got my answer by going to a woman who channelled guides. Out of the blue, she told me she had a message from him and I got the answers I had been wanting. It felt like a miracle. When the universe has a plan for you, there is no stopping it. Have you ever felt that?
Rain on the Scarecrow
Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn
Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm
I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared his land
When I was five, I walked a fence while grandpa held my hand
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the land……….
Without question, I believe everyone has defining moments in their life. For me, my burn injury was one of these moments but I never felt it was “the” thing that defined me. After my last post, a couple high school friends independently sent private emails essentially saying the same thing, “When we thought of you, we didn’t think of your injury.” Understanding the accident decades later is not the reason I’m writing the blog. It’s just the starting point for the storyline. When my own kids asked me, “What happened to your leg, Mom?”, there was a story to tell. Since my parents didn’t talk about the accident while they were alive, there were some missing pieces and I wanted to see if the story I thought I knew was the one that actually happened. Added to that was the fact that I thought my parents were sending some signs from beyond for me to explore the past further. And thus I began putting together the pieces of the puzzle.
Have you had a defining moment that became your starting point?
Earlier this week, I received a call from Unshackled!, the nation’s longest-running radio drama produced here in Chicago every week before a live studio audience. Someone had a conflict for Saturday’s show and as a member of the actors pool, I was asked to fill in, to which I happily obliged. Curiously, I was asked to play two Hispanic roles but that is another story in itself. In any event, as a show with a religious theme, Unshackled! (www.unshackled.org) has a strict dress code — modest skirts or dresses for women actors; jackets for the men. It’s been many moons since I regularly wore dresses or skirts for work (think 1980s Dynasty big-shoulder pads days). For the show, however, I have a few skirts I regularly wear when called up, a kind of modern-day Catholic school uniform if you will. So there I was prepping my outfit of blue pin-striped skirt and white blouse. I went to my drawer to peruse my usually large collection of black tights and black sheer panty hose. It was sadly small most likely due to my daughter raiding my lingerie drawer. Egads, there was only one pair of sheers without holes. I sighed in grateful relief and put them on. I mean, what would I do if I had to resort to nude panty hose over the burned leg? In front of a live studio audience? Of course, it struck me how ingrained my habit of leg-cover-up is as well as how silly it remains. But, as they say, it is what it is. My goal in public appearances is to NOT draw unwanted attention to myself — trust me, it invites stares and the eyes-looking-down-I-didn’t-mean-to-look-but-I-couldn’t-help-myself-and-I’m-really-sorry look. Uncomfortable for them and for me. So, black tights or plucky black sheer hose is my uniform with the skirt. By the way, the performance went well and I pulled off the Hispanic accents quite well.
In my day I’ve remodeled two kitchens, which is an undertaking in itself if you’ve ever been through a gut rehab. There are myriad details involved and more than a fair share of stress. Through them both, my primary concern was the stove. Not the brand nor where to put it but more importantly, how to position it. Since I burned myself by climbing up a stove to get some crackers in the cabinet above it, I’m uber-sensitive on stove-cabinet placement. That is, no cabinets above stoves. In one kitchen, I went with a cooktop on the island. In the other, a range with a hood above it. I’m not sure anyone noticed then or now since it was one of those odd-yet-still-mildly-compulsive-but-hardly-obsessive things. In fact, I’m not sure if anyone but me thought of what can happen when you put cabinets above stoves (and why would they!) but it was something always in the back of my mind. This may sound batty, but sometimes I find myself looking at my stove and cooktop, nodding approvingly that there are not cabinets above them.
I was talking to my friend Merry about writing this blog and putting together a book about the burned leg. She has heard bits and pieces of the story over the years, and I was explaining how this is the compilation of those various storyline threads. “It must be very emotional for you doing this,” she said. “Not so much,” I replied. “Have you thought of getting counseling to work through the issues this has brought up?” she sincerely asked. “Well, not really. The most profound effect so far has been my understanding how this has affected others, like my parents rather than me.” I continued. “I guess if I hadn’t been able to live as full a life as I have, I might have been bitter or felt I had more issues, but that hasn’t been my story.” She sighed. “You are minimizing this,” she replied. Her comment has lingered with me for a couple of weeks. Minimized? I wonder if that is because I’ve never maximized it. I wonder if things can happen to you and you are be generally okay with them, find meaning in them, even inspiration sometimes. What I am writing isn’t pure Pollyanna at all but what I want people to take away is that there is a resolution to everything so long as you open the door to seeing beyond your narrow self. Still, I wonder if part of the effect of any injury is to either bawl your head off or to pretend it isn’t so bad. Or, can you live with a comme ci, comme ca middle-of-the-road feeling?
I’ve worked with this particular company for about five years and this weekend was invited to a retreat with them at a lovely Miami resort, The Doral. After the work this morning, the company sponsored golf, tennis and swimming and I was flumoxxed. I really wanted to join the tennis tournament. But tennis would require shorts and for as many relationships as I’ve built, I wasn’t ready to show the burned leg. Swimming? Not so much. Too many explanations required. And that is the paradox of it all for me. It takes a lot of energy to explain the burns. If I don’t explain them, people stare and politely don’t ask. Which in many ways is worse. Trust me, I’ve dealt with it my whole life. I wonder a lot whether it makes the other people more uncomfortable or me more uncomfortable. I always feel that I am responsible to lead the discussion and put people at ease, which is in so many ways is exhausting for me. In any event, I always see it as a choice to make — do I share or don’t I? Does it put me too much in the spotlight instead of taking the time to focus on everyone else, which is largely easier? So, I opted for the facial. Private room, spa setting. No one is the wiser. It makes me feel disingenuous in a way — shouldn’t I just lay everything on the table and wear a swimsuit or pair of shorts? Just be confident and throw others’ opinions to the wind! But that would bring unwanted attention and possibly sympathy to me, sympathy that simply makes me uncomfortable. I have worked my entire life to NOT be defined by my burns. In the final analysis, I wasn’t ready to do it today. I wonder if other people here at Doral hide something of interest? I feel paranoid. I shouldn’t have to overthink like this. What lays below the surface. Has anyone ever felt the same?