Making Love on Valentine’s Day

“All sorrow can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”  Isak Dinesen

From Derek

From Derek

He called me about 5 p.m. on Friday just as I was leaving my office to join some co-workers at the company’s end-of-week cocktail gathering.  “I left something for you at the house.”  I laughed.  “What, a Valentine?”  “Yes,” he said.  “I left a Valentine for you.”

When I got home, there is it was, wrapped in white.  A huge, beautiful heart with chocolates inside.  Just like the fantasy that Valentine’s day is supposed to be.  I’d been clouded in sadness for a long time, which doesn’t at all mean that I wasn’t content or happy in my life.  You see, no matter how necessary, divorce carries with it a residue of sorrow.  Seeing that Hallmark-esque heart, I realized how hard I’d been holding on to it.

The frightening dreams had returned and I’d asked my therapist why they were back.  “Because you are ready now,” she told me.  I protested.  “But why the dream about him killing me?  Why is that one back?  It’s horrible.”

“He did kill you,” she said.  The stillness hung in the air.  It seemed like an eternity before she spoke again.  “The person you were is gone.  You are having the dream because you are now in a place where you can process it and let it go.  Make no mistake, though, emotionally and psychologically, he killed you.”  I’d been playing that conversation back in my mind for a week, thinking about its truth and the power of acknowledgement.  The dream had miraculously stopped.  Then, of course, there was the sadness.  So many things happened in such a short span of time after the divorce, including his criminal indictment.  Add to that, he paid child support for only four months, then began sprouting fanciful arguments about how he had overpaid and that I owed him money.  There were so many other pieces too.  Thinking about it all made me profoundly sad.  Watching it is a raw and ugly spectacle.

But here in front of me stood a delightful, red roses-decorated box of chocolates.

In the last year, I needed so much help managing a house, two children and of course, myself.  Derek The Handyman had patched walls, tuck-pointed the bricks, shoveled the snow, added handles to doors, unclogged toilets, cleaned out garbage, swept floors and did so many other things, the majority of then unasked.  When I mentioned to him one day that I wished I had a place to put my radio in the kitchen, he built a shelf for it.  I had been so grateful to Derek that I never thought he might be grateful to me.  His Valentine’s heart assured me he was.

A little bit of love and inspiration come in unexpected packages.  This heart motivated me to make some love to add to this Valentine’s Day and to the next of days.  It feels good to think of adding love and letting go of sadness.

There is a manuscript of poems on my desk today.  A friend sent them asking for thoughts and comments.  In turn, he said he would take a look at my manuscript.  It has been a long time since I worked on my book.  It’s time to open it up again.  Wish me luck, send me love.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

Splat and the New Year

Splat“You want I should wash the dead bugs off the windshield?”

Elwood, The Blues Brothers

“Life seemed to be going along fine and then, splat,” was how H phrased it.  We were talking about how a moment occurs when life suddenly changes. S-P-L-A-T.  It’s the fly breezing along in the wind when suddenly — it becomes little more than road kill on a car’s window shield. Its ride is over.  There is no way to reclaim its former life.  It no longer looks like it once did.  Like it or not, realize it or not, in a seeming moment, transformation occurs.

In H’s case, it was her multi-decades marriage to a seeming pillar of the community that collapsed under the dual strains of alcoholism and affairs.  No matter how much she might have anticipated the end, seen the signs, the “splat” moment felt like a surprise.  The big house was sold.  She moved to the city.  Took a job, then another.  The old life becomes a distant memory.

S-P-L-A-T.  Until the conversation with H, I hadn’t thought of these situations under the auspices of “splat” but it certainly made all the sense in the world.  If you live long enough, the “splats” simply can’t be avoided, which isn’t to say they don’t occur when you are young, as it did when I was just two years old and climbed up the stove that would change my life.

As far as I know, there is not an instruction manual to guide you through a splat.  As a child with a life-threatening injury, I think my coping mechanism was to fight.  Fight, in the sense of pushing hard to regain my physical ability not only to walk to but swim, do gymnastics, play tennis and the like.  Fight, in the sense of pushing myself to achieve socially and academically.  Today, when I think of my “splat” situations, my approach is very different — more surrender than anything else.  Pema Chodron, the beloved Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother says it this way, “Don’t run away from your fear.  Lean in to it.”  Our natural tendency is to fight, flee or move away from what is uncomfortable just as I did as a child.

From talking with H, it seems she did what Pema suggests in per post-splat life and that is to open her heart and experience what it is to be genuine.  What it is to be human, what it is to experience life truthfully in all its pain, with all its beauty.  Even when you still don’t believe life will get better.

And then there is another thought that seems to go hand-in-hand with her new-age advice:

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

As today drew to a close not only for the work day but for the year, H and I were the last to leave the office.  “Here’s to good things in 2015,” I said.  “And to a no-splat year.”  She who coined “splat” nodded in agreement.

Good luck to us all in the New Year.  May we not be squeamish about taking a good look at ourselves.  Let’s not let life harden us.  Let’s try to always see the tenderness, beauty and grace in being alive, together.

Tell me about your S-P-L-A-T moments.

Healing Hurts

“You’re a tight ass!” Sarah shrieked with a laugh as she dug her elbow into the middle of my fanny.

Lying face down on a massageknee table, the face port paper crinkled in my ears though I could hear Sarah quite clearly.  The first of my physical therapy sessions had begun.  It was akin to torture.  Therapy sounds happy and pleasant.  Add the “physical” into it and it quickly became a series of muscle manipulations that well, hurt.  Sarah, the physical therapist, tried to allay my concerns, telling me that many clients with extraordinarily tight muscles had come before me.  “You’ve had this injury for a year and a half.  Your muscles have completely tightened around the injury to stop the pain.  It’s not that unusual,” she said.

Unusual or not, it hurt.  Plus, I hated being one of many.

“Every week, I’d like to see you and work these muscles out,” she said.  “It’s something you really cannot do yourself because you are so tight.”   Did she really have to mention that “tight” stuff again?

That said, she consulted my file and gave me several instruction sheets with exercises to do everyday.

It was like I was three years old all over, learning to walk again as I had when I burned my leg.

“It’s going to take some time, bear with it.”

I’d hear this before many, many years ago.

It was like coming full circle.

I glanced at the file she held in her hand.

“Could you do me a favor and update my name.  It’s no longer hyphenated.   Just Gallagher, “I paused.

“Actually, it’s always been Gallagher.  I never changed it.”

Sarah laughed.  “You’ve been a client since 2004,” she said as she peeled off the hyphenated name.

“2004?  That’s when my now-ex began stealing from me,” I said quietly, as much under my breath as I could.  It was hard to even admit.  “Or at least when I think he began stealing from me.”  I had to breathe now.  Deeply.

This healing thing was a little more complicated than I anticipated.  It was as much emotional as it was physical.

That’s when I remembered the conversation I had with my mentor, Mr. B.

“Annie,” he said in his gruff voice, as he picked me up at 5:45 am for a trip to Detroit.  “I think your blog has played out this burned leg thing.

“You should really start writing about what’s going on with you now.  There’s anger, there’s challenge….there’s good stuff,” he said, letting the “f’s” in stuff linger for emphasis.  Mr. B. knew.  Duplicity as we say in the trade is good stuff.  It’s interesting and creates a good story line.

“Let me think about that, Mr. B.  Let me think about that.”

“Just remember Annie, fire isn’t always the flames.  It it’s the emotions too.”

This was a whole different ball of wax.  Something that needed some thinking work.

“Scars on Top of Scars”

I remember the moment it happened.  My body was turning and I felt a snap in my upper leg.  Time stopped for a moment as I twisted to the ground.  As I pulled myself up from the floor, the pain was alternatively in my hip, lower back and groin.  Ouch.  A whistle blew and the drill was over.  As a basketball coach for middle-school girls, the effort of playing in their rotation was obviously a bit too much.  The old body was not meant to go man-on-man with sixth grade girls in free court play.

Injuries of the older body are a great deal different from when you are actively playing sports as a youth.  The body reacts differently.  However it might be characterized, I feared I had become a delicate flower and I was not liking it

The diagnosis was a groin tear on the right side and I was advised to cease all physical activity for at least six months.  Silly, I thought and I resisted.  But six months later, the pain was still there.  Again, I was told to halt most physical activity and let the injury heal.

It was a full year before I began regular physical therapy.  And then I heard the words, T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N, which in many ways is strangely akin to the Medieval torture rack.  Lay face down and the machine slowly pulls the body apart.  But even that was not enough.  “I’m referring you to a non-surgical pain specialist,” Dr. Jen said.  “You see, you have scar tissue on top of your scar tissue and I think an evaluation would help.”

“Scar tissue on top of scar tissue” – the phrase echoed in my head.

Noooooooooooooo.

That right side thing again.    I scarred the scars.  It was a dreadful thought.  Already I was envisioning the first visit to the so-called “non-surgical pain specialist” to explain the current injury on top of the old injury.  If history is my guide, the specialists usually got unnecessarily caught up in the first injury (burn) at the expense of any current injury.  “So, how did this happen?  How many surgeries were involved?  How many graft sites?  Do you have heat or cold insensitivity now?”  At first, it’s fun to be a novelty but that quickly devolves into being an ongoing curiosity, which is not so much fun.

In any event, the visit with the pain specialist is next week.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Quartz When You Least Expect It

Open roads in South Dakota

Open roads in South Dakota

Driving along I-90’s wide expanses in South Dakota, the highway meets a horizon of clouds.  Grasslands and the sky, bright green and blue merge together and stretch out as far as the eye can see.  There is a feeling of freedom there, the pressures of life falling away, thoughts turn to the beauty of nature and the stillness of the land.

We were almost 1,000 miles away from Chicago on our “girl’s road trip,” my daughter and me, along with another mom and daughter.  School ended weeks ago following a flurry of pre-teen drama for the girls.  They were exhausted and bewildered.  As their mom’s, we were both frustrated and disheartened with the situation as well, not knowing the right way to respond.  There was a big ‘let-down’ feeling as we began the trip.

Months before this developed, however we had planned our get-away.  Now, the idea had ripened well, better than we could have imagined — there would be lots of downtime driving, conversation in the car and maybe even new understandings as we moved into the long summer months.  Our goal was to drive west and reach Mount Rushmore though our plan was not particularly strict or time-sensitive.  We had a lot of ideas and only one initial hotel reservation booked in Minnesota for the first night.

Driving from Minneapolis, we spent a night in Mitchell, South Dakota, and reviewed our tour guide books.  Gassing up the Land Cruiser on Day 2 of the trip, we planned a stop at an 1880s town en route to Rushmore.  Here the girls could dress up in period costumes and dally at buildings from a reconstructed bank to a one-room schoolhouse.

After paying the admission fee, it was Ann who noticed the rocks just past the check-in gate, loaded unceremoniously in a dusty bin in the corner.  “Look at those,” she said and we sauntered over to a box of large, pink-hued rocks.  “Let’s get one before we leave,” she said and I nodded in agreement.  “If you like those rocks, then you’ll really like the big one in the town.   It’s over a ton,” Jake the ticket-taker commented.  Jake looked like a friendly old man, dressed in period costume, smiling broadly and offering us helpful tips about the town’s history and sites.  “Be sure to get to the saloon for the live music show.  It starts in 15 minutes.”  Since we were the only visitors at the time, he seemed to want to make conversation.  “The pink rocks are South Dakota’s state mineral,” he added.  “Be sure to come back.”

Rose Quartz, South Dakota's State Mineral

Rose Quartz, South Dakota’s State Mineral

Hours later, after touring the town, we returned to the box.  Ann lifted out maybe a dozen of the rocks and arranged them neatly on a table by the ticket check-in so we could examine them more closely.  They were weighty pieces, some weighing a couple of pounds, each of varying interest in their size and color.

Jake, the ticket taker, talked with us as we undertook our inspection.  “I’ve been working here about six years and I enjoy all the people,” he said.  “You know, I used to be one of those type A people and it took a couple of heart attacks for me to learn about what’s really important.  Now, I’m content, happy to focus on the simpler things in life.”

He continued, “My wife is someone who collects rocks, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve paid in extra baggage fees when she packs the big ones in her suitcase.”  He chuckled.  “But it doesn’t bother me at all, I have to say.  She enjoys it and says the rocks have something special in them.”

After about 15 minutes of inspection, changing our minds about which one we each wanted, we selected our stones.  Mine looked something like a pink marbled ham but I kept coming back to that particular stone, the largest of our loot.  Our raw minerals were bulky and heavy but we were pleased.  “Do we pay for these with you Jake?” I asked.  “Nope, you have to lug them over to the main gift shop check-out.  They only let me take tickets,”  he laughed.

We carried the rocks across the room to check-out and plopped them up on the counter.  “These are beautiful ones,” said the kindly woman at the cash register.  “Did they call to you?” she asked.  Ann and I laughed.  “Well, we usually are not so good at following up on our ideas but we actually came back for these so yes, I guess they called to us.  It took us a while to pick out the ones we wanted,” I answered.

“That’s how it is with rose quartz,” she said.  “They aren’t just regular stones, they touch your heart.  You picked nice ones.”

I am sure we looked puzzled.

“Do you collect rocks,” we asked.

“Why yes, yes I do,” she replied.

“Do you happen to be married to Jake, the man who takes tickets?”

She laughed.

“Yes, that’s true.  Jake is my husband and I’ll tell you, he worked a career at U.S. Steel and was a very focused man for a long, long time.  I used to work with the rose quartz to calm him down.  And one of the things I learned is that the rose quartz helps the heart, especially the heart of a hard-hearted man.  He’s a different person now.  One of the things I learned about the rose quartz is that if you feel a lack in your heart, put your hands on it and it fills you.  But definitely do not throw it at the person who is causing you the problems,”  she laughed as she said it.  “Now, let me wrap these up for you.”

Rose quartz it seems ” is all about delivering kindness, patience and gentleness to others,” among other meanings, such as opening the heart.

We packed our quartz crystals in the car and began the drive to Mount Rushmore.  I thought about the girls and their end-of-year dramas.  Maybe we could all use some rose quartz in the car.  There was something very nice about driving along the open roads with open hearts.  This was going to be a good trip.

P.S.  Ann and I did also visit the ton of Rose Quartz at the old village.  It was as Jake said, a big stone.  See below.

Sun Setting in South Dakota

Sun Setting in South Dakota

A Ton (or more) of Rose Quartz at the 1880 Village

A Ton (or more) of Rose Quartz at the 1880 Village